The two founders of new curated fashion site Off The Rack believe there’s room for one more player
Promises unique value propositions, including making creating new looks and fashion a social experience
WHAT would make two women with successful careers in finance leave it all behind to start their own business?
For Lim Hui Ru and Haslina Ali (pic, left to right), it was due to a shared passion for fashion and the belief that despite the numerous players already in the online shopping space, there’s room for one more.
The duo are the founders of Off The Rack Asia, an online shopping website where shoppers can mix and match clothes, accessories, shoes and bags to create their own unique looks.
Speaking to Digital News Asia (DNA) at the website’s recent launch event, Lim and Haslina said that the startup was also an investee of Cradle Fund, a funding agency under the Ministry of Finance.
Off The Rack had applied for and successfully received an undisclosed amount under the Cradle Investment Programme (CIP), which is a development and technology commercialisation funding programme.
“We can’t disclose how much we received but I can tell you that the money went into the development of the website,” said Lim.
The website was in development for six months and the founders engaged NI-Limits, a local digital design and web management company, for the project.
Off The Rack’s unique value proposition to users is threefold, firstly via a key feature -- the create-a-look function – that allows shoppers to mix and match items while browsing.
When asked what the difference was with that feature versus Polyvore, a US-based community fashion site that also offers users a way to assemble and catalogue outfits, Lim said that Off The Rack offers a complete value chain.
“Users can create outfits and finish the whole fulfilment process as we have direct links to the stores that offer the products -- with Polyvore, it’s more community-centric and you have to go to other websites to buy what you want,” she said.
Lim added that while similar fashion websites do exist in the market, they are very US- or Europe-centric and more often than not, do not offer shipping to Asia.
The website’s second value-add to users is its integration with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. These features are touted to allow shoppers to easily and instantly share their favourite looks or items with their friends, making shopping online with Off The Rack Asia a social experience.
As a core principle, the team aims to provide great fashion of good quality at reasonable prices to its shoppers.
“Besides that, we also work very hard at providing our shoppers with an easy and pain-free online shopping experience. Our target market are the urban, fashion-conscious consumers, with our primary age group being 18-35 year olds. Our items range from a very reasonable RM5 for accessories up to RM500 (US$160) for handbags and dresses,” said Haslina.
Last is its stated mission to introduce independent Asian designers with their own unique sense of fashion, to the rest of the world.
Pointing to the vibrant and growing fashion community in Asia, and the emerging sense of style within the region, Haslina noted that there were many emerging brands and designers from around Asia that created modern, urban fashion who were still unknown to many.
“There are so many interesting and unique designers that should have a platform to introduce themselves to the rest of the world. That’s what we hope to achieve with Off The Rack,” she added.
Off The Rack Asia currently offers a curated selection from 12 emerging local, regional and international brands and designers.
The website focuses on offering affordable urban fashion and styles that are different from what is already readily available in the Malaysian market, it claims, catering to young urban professionals and career persons.
Malaysian brands already on board include Christy Ng, Red’s Revenge, Cuffz, Dude & the Duchess, Milktee, Fairuz Ramdan and Faizal Hamid.
Speaking to DNA on the sidelines of the launch event, Goh Cheang Lim and Lee Ying Ying from Milktee said their company already offers its products via Rakuten Online Shopping and FashionValet.
When asked why it agreed to do the same with Off The Rack, the duo said it was a question of “Why not?” and adding that Milktee currently has no physical store, although it is something that may be in the pipeline.
“One of the things lacking in the Malaysian market is the online fashion and shopping momentum. It’s just not there yet but it’s picking up, with more infrastructure in place and broadband penetration rising. We want to see more people buying things online and a site like Off The Rack offers a unique way of doing so,” said Goh.
Standing out in a crowd
Citing a recent study by PayPal, Lim noted that Malaysians spent the majority of their online retail purchases worth RM825 million on local websites (45%), compared to RM627 million on overseas websites (35%), and the remaining RM371 million (20%) on websites with unknown countries of origin.
[RM1 = US$0.32]
“When you look at the data, there are 10 million online shoppers in Malaysia. The key is to look at the data creatively and realise that there is a larger pool of potential shoppers out there that would find our value proposition appealing,” she added.
Haslina agreed that there are already many players in the online fashion space but believes that with its niche approach, there’s room for Off The Rack to grow.
“We’re setting ourselves apart with unique and exclusive placement of brands. And since it is online, we hope to attract an international crowd. Secondly, we’re building a niche market for boutique brands and think the industry is big enough that we don’t have to compete in the same space,” she added.
Now that the website has been officially launched, the plan moving forward is to continue improving the website to enhance the user experience, such as adding a feature to allow users to buy a complete look with a few clicks instead of individually selecting each item.
The other goal is to build up its portfolio of offerings with interesting designers and brands, with the founders currently approaching each brand personally to establish a rapport and develop lasting business relationships, they said.
In addition to the founders, the team currently comprises two in-house developers and a team of interns to help with the “fun, day-to-day things.” Local designer Faizal Hamid is also serving as the startup’s fashion mentor.
“People have been excited to talk to us. Many don’t know how to do it themselves and had been waiting or someone to call them for something like this,” said Haslina.
While the ultimate goal is to make sure the business is self-sustainable, Lim and Haslina said they are also exploring funding options, having spoken to a few investors who appear “interested” to get funds to jumpstart aggressive marketing efforts.
“Once we grow, we plan to establish a proper operations team, then a customer service team, then marketing. We hope to eventually handle sales all the way to the end,” Haslina said.
When asked what has been the biggest challenge to date, Lim said that it was the waiting period before the website went live.
“Six months is a long time to not be live and limited in what you can do. You need to set yourself a target and keep thinking to yourself ‘one last push, the goal is not that far’ to keep yourself going,” she said.
Haslina noted that people are usually very surprised at the long gestation period.
“When we tell them that the entire journey to date has been at least one and a half years, they get surprised and say ‘How hard is it to start a business? Especially an online one?’ Well, I can tell you that it takes time and can be a long and tasking process! So having that passion really helps,” she said.
To check out Off The Rack Asia, click here.
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