DUBAI: Businesswoman Marie-Hélène Stavelot has taken a teenage hobby and turned it into a Dubai-based sustainable fashion technology business.
Stavelot is the founder and CEO of Reluxable, an online aggregator which brings together luxury second-hand items from across the web.
The site, launched in October, sells everything from Hermes bags, to Audemar Piaget watches, to Manolo Blahnik shoes.
It houses authorized second-hand online retailers from all over the world such as The Luxury Closet in the Middle East and North Africa, Collector Square based in Paris, and What Goes Around Comes Around from New York.
Aside from identifying a gap in the luxury market, Stavelot’s startup has sustainability at its heart.
She said: “Usually, it’s up to the eco-conscious consumer to find second-hand stores and dig for their treasures.
“The idea for the business came to me during the pandemic when I had to spend time searching multiple sites or going to 10 different shops looking for a specific item. With Reluxable, you can search for a single item across several sites in one go to find exactly what you need.”
Shoppers are connected with multiple reputable stores online to browse women’s and men’s fashion items, clothing, shoes and bags.
Stavelot added: “In Belgium, where I grew up, I started buying and selling my luxury second-hand items when I was 17 years old.
“Then I went through a phase of enjoying fast fashion like everyone else, because it is low cost and accessible. Now, I invest in key pieces that last.”
The Belgian-born entrepreneur also has family from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and worked in banking and at a financial technology firm in Dubai before starting her business.
Stavelot leads an all-female team, which includes her sister Olivia Atembina, who is chief operating officer. She raised finance for the business from family and friends and is currently pitching to investors for $1 million to expand the team and add a shopping cart to the site to help consumers buy items across the platforms it has access to.
An example for many women-led startups is the US-based female-focused dating app Bumble, led by CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd, which in February floated on Nasdaq with an $8 billion valuation after launching in 2014.
But Stavelot is aware that attracting funding will not be easy.
Only 2 percent of funded startups between 2014 and 2020 were led by women in the MENA region, according to figures from regional startup data platform MAGNiTT.
Research from Dubai-based technology conference GITEX this year also revealed that more than 85 percent of global venture capital went to startups founded or led by men.
“I know I have a sound business model, but it has been difficult to secure funding,” she said. “I hope that someone like me who struggles in a male-dominated market can get support. It’s not easy, but I will persevere.”
Her venture comes at a time when there is a push to increase business sustainability across the Gulf region.
In October, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched a Middle East Green Initiative, aimed at raising SR39 billion ($10.4 billion) for an investment fund to back clean energy projects as part of efforts to reduce regional carbon emissions.
The UAE will also host the global climate summit COP28 in 2023.
The steps are in place for online startups such as Reluxable to make their mark — one click at a time.