Yousef Al Refaei is the co-founder of OUTWEST, a Kuwait-based online retail store for lifestyle products, streetwear, and luxury brands. As a young entrepreneur, he's passionate about combining fashion and technology and creating a seamless curated shopping experience for their customers.
OUTWEST connects international brands with the local market and the response has been impressive thus far. They will soon be expanding across the region and at the same time forging new relationships with startups.
Saira Malik (S.M.): Can you describe the concept of OUTWEST and explain to us how it works?
Yousef Al Refaei (Y.A.R.): OUTWEST is an online retail store that focuses on lifestyle products, streetwear, and luxury brands. The way OUTWEST works is that we have boutiques and brands from over 13 countries, and we operate in all these countries to make shipping as fast and efficient as possible, as we're delivering to 187 countries. We also focus on data heavily to enhance the user’s experience to make sure that every experience is different and curated for that specific person.
S.M.: How did the idea to set it up come about, what is your role and who else is involved with you?
Y.A.R.: The idea came about when we were on a trip in the summer of 2019 out in Palm Springs, California. We were facing an issue with all these great brands and boutiques that are available in the United States of America but usually do not ship internationally. So we thought of making a platform that would connect these local and international brands to a global market. As for me, I’m the Co-Founder of Outwest along with Bader Al Asker, Fahad Al Humaithi, Abdullah Al Essa, and Khaled Al Yaseen.
S.M.: What differentiates OUTWEST from its competitors?
Y.A.R.: What I think makes OUTWEST stand out when there are loads of e-commerce and online retail stores out there is that OUTWEST focuses on technology as well as fashion. We focus heavily on scalable technology that could one day change the way we shop online. Another aspect that we focus on in OUTWEST is the way we ship. We have a new type of shipping service that’s exclusive to OUTWEST called Pace +. Through Pace +, people are able to shop online without having the inconvenience of waiting 2 days to receive their order, and instead receive their order within 90 minutes. The service is still exclusive to Kuwait, but it should be available in the UAE in the first quarter of 2022. When it comes to what people see when they use the app, we work day in and day out trying to enhance the user experience so that when you enter OUTWEST, you are entering your own curated smart boutique.
S.M.: Who is your target audience and how have they responded to your product?
Y.A.R.: Our target audience are millennials and maybe people who are a bit older, because the product offering that we have on OUTWEST is something that you could see on a 16-year-old but also find something that you would see on a 35-year-old. The way people respond to our product has always blown us away. We're grateful to have a customer base that is loyal to us and would give us constructive criticism if there's a feature they didn’t like or give us great reviews when they do like what we put out.
S.M.: What are the opportunities that a business can expect from adopting the omni-channel route?
Y.A.R.: I mean it’s a great business model, you get to increase efficiency when it comes to operations, reach new customer segments, and ultimately focus on making your platform personalized and making the experience of shopping more memorable.
S.M.: What are the retail challenges that OUTWEST helps to resolve?
Y.A.R.: In a time like ours, everything is changing very fast in ways that physical retail stores can’t adapt to. One of the first problems we tried solving is that most of the brands you find when you go on vacation for example aren’t really available online so we tried to fix that by having these brands available on OUTWEST.
The second problem we tried solving is that not everyone likes to go to a mall for example and shop, some people prefer shopping online but also hate having the 2 to 5 day waiting period.
Last but not least is expansion. Most physical retail stores want to expand their operations and ship to all these different continents and countries but simply cannot. That might be due to the hassle of shipping or maybe creating their own online platform could someday be a huge liability for them.
S.M.: What impact would you want OUTWEST to have on the fashion industry?
Y.A.R.: Our ultimate goal with OUTWEST is to empower local brands and offer international brands to a broader market. We want fashion to be accessible to everyone. We started working with local designers and having their visions come to life on OUTWEST. We see big boutiques as sort of the curators when it comes to fashion whereas the designers are like the creators of fashion. That’s how we view the fashion industry. We want OUTWEST to become the launching point for any future designer that wants to grow.
S.M.: What would you say are some of the difficulties you have faced to date and what are the lessons you learnt from them?
Y.A.R.: I guess OUTWEST’s story has been filled with difficulties ever since we started. One of the first problems we faced was the issue of logistics, and how do we make OUTWEST not just fast but efficient and climate conscious at the same time. Another problem that we faced midway into launching the app was that we had to have technology that would be scalable with 5G. The lesson I learned was to always have people who are smarter than me in the room. We learned that in order to be on top of the game you have to surround yourself with people who know what they’re doing and are ethical about it. We also learned how to think out in phases and have alternate plans because anything that could go wrong, will go wrong.
S.M.: What are the future plans for OUTWEST and what can we expect to see?
Y.A.R.: Our team at OUTWEST are very excited to see what the future holds for the company. We are expanding into new counties and expanding into new fields in fashion. We are also working on new programs for startups in the MENA region and also working on the OUTWEST ecosystem to try to move the world forward with fashion and technology.
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Words: Saira Malik
Images: Courtesy of OUTWEST