Describe Maison Orient in three words.
Curated, Oriental, Authentic.
You worked an entire decade in fashion with leading retailers like Harvey Nichols and Boutique1 prior to the launch of Maison Orient. What was the main motivation and objective behind your decision to start your own e-commerce platform?
I felt like I had reached a point where I had enough experience to stand on my own and create a platform to cater to the brands in need. Emerging brands need help taking their businesses to the next level. They have limited resources and know-how when it comes to e-commerce and international retailers. Since I have all that knowledge and experience gained over the years, I wanted to be able to share it with them.
Any words of advice for young fashion entrepreneurs looking to launch a company of their own? – the dos and don’ts from experience.
I think a good knowledge base of the industry is a must in order to be able to create something sustainable. A fashion brand must keep up with the industry and stay relatable. It takes a lot of hard work to create something from scratch and even more work to manage and market it. So, I would definitely advise them to be resilient and ambitious.
Tell us more on how Maison Orient celebrate diversity in fashion as an e-tailer?
So far, I have curated over 70 brands from 12 countries in the Middle East, North Africa, India and Nepal. The brands sourced from these regions are very diverse and represent different cultures.
Maison Orient offers an eclectic range of products involving an array of brands like Bouguessa, Kage and Marina Qureshi. What would you say is your top criteria when curating the brands in which you choose to sell?
Definitely their stories, the quality of their products, the quality of their images and also their capacity of fulfillment. Maison Orient is created to support emerging designers so I do understand that some might need more guidance and support than the others. But, the common ground is quality.
What would you say distinguishes Maison Orient from other existing e-taliers and why?
I curate brands from specific regions only, and that excludes the West. Existing luxury e-tailers are open to all kinds of luxury brands from every country. Because of this, when new brands join the same platforms, their visibility is low. The non-luxury e-tailers are not segmented at all, and so they serve more as a mass marketplace. Maison Orient sits between the two – We offer highly curated items from brands based within the “Orient” making our selection condensed and unique.
With the current economic struggle in which the majority of fashion retailers and e-tailers are facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, what are the strategies applied by Maison Orient to protect the future of its business?
This is a very difficult period for all businesses – especially for the new and small ones. Maison Orient is a new and small scale enterprise that was just beginning to gain traction before the pandemic hit, so it is a struggle for us too. However, I am trying to find a sensible way to maintain its growth despite of the current crisis. All brands that I work with are taking the necessary hygiene precautions and abide by the rules and regulations set by the government to protect the safety of our customers.
According to Business of Fashion, “No Company Will Survive Coronavirus Alone”. How is Maison Orient supporting the brands it carries now compared to the previous months?
The ideology of the platform is to support small brands even before a crisis like this occurs. I will keep doing everything I can in my power to support them. I started Maison Orient with the hopes of helping small businesses grow. And now, I am hoping to help them survive this crisis and not shut their doors once it's all over. In order for this to work and for us to succeed, we also need the support of the audience – If we do not sell, the brands will not grow with us internationally as most of them have no international online presence other than Maison Orient.
Is Maison Orient (or any of the individual brands onsite) contributing in charitable or social ways to help the community during this pandemic?
Some of the brands onsite work with NGOs donating money to refugee camps and shelters. The crisis of war is still present now combined with the pandemic and the healthcare is even more critical at these camps. I strongly stand by what these brands are trying to do and when I can, I will join forces and contribute.
Ramadan is just around the corner and is famously known as peak season for a variety of Middle Eastern brands. The newly implemented health and safety regulations due to COVID-19 has led to a decrease in overall sales and the cancellation of major ramadan exhibitions and events. What would be your advice for all independent Middle Eastern fashion brands on how they can cope in terms of lost revenue during this uncertain period.
I believe all brands of all scales are facing the same problems and are worried about how they will be able to prepare their next collections. With the cancellation of fashion weeks, fairs and events, there is great uncertainty about the near future of the industry. The main struggle faced by small independent brands is how to stay afloat and overcome this crisis without the presence of exhibitions. Online shopping is the safest option and is currently the only way to buy and sell at the moment.
It seems as though many Middle Eastern fashion brands have halted their production for their Ramadan 2020 collections. What are your thoughts on this topic and do you think they made the right decision?
I believe they made the right decision. The upcoming months are filled with uncertainty. Of course, this pandemic will pass and life will resume. We just don’t know when. Ramadan is a month period filled with gatherings and celebrations which are all cancelled this year. Eid will most likely also be celebrated by staying home and not travelling. Stores and malls are closing for at least a few weeks and people are being asked to stay home. A new Ramadan collection would have been very difficult to sell.
This pandemic is forcing everyone to slow down. I believe the next collections we see will be produced carefully rather than seasonally. The habit of fast consumption will be disrupted in the foreseeable future, the level of consciousness this pandemic has brought will be preserved by the producers and consumers so I believe we will see collections that last beyond a season.
Here are five of Ayse Arel's must-haves from Maison Orient: