Launched in February 2013, The Butik is an online retail boutique that connects global customers with emerging designers from all around the world; a unique concept because each item on the website is handmade by emerging and established fashion designers ensuring creative and exclusive pieces.
Business partners Faye Al Ismail and Futtaim Beljafla recently launched The Butik in Dubai. The shopping platform was born out of their shared passion for fashion and strong sense of style.
Because the duo both work full-time, they decided to create a fashion boutique that caters to their needs. Al Ismail has an education background in law and works as an In-house Legal Counsel. She was born and raised in London where she completed her Bachelors in Classical Studies and Law. Beljafla has an educational background in marketing and currently works as a Marketing Brand Manager. She completed her Bachelors in Business Administration with a concentration in Accounting.
Despite their non-fashion backgrounds, they managed to create a venture that is profoundly fashionable but with an edge. With a website design that is aesthetically pleasing and easy to navigate, The Butik gives customers access to some of the most talented designers from around the world, all with the ease of a click.
We talked to the duo about their new business venture to know more about what makes the online store so unique.
What makes The Butik different from other online stores?
In a world of mass production and inexpensive labor, we realized that we have lost touch with the reality of how things are made. We disregard the concept of ‘people serving people’ and neglect asking the questions: 'Who? Why? When? How?'
Through The Butik, our aim is to reveal the answers to those questions, to uncover hidden talents from all around the world, to bring to our clients stories and experiences, and to connect them to the people behind the sewing machines through The Journal, our online editorial that is constantly being updated.
How did you come up with the concept?
We realized there was a gap in the market for unique and emerging designers who had no platform and we wanted to create a platform for them; designers whose stories and profiles matter and which are not showcased. We realized that people buy fashion that is mass-produced in factories leaving a gap for that personal element between designer and client.
We wanted to bridge that gap and create a more personal connection between designer and client – designers such as Patricia Chang, who worked at couture line Marchesa, then went on to freelance and start her own line. My partner Futtaim was following her work and got me interested too. She shares with the public her design process, her inspirations and most importantly her daily activities – whether she is on the beach with her husband somewhere exotic or having dinner with her sister. This gave her the very much-needed ‘human element’ to her which made her designs even more precious and desired.
Tell us a little about your background and what did you do before this?
Believe it or not, we both have day jobs. So from 8am – 5pm everyday, we are busy focusing on our careers. We spend the rest of the hours we have left of the day, including weekends working on The Butik. It sometimes surprises people when they find out that we do have full-time jobs, which we think is a compliment.
We divide our time between our day jobs and our business. Time management is a skill we were forced to master. If our audience and our clients do not feel our absence from the business, it means we must be doing something right.
With the difference in our backgrounds and educations, we ended up complementing each other in this partnership. We both bring a different set of skills and experiences to the business.
Why did you choose to create an online store instead of a physical one?
Online shopping is important, especially in this region, the GCC. Through online shopping we are able to reach a wider audience and are able to reach people who want exquisite things that they cannot find elsewhere.
We created a unique platform through which the customers are taken through a journey from the designer’s point of view, starting with the city which the designer comes from, to their design process and sources of inspiration, up until the end product offered on our website, which is better done through a website rather than a store. We aim to make it a personal experience for each customer by offering them content as well as exclusive handmade designer pieces.
As two partners how do you divide the tasks amongst yourselves? Are the two of you always in agreement? If not, what do you differ upon?
Honestly you don’t want to be around us when we are at the studio. We are both stubborn, strong minded and that’s what moves the The Butik forward and keeps us going. We bounce ideas off of each other until we decide and agree on something. We have known each other since childhood, so we really understand each other even though we are both different and have different tastes and opinions. We always end up being on the same page and that’s what makes us a good team. This might sound weird but this is a formula that actually works. We are both extremely focused on our goals and objectives more than anything and we always end up agreeing before we execute any decisions or plans.
What is the style of the woman you are catering to?
The Butik caters to the sophisticated woman that is educated, independent and career-driven. She is increasingly savvy and knowledgeable; well informed and demands high quality unique fashion pieces.
How do you find these designers and unique pieces of clothing and accessories?
Firstly the designs as well as the designers themselves have to be unique, inspirational and creative. We only showcase exclusive items that cannot be found anywhere else and which are handmade by the designers themselves and have a very high standard of quality material and finishing.
Through extensive research of fashion weeks around the world, Skopje Fashion Week was one that immediately caught our attention, with the unfortunate luck to be generally overlooked by the rest of the world. We were intrigued by the beautiful pieces and cutting edge designs, and decided to visit the Macedonian designers who were famous locally but who the world had not yet heard of. Each of the designers has a different personality, which is evident in their creations.
