UAE start-up survives the ‘great lockdown’

July 13, 2020 | By Rupkatha Bhowmick

UAE-based online start-up, The Giving Movement has felt the effects of the ‘great lockdown’ head-on, as it was launched on April 22, 2020. At that time, the COVID-19 related 24-hour lockdown was still on in Dubai. The pandemic taught this start-up to be resilient right from inception – as it was nothing short of a litmus test for survival.

Owing to the 24-hour lockdown, the small team that launched The Giving Movement worked remotely but tirelessly to figure out how products would be delivered to customers’ doorsteps. “Our primary challenge was to find a way to distribute our products,” agrees Dominic Nowell-Barnes, CEO, The Giving Movement. “Thankfully, we were able to work with a third-party logistics company that had the permission to deliver. The initial plan, however, was to rent a warehouse in Al Quoz and deliver on our own, but that wasn’t possible due to the lockdown.”

Why did The Giving Movement choose to launch during the lockdown?

“We started working towards the launch of the brand almost 12 months ago and were delayed by five-six weeks from our set timeline, when the pandemic started in the UAE,” Nowell-Barnes shares. “We really couldn’t delay the launch date anymore. And we are happy with the results. Having been trading for almost 12 weeks now, we have sold over 7,000 units and donated more than $23,000 to our chosen charities – Dubai Cares and Harmony House.”

Also read: Spotting opportunities amid crisis

Being sustainable and ethical

A home-grown athleisure-cum-streetwear brand, The Giving Movement was created after assessing the activewear fashion market that, according to Nowell-Barnes, still follows an “outdated model.”

“The high-end side of the market is often over-priced. Conversely, the fast fashion end produces huge volumes of goods, often adding to the waste piles – at a time when clothing can be produced sustainably. The gap that existed in between seemed like a good opportunity for us to fill in by adding a fashion twist to activewear, but sustainably. Our goal is to create garments that can be worn to gyms, but also through the day,” he states.

So, is The Giving Movement an affordable equivalent of lululemon?

“lululemon is undoubtedly one of the market leaders in the global activewear space. What we have found out from the numerous focus groups that we conducted is that our customers – nine out of ten times – found our fabric softer. That’s quite an achievement for us. Add to that our fair and competitive price points, which are big differentiating factors,” Nowell-Barnes points out.

Sustainability and being ethical lie at the heart of The Giving Movement. The brand recycles water bottles, alongside using FSC-certified organic bamboo, to create its fabric locally and donates a portion of its profits to charity organisations. “We wanted to produce ethically and, importantly, locally using sustainable fabrics that also met the technical details required for activewear – breathable and quick dry. And we donate $4 for every item sold on The Giving Movement,” he adds.

Start-ups are used to firefighting

How does it feel to be a start-up founder amidst a global pandemic?

“The thing about being a start-up is that you automatically have a ‘can-do’ mindset to overcome challenges,” says Nowell-Barnes. “The COVID-19 pandemic is one among many challenges that we have to overcome, of course, health & safety is an additional concern. In any case, start-ups like us have to think on our feet and have a problem-solving attitude, while being positive and resilient.”

“Being an online business has worked in our favour, as we were able to directly talk to consumers who were, at that time – in April, at home full-time. They would either be in their loungewear or activewear,” he quips.

“Having said that, one of the biggest obstacles for us was to promote a new brand amidst a rather challenging time for people. I felt really guilty, but thankfully the brand has been well-received,” Nowell-Barnes states.

Building multi-channel presence is the way forward

“We need to develop an agile, multi-channel business in order to offset any kind of potential risk,” Nowell-Barnes opines. “The pandemic has taught us how some brick-and-mortar businesses have suffered significantly more due to the lack of an online presence. Similarly, a single hack can disrupt an online business. Hence, building a multi-channel presence is the way forward.”

Does that imply that The Giving Movement will also consider creating an offline presence?

“While we have a great direct-to-consumer business model, we want to offset any risk by collaborating with brick-and-mortar retail partners, who will stock The Giving Movement products at their stores in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and eventually in the UK,” he reveals.

Overall, according to Nowell-Barnes, great customer service – through swift delivery timelines – and a sustainable core will become incredibly important for the success of an ethical fashion brand like The Giving Movement.


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