Confessions Of A Shopaholic

By Muhammad Riaz Usman
Khaleej Times, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) “Retold” is a Dubai consignment shop that lets people exchange their closet clutter for money. On its shelves, customers can find everything from popular high-street brands to luxury label treasures.


Just over 8 years ago, Sian Rowlands used to be a bit of a shopaholic.

When Rowlands realized she was broke, she decided to rent out her spare room to a friend. But before doing so, she needed to clear out the wardrobes and ended up with 4 packing boxes full of clothes in great condition — a lot of them still with their original tags on.

When she calculated how much of her money was folded away in those boxes, she understood why she was broke.

“So, I looked at the local market where I could sell these pieces, but there wasn’t anything that properly fit the bill. I knew I wasn’t the only woman in Dubai who was in this situation. So, after a bit of research, I wrote a business plan and the company was born,” Rowlands, founder and CEO of Retold, explains.

Retold is a pre-loved women’s fashion brand that lets people exchange their closet clutter for money. On its shelves, customers can find everything from popular high-street brands to luxury label treasures such as Diane von Furstenberg, Stella McCartney, Christian Louboutin, Jimmy Choo and many other design houses.

“Straight away, I knew I was onto a good idea because there was so much demand for us. Within the first 6 months, I won 2 business awards and a small grant,” she continues.

Rowlands was born in Lincolnshire, UK, however, her family moved to Germany when she was 6 months old. She considers herself to be a third culture child. She’s been in Dubai for 28 years and considers it to be her home.

Toying with Lego as a little one, Rowlands discovered an interest in architecture. She went on to pursue this at university in the UK by studying interior architecture. As an award-winning F&B and hospitality designer by profession, she has successfully created and developed several large-scale design projects in the UAE.

Rowlands is convinced that part of her mission with Retold is to make the world a better place, starting with the UAE.

“We need to change the collective mindset of our society. We all seem addicted to consuming and buying and have become dependent on items that are ‘throw away’ — like single-use plastics, fast fashion, electronics that become obsolete as soon as the next model is released. Our products are no longer made to last so that we simply buy new ones all the time. This mindset needs to change,” she says.

Rowlands claims that by giving consumers an option to shop pre-owned in a city so obsessed with new and shiny, it’s providing a much-needed option to the fashion retail market.

“The pre-owned fashion market is no longer just for your granny or sifting through musty old pieces in the local charity shop. We’re currently seeing a massive shift in the fashion industry from retail to resale. Gone are the days of women trawling the mall to buy their fashion fix, limited to browsing the same clothes as everyone else.

Style seekers want one-of-a-kind treasures, they want to showcase their unique style and want their hard-earned money to go further,” she says.

Rowlands says sustainability is her passion and she is increasingly involved with initiatives that help consumers make better choices.

“The very ethos of Retold is to start retelling the story and there is a real ‘green factor’ about shopping with us [for example, we use recycled paper shopping bags for all purchases]. We are excited about bringing on board a couple of sustainable and ethical brands that offer ranges like jewellery with a cause and a story behind them,” she says.

“As for the Retold offering itself, we’ll soon be launching our rental option — so clients can reduce their ownership even more and truly embody the ethos of sharing,” she says.

Rowlands urges young entrepreneurs to do their research first before launching businesses.

“Make sure you know exactly what your product or service is, who exactly will be your customers, what your price point is, etc. You need to be very clear on what you are offering before you go to market. Test the market — find a way to test your product or service before you commit to going all in,” she advises.

“If you can find out what your minimal viable product is, build it and get your friends, family and acquaintances to try it, then you can get valuable feedback. Find a wonderful tribe — if you are doing this alone [or even in a partnership], know that you will never be an expert in everything needed for this to be a success. So, work out what your strengths are and then see who in your network fills your weaknesses and ask for their help,” she continues.

“But don’t become someone who only asks and never gives. It’s important to give your support, expertise or time to others. That’s what makes the world go round,” she adds.

For the first several years, her business was entirely self-funded. By 2016, she decided to expand her business from a pop-up concept to a boutique and started looking for investors. In 2017, she got a well-needed break — AdamPeters came on board as a quiet partner.

“There on, we decided that the way forward was a permanent brick-and-mortar space to support the e-commerce site,” she says.

Rowlands says the UAE startup environment is very supportive, however, funding is a bit difficult for entry-level businesses. She assures that once this hurdle is crossed, there is no stoppage. “People are willing to roll up their sleeves and help you here if they believe in your idea.”

Rowlands believes the pivotal point for her business was taking an investor on board and making the commitment to go from a small sideline business to a concrete concept.

“While I had invested everything I owned into the business beforehand and developed a great concept and business plan, I wasn’t making any progress without the capital injection from other people to take my initiative as seriously as I wanted. Changing the plan from low-risk, low-overhead pop-up stores to a high-overhead brick-and-mortar space was somewhat terrifying, but overwhelmingly liberating — knowing that I can now grow the business in the way I want to,” she concludes.

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