Rohini Gehani brought the Indian brand JJ Valaya to Dubai in 2003 and established a flagship store on Al Wasl Road. She then founded a second boutique, Samsaara, selling a variety of Indian labels. Her latest project is Rivaage boutiques. The two stores, in the Dubai and Sunset malls, stock a mixture of international and local brands. Here, she talks about staying 10 steps ahead in Dubai's competitive retail market and predicts that home-grown designers are the future of Dubai fashion.
You started your first business when you were quite young. Was that tough?
It was really difficult. I was 23 years old when I started. It took me a whole year to set up JJ Valaya as a business and [at that age] you're in a place where people don't really take you seriously given that a) you are a girl and b) you are young.
How did you get into retail?
I studied finance and I was working as an auditor. Being a kid from Dubai, I always wanted to bring brands here. I saw the opportunity, took it and that was it. [At that time] it was a completely new concept: no one worked with Indian brands exclusively at that point. After us, a lot of new stores opened. With Rivaage, we saw a gap in the market. I always felt if I wanted to go out and shop for designer wear - but mid-range pricing - I didn't know where to go. [Our stock sells for] between Dh500 [US$136] and Dh2,000.
The retail market in Dubai is very competitive. How to you retain an edge?
It's important to be 10 steps ahead. When we started with JJ, there wasn't an exclusive Indian brand available here. Then we saw there was a market for a lower-end line of Indian clothing and that's when the other boutique started. Now with this, I feel like the Dubai resident is price-sensitive, but yet is very brand-conscious. So we decided to start a concept where we have designer wear, but at good pricing. We keep that in mind when we are selecting brands and, of course, they have to be exclusive with us. So, for example, we have Vera Wang Lavender and no one else has that.
What's the biggest challenge you face right now?
The biggest challenge is how do we just get our message out. We are a small store that has pretty unique brands that are well priced.
And you are keen to promote local brands, right?
We work with a lot of local brands that are interesting to us. We are open to showing local brands next to international brands. We have this brand called Noosh by a girl called Noora [Alikhan] and she is doing really well in our store. I actually believe that the local brands here are the future and that's really what's going to develop Dubai and its fashion industry.
What's next for you?
The next stage we are looking at is expanding. We are looking to open in Abu Dhabi soon and in Riyadh as our next step for this year.