The designers we have selected so far each represent a niche market: Tanja Kokev (haute couture), Rosica Mrsik (contemporary pret-a-porter), Nina Simovska (handmade jewelry and accessories created using alternative and unconventional materials), Aleksandra Mitkovska (original geometrical designs and unconventional yet well-tailored cuts), Mila Kadriu (simplistic feminine dresses), Tresor (eccentric and avant-garde).
No day is a typical work day for us! When we introduced the current set of designers on our website we had already started planning the next set to introduce.
We work on various tasks, some random and unplanned that we also have to attend to, as well as communicating with our current set of designers and other designers from abroad. We are currently in discussions with a few designers from within the region – you will have to stay tuned for our updates to find out more!
It doesn’t stop there though. There is always more research to be carried out (we can never research enough!) and project planning as well as finalizing other things all at the same time.
Apart from the daily operational tasks, the most important element of our business is communicating with our audience and our clients. So what would be typical is working on our social media platforms, be it Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. We ensure we keep our followers up to date and informed with what’s happening at The Butik.
What has been your best selling item to date?
Tresor’s Tinker Tulle Dress has been one of the best selling items; so much so that we had to order a couple of more pieces upon special request. It’s dainty and delicate – 17 layers of nude tulle make this a fairytale dress. Our long evening/soiree gorgeous dresses have also been the most fast selling pieces.
What is the one piece in your entire collection that is your absolute favorite and why?
Our absolute favorite dress would have to be Tanja Kokev’s Matte Gold Sequins & Lace Gown, from this season’s collection. The feminine details on the dress just make the dress even more so desirable and give it that majestic look, highlighting the feminine collar bones at the front while showing a low V back line at the back. Its nude lace embroidery details and double effect sequins, we believe, channels old Hollywood glamour and all in all gives it an air of sophistication and elegance. We love it so much we had to write an article about it in The Journal section on our website!
What have been some of the biggest challenges you have had to overcome to set up this business venture?
We set realistic goals for ourselves and we didn’t meet any big challenges yet apart from the daily operational problem solving that we go through. We spent long nights and long hours working on the plan for The Butik and we attempted to address any issues that might come up as much as we could. This is not to say our plan was perfect but it was realistic enough to help us launch smoothly.
Given that in the Middle East, consumers tend to go for the high-end brands while shopping, what made you push for lesser-known and mostly upcoming designers?
All of those “high-end designers” were struggling artists or young and emerging designers at one point. Who’s to say that the designers that we introduce will not become high-end designers one day? All designers wish to have a platform through which they can showcase their talent and beautiful creations.
If there is one thing you would have done differently what would it be?
We are both perfectionists. We always feel the need to change and improve. We try to be perfect, even though we know that it’s impossible, we still try to get as close as we can. We never do anything unless we are 100% sure we are happy with it and it meets our standard.
Prior to launching, our website looked different, and we were ready to launch earlier. There was a part of us that felt the design was not perfect enough and doesn’t represent The Butik. We took the chance to delay the launch to get the website to look the way it is today.
When we work on something, whether it’s an article in The Journal, or the design of a page, or a plan to introduce designers from a specific country, we have a habit of stepping back, leaving it for about a day, and then coming back to it the next day with a fresh eye and a new perspective. When you’re very much engrossed and involved in something, you lose perspective, and you get carried away. Coming back to it with a fresh eye, helps us evaluate the task or project at hand realistically. We also challenge our ideas and opinions, thinking twice, sometimes three times, before execution.
What is your advice to young women from the GCC who want to start a business?
If you have an idea, execute it. If you always wanted to start something, do it. Take the risk. There is always a 50-50 chance of making it but you will never know unless you try. You have to always evaluate and reevaluate your business – where you stand, your position. And you always have to alter and make changes to accommodate.
If you start a business and a part of that business fails, do not give up. This is when you make a change to improve. If something doesn’t work, move on to the next. It is not about starting up a business – no matter what, you always have to improve, you always have to adapt, tweak, and slowly you will get to where you want to be.
What is your ultimate goal for The Butik?
At The Butik we are always looking for unique, emerging and enthusiastic designers to introduce on our website. Our ultimate goal is to be a stepping-stone for all emerging designers.
We hope that The Butik acts as the beginning of their journey as emerging designers and doesn’t stop there for them. And as we grow, we hope they will grow with us to become established and well known designers in their field.
To shop The Butik visit www.butik.ae
– Saira Malik