For The Love Of Culture And Couture

By Rohma Sadaqat Khaleej Times, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) "KOOOT.com" provides a platform for talented Arab women who produce unique products to sell their items to the public."

DUBAI

Luma Bourisly always knew that she wanted to establish a responsible business that would give back to the community in a meaningful, measurable and scalable way.

When it was time for her to start planning her own venture, she looked at the history of the women in the Gulf region, which served as the inspiration for KOOOT.com.

Souq Al-Hareem, the old women's souq of Kuwait, was a place where women made a living and built social bonds among themselves.

This model, Bourisly explains, wasn't exclusive to Kuwait.

"Women in the Middle East have historically been highly active in production and trade," she said. "KOOOT.com is the modern embodiment of Souq Al-Hareem; and provides a platform for talented Arab women, who produce unique products, and who do not currently have an extensive distribution model to sell their products to the public."

Not only is KOOOT.com inspired by the economic livelihoods of Souq Al-Hareem, it is also inspired by the social function of the souq -- a place where women built and solidified their social bonds and networks. Thus, one of KOOOT.com's main pillars is dialogue.

"It functions as a platform for dialogue among women, whether related to professional development, personal development, fashion and lifestyle, or anything else that is important to women. For that reason, we built KOOOT.com in a way that enables engagement and dialogue, both on our blog 'Conversations' and through reviews and comments on products within the marketplace," Bourisly explained.

Bourisly launched KOOOT.com in the summer of 2016, and describes it as the first online shopping website in the region with the primary aim of enabling Arab women to develop themselves professionally and become financially self-reliant.

Platform to market products The website provides women entrepreneurs with a platform to market and distribute their products. At the same time, it offers shoppers access to global brands that have no distribution channels in the Middle East.

The platform, which currently caters to the UAE, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, offers women shoppers the chance to shop globally and locally on the same platform. The space not only sells fashion, but also all sorts of handmade products, household items and gift ideas for all occasions.

"The public likes the idea of creating a space that showcases the creativity from this part of the world," Bourisly remarked.

"It makes us happy and proud every time a customer posts the items she receives on her personal social media. These gestures assure us that we're on the right track and that our customers are satisfied with their experience. In terms of popularity, we've seen the most interest in modest fashion as well as quirky household products that are hard to find, like the vintage-style phone."

Before she launched KOOOT.com, Bourisly held a number of different positions at several major firms in the UAE.

"I joined the banking industry as a credit officer for First Gulf Bank in Ajman, then started the PR and media relations division in Enoc Group. In 2005, I moved to the Executive Office and was a member of the launch team of Emirates National Development Programme, which was launched by His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai," she recalled.

In 2006, Bourisly joined du as a member of the founding team, and went on to serve several positions during her 10-year tenor.

In May 2016, along with a group of Kuwaiti businessmen, she established the Kuwait Business Council -- an NGO under the umbrella of Dubai Chamber -- of which she is currently the treasurer and founding member.

Her work often left her with very little free time -- a fact that would ultimately go on to aid her in launching KOOOT.com.

"As a busy working woman, I could not afford the time and effort that a traditional shopping experience requires. This is when I started exploring the world of online shopping. While online shopping solved the problem of convenience and time efficiency, as a Middle Eastern woman, there were very few e-commerce platforms that catered to the full spectrum of my needs. This is when the first spark started in my mind. At the same time, in the social media space, I came across talented women from the region who were not finding a proper outlet to promote their products. I guess the puzzle pieces were around me and they were just waiting to be connected," she said.

"There's very promising talent in the UAE and the region. On the digital space, we don't see or feel the boundaries. Talent is talent. Our mission is to showcase it, groom it and bring awareness to it, in the hopes that we are able to transform talent into mature businesses and brands."

"I have four pieces of advice for young ambitious women: understand your strength and groom it; believe in yourself but don't cross the line and become arrogant: be patient and never give up after the first hurdle; and lastly surround yourself with people that charge you with positive energy, knowledge and support."

Asked about future plans for the company, she said: "KOOOT.com is 100 per cent self-funded. To cater for the growth and upscale phase, we've just started to talk to handpicked potential investors, who believe in the platform's vision and can help drive it in the right direction."

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