Saturday, December 18, 2010

Meet Rasha and Rawan Al Mannai: A new generation of tastemakers redefining fashion retailing in the Gulf

In a continuing series exploring the region’s evolving retail landscape, The Polyglot talks to sisters Rasha and Rawan Al Mannai about the challenges and joys of running an independent fashion store one year after launching Bahrain’s Crème Boutique.
Why launch a new fashion boutique in Bahrain at a time when big brands are opening stores here?

When we decided to open Créme in March 2009, we felt there was a gap in the market for a directional store with a unique point of view. The business has become so standardized today that a Ralph Lauren store in London looks exactly the same as its counterpart in Dubai. There is a certain excitement and personal touch that we found missing in the shopping experience.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in setting up a new business?
Being a new store comes with its challenges, especially when you don’t have a retail history, as many brands want to see a trading history of at least six months. Two seasons into the business and we are proud to say that we have created a strong portfolio, and designers are now contacting us to carry their lines in our store. There are also minor challenges to deal with such as juggling international shipments or getting the right sizes, as they tend to vary dramatically from brand to brand.

Is it difficult to introduce new brands to your customers?
We are constantly evolving in our brand range. It’s is an absolute must in an industry that thrives on change and innovation. Brands that continue to do well for us include Tatanaka and Basso & Brook. But we also cherry pick new rising stars, as well as designers who have had no real presence within the region.

Introducing new brands is a labor intensive process. We invest a lot of time and effort into the promotion of a new label, including advertising campaigns, so that our customers can hopefully feel the same passion towards these brands as we do. We want to educate our clients and encourage them to be more experimental with the pieces they buy. We also want to define our place in the market as a store that helps nurture new talent, both locally and internationally. We tend to take risks and aren’t afraid to be different or champion the individual.

What do you see in the future for Crème?
We try to think outside the box, and have big plans in the pipeline for unique designer collaborations. We also want to involve the local creative community in various ways and embrace our heritage within the context of some exciting future projects. For us Crème isn’t simply a boutique but a brand that challenges normal perceptions of what a retail store should be. Rawan, who has a degree in Fashion Design and Merchandizing from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, also recently launched her own couture line that’s produced in Bahrain.

Images by Sueraya Shaheen.
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