Early in 2019, the husband-and-wife team of Pamela and Philippe Khouri came up with the idea of renting out high-end handbags to the discerning Dubai audience.
With many years spent working in the luxury lifestyle industry, Pamela understood the gravitational pull that high-end fashion – and bags in particular – had on women. With Philippe's experience in finance, together they came up with a new concept: Bagonista, where, for a monthly fee, women can rent the bag of their dreams.
"It all started with Pamela's addiction, her passion, for bags." Philippe says. "The whole concept was that with the internet and mobile phones, anybody can have access with a small price to a nice handbag."
For Pamela, the main principal was clear. "We want to make luxury affordable to every single woman in Dubai – be it a woman with a salary of Dh100,000 a month or Dh7,000 a month."
An ultimate wish list of bags
The concept is delightfully simple. Bagonista has a stable of more than 250 high-end bags that customers can access via two methods. For the short term, a customer can rent a bag for five days for Dh200, while those wanting to keep a bag for one month can sign up to a monthly membership starting from Dh400.
With bags such as the Chanel Boy bag, Christian Dior’s Book Tote and Lady Dior, or Louis Vuitton’s Onthego with a distinctive oversize monogram, there is plenty of choice. There is also a Hermès Garden Party bag, a Phantom bag by Celine, a Nano Sac du Jour by Saint Laurent, and a white embroidered Sylvie bag by Gucci. Delve further and you'll find a Re-Edition bag in nylon from Prada, a denim Saddle Bag from Dior, and a Prada Bandoliera.
In short – this is the ultimate wish list of some of the best bags in the world.
The pieces are tiered into three layers. Silver bags cost Dh400 per month, gold bags are Dh500 per month, while platinum bags, the most in-demand (and most expensive) can be rented for Dh600 per month. Any member wanting to switch bags mid-month simply pays the difference. If they have already paid the higher price, the switch is completely free.
Each bag is guaranteed to be authentic and is fully sanitised between rentals to meet Covid-19 safety restrictions. Bagonista also wants customers to be able to enjoy the bag without worrying about potentially expensive damage, with repair costs capped at Dh1,000.
With the retail price of the bags climbing from Dh5,000 to Dh30,000, the whole operation is set up to give customers peace of mind and a stress-free as possible experience.
Although only launched in August 2020, Bagonista is already looking to expand by inviting women to rent their own bags through the domain.
"We are opening the platform for anyone to rent their handbag. Perhaps she has 10 handbags and doesn't really know what to do with them. She loved them at one point and is still emotionally attached and doesn't want to let them go, but they are just sitting in her closet," says Philippe.
"So, creating this passive income will be possible with us. And when I talk about passive income, today if the bag you bought is worth Dh10,000, it can generate 30 to 50 per cent of this value every year. So it's massive.”
Based on knowledge of customers' preferences, Bagonista is able to choose bags it knows will be popular.
"We don't want anyone to have a bad experience, so we will pick and choose the right bags for our community. It doesn't mean the others aren't nice, but we will choose what is in demand. It's based just on data," Philippe adds.
Through analytics, the team is able to weed out bags that do not appeal to customers, and replace them with ones that will.
"Any bag that is not renting for more than 30 per cent of the time, we ditch. We sell, we replace and we keep changing the whole collection," says Philippe.
What's next for Bagonista?
The couple have plans to launch an Arabic version of the website, having discovered that a sizeable proportion of their customers are Emirati.
"When we started, we looked at the demographics. We thought our target audience would be about 70,000 [women] in the UAE," Philip says. "Initially we thought, 'who is going to rent handbags?' Expats, 20 to 30 year olds, the millennials, and this is where we started our business.
"Now many of our clientele are Emirati, and they were not in our plan at all. Today, 60 to 70 per cent [of our customers] are Arab, and of those, 40 per cent are Emirati."
Long before launching, the Khouris realised they would need expert help in maintaining their bags, and met a man with years of experience in precisely this field.
For obvious reasons, the pair are keen to keep his identity under wraps, but describe themselves as "lucky" to have met him. Now thanks to this mystery man's knowledge, the site is about to embark on another new direction, sparked by Bagonista's own customers.
"We are also launching a bag spa. We got so many enquiries about how we maintain the bags, with customers saying they have a bag at home in a bad condition, can we help? We saw a huge demand. And since we have this genius with leather with us, we are launching in the next few weeks. We have big plans for the region."