Born in 1980, in the midst of the strife of an already war-torn Lebanon, Alexandra Tohme and her family would soon move to Saudi Arabia. These early travel experiences would prove pivotal for a young Alex, and form a long-term love affair with wanderlust and world traveling. After spending her youth in a Saudi British school, she would eventually go on to study at Manchester University. In addition to being a classically trained pianist and a frequent player of the Baroque recorder, she is also a cat lover that has more recently happenstanced her way back to the Middle East via Qatar, Lebanon, and Dubai. After working her way through school via a variety of sales jobs, she would continue with stints in marketing, and advertising. We catch up with her to discuss how these versatile business traits have all coalesced into a fortuitous union that has her positioned to launch her own website focusing on lingerie–Amourah.com.
Tell us about the inspiration for Amourah.com? Is there any significance to the name?
I’m part of a poetry collective in Dubai called “The Poeticians” run by the absolutely insane Hind Shoufani, and we were all at one of the poets house one day, and I demanded that we all put our heads together for the name. I wanted something that obviously had a meaning in Arabic without being too difficult to market. Amourah is the term that is used when addressing a young woman in a positive way, not a sleazy or misogynistic way.
Why this website/market segment?
Lingerie sites aren’t anything really new. But many of them seem to be the same. Essentially it’s a digital face for a regular retail business. We are in an emerging market and there are still many more brands that haven’t penetrated here. In addition, when it comes to lingerie we are woefully underserved. A very narrow selection of bras in terms of size, combined with terrible fitting advice, makes for a good opportunity. The situation in Saudi lingerie shops is even worse. They have attempted to change the law by making women, instead of men, work in these shops, but there will always be pushback from certain segments. Bras are a foundation garment and once that’s right, everything else fits better. I believe I can make a difference in a segment that no one is really paying attention to.
Any problems or particulars to the Arab world?
Of course. Typically lingerie sites will advertise their products on nearly naked models. This doesn’t really work here. My telco provider in Dubai blocks certain websites, and in more restrictive countries access to these sites is impossible. So I have to be creative as to how to present the products. For investors, a viable long-term business has to have scale, and this can only be achieved by working across multiple countries in the region, which then affects margins due to various import and customs differences and transportation. Finally, deposits required at banks in order to accept money from online transactions, can be extremely prohibitive.
Who is your average customer?
Anyone who has breasts! There is no average customer really, but there are certainly segments that can be defined. Through my existing landing page I have gathered qualitative feedback from over 500 people which tend to revolve around; not knowing size, knowing size but not finding what they need in the shops, and then people who have had surgery or might have a medical condition that require specialist garments.
Will the site be meant to convey deals, or provide a more comfortable service for customers?
The million dollar question. I’m not looking at a discounted model at all. There are 3 main pillars. 1) Information. When you give women information they’re able to do a lot with it. No one will ever be able to get your size exactly right, but I have developed a new form of calculator that addresses the fact that some brands use centimeters for sizing and some use inches. The conversion that the manufacturer makes is not correct. Additionally I can tell you which brand uses which sizing system, and I can even get to the level of telling you which models may run slightly larger in the band or the cup, so as to improve accuracy. I could write 3 more pages on the problems in this industry but this is a brief summary! 2) Comfort. We have the technology now to bring the shop to you. Why should you have to trek to a mall, take off your clothes in unforgiving changing room lights and still end up with a below optimal product? Why can’t you sit relaxed in your lounge and get all the information in the palm of your hand? 3) Longevity. Boobs are here to stay. And they also change quite a few sizes over your lifetime. You don’t need to change your store or shopping habits if you use Amourah, depending on if you are a young twenty year old or post maternity. It’s going to be with you every step of the way. You can keep using it for as long as you want.
Lastly, finish this sentence: In one year from now, the website will be…
The biggest mobile retail solution for women in the Middle East.
Amourah.com is already online. They currently have a questionnaire up to be able to assist you better in the future. Drop in and see what they are all about!