Coterique: Bringing Designers & Fashion Lovers From Across the World Together in One Place
Nadine El Shiaty
“Dressing is a way of life.” Immortal words from a certain iconic fashion designer called Yves Saint Laurent and a sentiment that lies deep in the heart of one of the newest platforms to contribute to Egypt’s own burgeoning fashion scene, Coterique – an online retailer and fashion destination tailor made for women looking to keep up with what’s trending globally and add some edge and flair to their everyday fashion.
Dreaming of bringing the work of designers from all over the world to wardrobes in Egypt, we spoke with founder, Dana Khater, about her unique entrepreneurial path to what is a unique new addition to the cult of shopping in Egypt.
VITRINA: The Beginning of a Fashion Journey
Khater’s passion for fashion developed at a very early age – to be precise, it started when she found herself randomly sketching designs at the back of her Mathematics copybook.
“I’ve loved fashion ever since I was a kid,” she told us. “But I knew I wasn’t necessarily a good fashion designer. It was only when I started reading magazines like Vogue that I realized that the industry is a lot bigger.”
Switching to an Economics degree at the American University in Cairo Dana capitalised on both her degree and her passion by creating Vitrina, a fashion magazine and Khater’s head-start towards a career in fashion
Having idolised Anna Wintour while at AUC, Khater went on to found VITRINA – a bi-annual student run magazine that aimed to provide a space for fashion-interested students to express themselves.
This was no school project, though; operating as the Editor in Chief of VITRINA for three years, Khater and her team put the spotlight on talented local designers and established a highly-regarded reputation with boutiques, who would happily allow them to use their clothes for shoots.
It was only on the way back from one of VITRINA’s photoshoot in Aswan, that the idea of Coterique began to grow.
“I was in the van with my creative director and we were thinking it would be so much easier if we just had a website where people can shop from all the boutiques instead of going to each one individually to achieve the outfits we shoot,” Khater said.
The same spirit that made VITRINA a success, soon had Khater applying for Flat6Labs, a local incubator that gives startups their first round of funding in return for equity.
“Flat6Labs were looking for tech companies at the time, so I didn’t think I would make the cut. But I submitted my application and I got in,” Khater told us, adding that this was the moment Coterique was born.
Coterique: A Platform for Emerging Designers
Coterique started as an encompassing online outlet for boutiques. While on a trip to Tokyo, though, the concept began to take a different form. Khater went to Seoul in South Korea for a weekend, where she met a host of talented young designers without a solid platform to showcase their work.
“At that time I was scouting for young designers who have really cool products, but who don’t have the funding for marketing, operations, delivery or logistics,” Khater explained. “So the idea was to take that load from them and have them just focus on their designs,” she continued, adding that this was the moment Coterique went from being a shopping platform for boutiques, to a platform for emerging designers to sell and themselves and their work to a global network that exists outside of Egypt, too.
Scouting designers for Coterique is done through Cairo-based Aisha Abou Youssef and New York-based Caroline Montgomery; two fashion agents who are readily on the hunt for emerging designers and whose task is to reach out to them. The Coterique team sometimes go to great lengths to meet the designers themselves by travelling to trade shows and other fashion events to expand their horizons and establish a wider network and exposure.
“In every designer we scout, we look for quality, unique products, craftsmanship and aesthetic character. But quality is what matters the most. We have emerging designers as well as slightly more established ones and we always try to cross-style between both,” said Khater, who was both happy and proud that Coterique’s very first order came from LA, followed by another from New York.
As one would expect, the pieces on Coterique come out at lofty prices, but then you are paying for unique items from unique designers.
“Coterique is not where you go for your summer shopping, for example, to get all your bits and pieces; it’s about having a couple of unique items. A Coterique woman is the one who wants to add a unique piece to her wardrobe,” Dana declared.
Some of the local designers that can be found on Coterique include Okhtein, handpicked jewellery from The Design Studio by Azza Fahmy, J’s Designs for silverwear and Omni’s Bags, while Egyptian designers based outside of the country such as Maram are also featured. Asked about her personal favourite collections that have been featured on the site, Khater pointed to the Canada-based designers Fall/Winter collection, particularly the fox sleeves.
#CotiGirls #CanYouCIt: Coterique’s Gateway to Global Fashion Market
Social media is fashion’s newest muse – Forbes
Believing in the power of fashion-forward women as representatives of high-end fashion, Khater and co’s Coti Girls are a globally-dispersed clan of ambassadors and fashionistas, whose task it is to embody the Coterique name and spread it far and wide.
“Coti Girls are fashion-forward women who have travelled around the world, have a great eye for design and believe in what we’re doing,” Khater explained. “The point of Coti Girls is for our customers to know we’re based all over the world.”
The Coti Girls have become a movement unto themselves – think of them as them as the eyes, ears and mouth of Coterique. Their latter role sees them recommend fashion picks for the season using designers’ work on the site and provide tips on how to style the items. With each one having her own unique style and approach to fashion, it makes for an interesting and varied representation of the fashion found on Coterique.
The Coti Girls’ presence on social media has been key in getting the Coterique name to the masses and like any solid social media marketing, a hashtag was born: #CanyouCit.
#CanyouCit was initially only used by the Coti Girls in sharing photos involving the Coterique ‘C’ logo – and like the best hashtags, it gained organic momentum; clients and customers began to do as the Coti Girls did in using #CanyouCit and the ‘C’ logo.
“We decided to keep the campaign going because it was a very nice way to subtly promote the brand and see people from all around the world sharing their own Cs. We’ve had tags in France, in Switzerland, in London and in India,” Khater said proudly.
Social media’s influence has become fundamental in fashion and is also a big part of Coterique moving forwards.
“Buyers from department stores and shops were the ones sitting in the front rows at fashion shows ten years ago. Now, when you go to New York, London and Paris, it’s bloggers and social media influencers who are in the front row – it says a lot about how the hierarchy of power has changed in the fashion industry," Khater said.
What’s Next for Coterique?
Today, Coterique stands as a growing global platform crafted in Cairo; a gateway to discovering designers from all around the world that’s one click away.
“Sometimes, clients come for one brand and they end up discovering a lot of cool brands on Coterique, which keeps them coming back again and again, because they start to develop brand loyalty as they discover new brands on the website,” Khater told us.
Khater keeps an eye on what’s trending in the fashion industry. Her current role model in the retail business is Nathalie Massenet, the founder of Net A Porter.
“Massenet started Net A Porter in 2001, back then she was trying to sell a $2,000 shoe when no one was buying anything online. But she turned her company into a billion dollar fashion empire. She is one of the first movers in the industry and someone I look up to.”
Coterique currently has 25 international designers, with brand new names emerging on the website every month. Khater is aspiring to expand her platform of emerging designers and grow the global Coti Girl program to have 100 Coti girls by end of the year.
“There are 75 fashion weeks outside of London, Paris, New York and Milan. I want to have designers from all 75 countries."
Check out Coterique, here.
(Photos courtesy of Coterique)