When Rula Galayini launched her handbag label in 2007, e-commerce was just coming into its own. Online was the buzzword then, and the Beirut-born, Dubai-based designer successfully rode the wave, turning her Poupee Couture brand with its Arabesque appeal into quite the sensation regionally as well as internationally. Her designs even made it on TV shows such as The Carrie Diaries, the prequel to Sex and the City.
Online is still the buzzword today. But it’s evolving. And new platforms such as crowdfunding — new, at least in the region — are giving designers such as Galayini an opportunity to push themselves further.
Galayini recently rebranded Poupee Couture and formally launched a new label called Rula Galayini. The change comes a year after the 34-year-old successfully placed a proposal on crowd-investing platform Eureeca, where businesses and start-ups connect with online investors, and was over-funded by 165 per cent.
She says the change was to give her brand a more international appeal.
“It’s being repackaged. The products are still there. But the aim now is to grow it on a global level.”
Galayini posted a proposal for funds for $70,000 (Dh257,000) in January last year and achieved her target in just eight days. By the time the funding period was closed, her project had received an excess of $112,000, making her the first designer in the region to successfully receive funding through this platform.
She admits she was pleasantly surprised at the interest from investors.
“Fashion in the region is looked upon as a hobby, and it’s usually telecom or F&B or services projects that get the attention, so I wasn’t sure how keen investors were going to be,” she says, adding that the funds required were mostly for marketing and distribution internationally.
A total of 18 investors are now stakeholders in the Rula Galayini label, and will earn their returns on how it performs, with the terms and conditions governed by those set in the initial proposal.
Sam Quawasmi, the managing director and co-founder of Eureeca.com is one of the investors.
“When I took a look at Poupee Couture’s value proposition, it was transparent to me that it just needed that additional injection of capital in order for it to scale. The products are being sold to celebrities in France and the US. Therefore, Rula proved her concept but just needs to plough more capital into marketing to significantly increase her sales,” says Quawasmi. “I invest in people as opposed to a business idea or anything else for that matter. You meet Rula and hear her talking about her passion for the business and her medium to long term aspirations. You know that it is very likely that she will deliver.”
The entrepreneur, who also invests in a number of businesses while running Eureeca, says the rewards far outweigh the risks.
“What people fail to realise is that investing in promising early stage businesses, such as Poupee Couture for example, could provide the investor with broadly 15-50 times their original investment, when these businesses succeed. Of course, there is a level of risk attached to it but when they succeed, they can be very rewarding,” he says.
Galayini, who grew up in Canada, moved back to her home town of Beirut in her teens. She said she started designing bags after she became intrigued by the beauty of Arab women, and wanted to tell their story. With an initial investment of $200, she launched Poupee Couture in 2007.
“I think it succeeded because it wasn’t just another bag. In terms of concept, there was a new perspective. It gave a fresh spin on a lot of the designs that was already on the market, it was a modern take on culture, yet somewhat Arabesque, and I think a lot of people from the region identified with that,” she says.
“Also, they are all produced in Lebanon. For me it’s very important that I am able to support the local community. All these artisans and manufacturers are going out of business, overshadowed by big companies. So supporting them is an important aspect of my business.”
Galayini used her advertising and marketing background to grow the brand, quickly establishing a strong presence online. It wasn’t before long that the international fashion titles and blogs came calling.
“It was a very organic, healthy growth. I think us getting online on multiple platforms really helped shed light on the brand.”
Through the years, potential investors have approached her, but Galayini admits she wasn’t sure how to formalise it.
“Initially I didn’t really have a marketing plan. I wasn’t sure the product was solid. But over the six to seven years of being on the market, it gave me the confidence and experience to really look at the brand and see its potential.”
A little over a year ago, someone suggested she looked at Eureeca.
“They made it really easy for me. They manage the whole process, they do all the due diligence, they make sure the money is clean and they have a team of lawyers, so I could focus on the creative side,” she says.
Over the next five years, Galayini is required to give bi-annual reports to her stakeholders.
For up-and-coming designers, it’s essential to know the business, she says.
“It is rooted in the art and creativity. It won’t be art if it wasn’t sustaining an income,” she says. “Fashion is a business. It’s a very challenging one. It’s a very aggressive one and there’s always something new. If you do not have a healthy business, you won’t last very long.”
To follow the brand, go to rulagalayini.com.