Alicia Al Mutawa is the General Manager of Alessia Couture, the first couture cleaner & high-end dry cleaner in the United Arab Emirates. UAE Style Magazine recently interviewed her about her venture in couture cleaning in the Emirates.
1- Did a particular incident in your life give you the idea of setting up specialized couture cleaning or did Alessia Couture form out of a thought from observation?
Most of the businesses are born out of ideas that come up from an incident or by finding a gap that exists in the market of a good or service. Alessia Couture was born out of both. My husband and business partner, Mohamed and I dry clean most of our garments but unfortunately our experience with the dry cleaners/laundries in the UAE was never good. We tried most of the dry cleaners in Abu Dhabi and Dubai but none of them knew how to clean according to the need of each garment, especially delicate designer garments. The incident of a very special garment, a Chanel piece was the result of Alessia Couture. Getting back that piece completely destroyed by a dry cleaner made us realized that there was a need for a professional cleaner and a custom cleaner in the UAE. None of the dry cleaner or laundries had professional care specialist that knew enough about fabrics and textures. As well none of them specialized in custom cleaning. All of them work on volume basis without caring about the type of cleaning and caring that the garment needs. At the end is just one more piece for them.
2- While setting up, did you face any difficulties?
It is always challenging to set up a business, especially if you are not familiar with the field. We knew that we wanted to have the first couture cleaner in the UAE and we knew what type of concept we wanted, great service, technology, quality and operate sustainable, but it was challenging to put all the elements together. At the end with passion and dedication and getting the right people, we achieved it.
3- In the initial phase, how did you handle the risk of introducing this new concept in the market?
First of all, not everybody in the UAE understood the concept of “Couture Cleaner”. It is a new niche for the UAE. People are so familiar only with normal laundries and dry cleaning that provide bad service and quality but very affordable prices.
When we first open, people though that we only do high-end clothes and we restore leather goods. We didn’t have a lot of customers approaching us for dry cleaning. Some people that they did, they thought that we were expensive because our prices are a little bit higher than the market and they didn’t understand our process and why our prices are more valuable. Others that didn’t approach us but knew about us thought that we were really expensive because we have a driver with a professional customer service coming to the customer’s doors to pick up and delivery their garments. As well because our Mercedes vehicle, which we named the “Fashion Express” it is completely different than any ordinary laundry/dry cleaner.
The first months it was about raising awareness and educating our target group about who is Alessia Couture and the services that we provided. We initiated the “Good Morning Coffee with Alessia Couture” . In this event high-end boutiques’ managers and staff are invited. It is a great platform to educate them since they are not only our customers but our channels of communications with their customers, now our customers. As well, we used a lot of social media. Instagram is one of our great channels to communicate and educate our target audience on what we do. We launched a sub-brand, Alessia Dry Cleaning by Alessia Couture, these brought us more customers for the dry cleaning service. We want not only provide couture cleaning for those designer garments but provide a professional dry cleaning for daily garments to our customers.
4- What was the biggest challenge you faced and how did you overcome it?
Meeting deadlines it was the biggest challenge. You have contractors and supplies that might give you a deadline but unfortunately they don’t meet them. We had to follow up very close with them and ensure that we added couple days or weeks more in our project plan. As well we ensured that there was a clause written in the contract in case that they were delay on delivering the project or materials.
5- How did you build your team and what quality did you focus on when getting people on board?
Alessia Couture’s team is really special. Each individual is part of our company because they have special skills. When we interviewed them, we were looking not only for skills but wiliness to learn and to want to be part of this new innovative concept. We also wanted a team that believe on Alessia Couture and feel ownership of it because at the end you need ambassadors that can represent and talk well about your company. We believe we have got that team!
The team is divided in two teams, operations team and marketing and communications team. Operations team are the artisans. All of them have strong experience in the garment care. Majority of the times, Mohamed and I get very amazed of how they can bring back to life a vintage garment. They are amazing!
The marketing and communications team have also great experience too. All of us were in intensive training for 2 months before opening Alessia Couture. We all went back to school from the basics of dry cleaning school to learn how to work on a couture piece. As well we had intensive training in customer service. We believe that customer is number one and for such the team needed to know how to treat our valuable customers.
6- Can you please tell us more about the Green Earth, environment friendly system?
Our business concept has three elements, high-end, great customer service that is supported by the latest technology and sustainable. GreenEarth system is part of the sustainable element. It plays a big role on it. We are not only the first couture cleaners in the UAE but the first cleaners in the UAE to use GreenEarth system which it is an eco-friendly dry cleaning product.
GreenEarth technology uses silicone, a non-toxic, non-hazardous, odor-less and extremely gentle alternative to petrochemicals that is better for both fabrics and the environment. It replaces the hazardous petrochemicals traditionally used in dry cleaning with pure liquid silicone. Liquid silicone is essentially liquified sand. The same natural sand the earth has been creating for over six billion years. When released to the environment, silicone safely breaks down into the three natural elements it is made from: sand (SiO2) trace amounts of water and carbon dioxide. So GreenEarth is safe for the air, water and soil. It is also exceptionally gentle and will not damage fibers or leech dye like conventional dry cleaning, so clothes actually look and feel better.
7- How do you feel to be the pioneer of couture cleaning in the UAE?
We feel that we are contributing to the development of our country. UAE is a country that is developing so fast. Every year you see new ideas and new technology coming and we are glad to be part of this. We also feel that we are helping our customers not only by providing them a great service and quality but by preserving their investment on their garments. Clothes are investment for many people.
8- What has been your biggest business inspiration?
Laundry Lockers from San Francisco. My friend owns it and the way the concept was created it is just very innovative. His niche is very different than ours but it is working well in the States.
9- A little off the record but have you ever faced a really cranky, picky customer?
Please share an experience with us! Yes we did. Some customers are very demanding which it is understandable and our goal is to meet their expectation, but unfortunately we faced one that she was really impolite with our customer service representative and we don’t accept that. We need our customer service representative to be treated with respect.
10- On the other hand, what has been the funniest incident in your journey so far?
There hasn’t been one yet.
11- Did you face any criticism? If so, how did you deal with it?
Yes we did, we had a misunderstanding in one gown that we received. We were dealing with the housemaid in the house and unfortunately the customer received the wrong message. Good thing she contacted us and our garment care specialist went to her house and explained the situation and she understood and she is now one of our loyal customers.
12- How do you feel seeing Alessia Couture gain popularity in the region?
We are really happy. We believe we are making a difference in the dry cleaning industry in the UAE. Specially bringing a new concept of cleaners in the region and putting up the name of our country. We have many people approaching us all around the world. We are getting popularity since we are affiliated to many important organizations in the dry cleaning and preservation industry. Our website is visited by many people around the world, so it is so excited!
13- Where do you see Alessia Couture in the next couple of years?
We are aiming to expand physically in the Gulf Region, so hopefully soon in Doha, Qatar. I say physically because we do provide services via our concierge services there. If there is any customer in Qatar that needs a gown or any other garment to be cleaned or preserved we can send our courier partner and it gets pick-up and delivery door to door. Our concept will remain the same, operating from our facility and servicing our customers via our VIP pick-up and delivery service by our customer service representative.