Giving up a well-paid job to start a business would be considered a risk at the best of times, doubly so during a global pandemic.
But for Serbian Vladimir Radojevic, 40, starting an online styling company seemed like the most logical course of action.
Mr Radojevic, who worked in the retail industry for more than a decade, set up Dresos last year. The online company styles outfits based on customer preferences and sends them in premium boxes.
“So, first of all, everyone was like, ‘oh my God, are you crazy? Are you crazy to leave a stable job with a good income?’” Mr Radojevic says.
Alongside Aleksandar Jankovic, a friend and fellow retail industry colleague, he recruited two stylists to begin operations.
“There is no perfect timing and there is always going to be pros and cons for launching your own business. So, you just have to believe in what you are doing and just go for it,” says Mr Radojevic.
Dresos is tapping into a market space for consumers who, thanks to the pandemic, have restricted access to physical shops or those who prefer to make purchases online because it is convenient or as a result of hygiene or social distancing concerns.
Retailers with large brick-and-mortar shop networks have suffered during the pandemic, with Topshop owner Arcadis and department store chain Debenhams closing their doors in the UK.
Both brands have subsequently been snapped up by online-only rivals, with e-commerce platform Asos buying Topshop last month and Boohoo.com acquiring the Debenhams brand in January.
The moves reflect the changing retail landscape and the growing clout of online versus on-site shopping.
Online styling offers “a great opportunity for the brand to deliver the right message to the customer in a completely different set-up,” says Mr Radojevic.
“We are entering customers’ homes with premium packaging and people are really excited to receive it in that environment. People are more open to check the brand and its messaging to understand a few things about it.”
Dresos currently works with clothing brands such as New Era, Cole Haan, Tommy Bahama, Seafolly, Galeries Lafayette, John Varvatos, Rip Curl, Roman, Skechers, Stance and Palladium.
The company does not hold stock, which allows it to offer a wider variety of its partner brands’ offerings.
Customers are provided with a set of outfits after they complete a short quiz on the Dresos website, where they enter size measurements and respond to questions about their personality and vibe.
A customer is encouraged to choose between a variety of options, with a stylist later assessing their choices.
Dresos does not charge a styling fee, and only charges the customer after he or she has tried and agreed to keep the products they like. The start-up makes its money on the margins it earns from retail partners.
Online styling websites first emerged as an offshoot of the more expensive personal shopping services.
However, with the advent of portals such as Stitch Fix that promised to reinvigorate a person’s style and wardrobe with a few clicks online, they are becoming more popular.
In the UAE alone, a number of styling websites have been set up in recent years. Dresos differs by catering to both men and women, Mr Radojevic says. It also prides itself on its easy-to-use technology and a data-driven approach.
“We [have] all types of offerings. We are not trying to be fashionistas of Middle East. We are trying to be a tech company that is offering a great service and offering convenience to our customers,” he says.
While the Covid-19 pandemic led to greater demand for loungewear and pyjamas, Mr Radojevic says people are now looking at clothes for a night out or a day on the beach.
The company eventually plans to offer a VIP service, bringing a stylist directly to customers’ homes to help with their choices.
It currently has about 150 registered users but Mr Radojevic hopes to grow this to 1,000 by the end of the year.
Dresos, which is currently in a pre-seed funding round, plans to raise $1 million from venture capitalists over the next three to six months.
The funds will be used to expand across the region, starting with Saudi Arabia, says Mr Radojevic.
He envisages great potential for the growth of the UAE retail sector, both online and offline, despite the global slowdown.
“For us, brick and mortar is always going to be there. Dubai has a unique offering when it comes to shopping malls and the whole shopping experience,” he says.
“And we believe that. That is amazing. But we also believe that there is a massive, massive opportunity for growth in e-commerce and we think that is where the market is going.”
Q&A with Vladimir Radojevic, co-founder of Dresos
How long does it take for the box to reach a customer after they set preferences online?
About 48 hours.
How do you plan to expand?
We believe that we will in the next few years cover the whole region. So, the idea is to be in the UAE and Saudi Arabia and then the rest of the GCC. This is what we see, and obviously we do plan to go global.
How are you managing your initial overhead costs?
Our costs are very low. We are part of In5 [an incubator space]. All our costs are subsidised. Our trade licence is subsidised, our visa is subsidised, so we pay a fraction of the costs that would normally be charged to a regular start-up.
What is your biggest differentiator in the market?
We have very big premium packaging and unboxing experience, which is much, much better than what we can find currently in the market. [Also], it is the execution. So, if you do not deliver to your customer what they actually want, what they actually like, nothing else matters.
Why is online styling popular?
I think it is just more convenient. Obviously, it started with Stitch Fix exactly 10 years ago in the US.
I believe it is just more a scalable option for people receiving their outfits, without having to be involved, talking to people that they do not to want to talk to.
I would say this is a future of retail. Where some services in brick and mortar are not great, people are opting for something like this.
PROFILE OF DRESOS
Started: September 2020
Founders: Vladimir Radojevic and Aleksandar Jankovic
Initial investment: $150,000
Current staff: four