The Interview: Yara Al Dhaen, founder, SEPT
SEPT claims to be the first social commerce fashion marketplace that uses cutting-edge technology to “bring the worlds of shopping, connection and discovery together”.
It’s the brainchild of Yara Al Dhaen who believes that, when style is so personal and such a unique expression of who you are, a generic platform filled with the same pieces and designers just won’t cut it anymore.
The SEPT platform had a soft launch in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 2021, but the app launched in the UK on 31 March 2022. It already has over 3,000 users shopping their friends’ and influencers’ ‘virtual dream closets’ across 100's of global brands using a single checkout.
SEPT has the technology to create a truly bespoke digital store which is specific to each of its users’ tastes and interests, and Al Dhaen is confident it’s a game-changer in how people shop.
What’s your background and why did you decide to launch SEPT?
I have a legal background having studied law in the UK, and have been admitted to the California Bar Association. However, I was always fascinated by fashion and how it operates as a brand and marketing driven industry. I just really saw the behavioural changes when it came to other industries, like beauty, in how users connect, recommend and shop through each other. The same thing was happening in fashion, but the experience was broken.
How long has SEPT been in the making?
We've been working on SEPT for the past two years and it's finally here. We had a soft launch in the UAE about a year ago to see if the demand was there, and it certainly was. That motivated us to launch it in the UK at the end of last month.
How would you best describe SEPT and how does it work?
It's a social shopping app that is powered by the user. Your feed gets more personalised with every interaction. The user experience is similar to setting up a social media account, where we ask the user for a bit of information to start personalising their feed. Once they're in, they're able to like/dislike products, follow friends and influencers and shop global brands.
We use technology to connect with our brand partners and have real time data on inventory (without carrying it), using our AI and algorithms we are able then to connect the user with the ‘right’ brands and users that would match their tastes. Once you're ready to shop, we’ve built a universal checkout cart that integrates with all the brands we carry so the user has a super seamless shopping experience.
Who is your real target market?
Our target market is women between 25-35 who have grown up on social media with money to spend online. We really view our users as SEPT ambassadors and reward them to spread awareness of SEPT. We believe that we are building brand SEPT as a grass root movement that would not be possible without our community. Right now, we just cater to women, but watch this space.
How are you filling a gap in the market?
You only have to look at how social media made everyone an influencer to someone. Everyone has an opinion and a recommendation, and they voice it using the medium of social media. More than ever, we trust strangers’ recommendations online as much as loved ones. If you think of the Netflix shows you watch, or the Spotify music you listen to, it was probably recommended to you by real or ‘virtual’ friends. Our online world is being shaped by taste communities that we subscribe to. I really believe that online shopping is a broken experience as it hasn't really changed since inception. SEPT is here to reinvent the shopping experience by connecting commerce, community and personalisation.
What brands and designers are available through SEPT and how do you make money out of it?
We have global brands and retailers, like Simonett, Alfie Paris, Amal Al Mulla, The Knotty Ones, Bocan Couture, Natalie and Alanna, Vanina and vintage clothing from Nouvelle Vague, to name a few. We really believe the user of today seamlessly shops across luxe, direct-to-consumer (DTC) and Instagram brands, and we want to mimic how users are already shopping. In terms of how we make money out of it, we make a commission through sales.
How is SEPT different to anything else currently available?
If you look back to the early days of online shopping, it just hasn't really changed much at all. It's a grid with an endless scroll and search based experience. Fashion is an industry that is driven by communities of taste and style. People are inspired by other people and they are increasingly using websites and apps as fulfilment centres.
In a world that bombards us with endless choice and products, the power of recommendation from a friend is stronger than ever. SEPT cleverly combines our online and offline behaviours to bring social connections and commerce together on one platform and connect like-minded users. In SEPT’s intimate community, users can interact with ease as they do already on social media, sharing style, taste and advice, while finding the products they deeply desire and discovering new designers and ways of styling along the way. It’s also not all new products, there’s an element of re-sale of desirable pieces too, because the modern consumer is already shopping in this way.
What are the standout sections to shop and get inspiration?
It's definitely the social feed (@Sept.Social) as you get to connect and see in real time what your friends and taste makers are liking and buying. We really believe that social commerce is the major driver of how and why we buy. This a new era for online fashion and we’re at the forefront.
What is the Noor's Closet section on SEPT?
Noor Al Hazeem (@Noorhaz) is a friend and tastemaker with over 56,000 Instagram followers. She has amazing style and really connects with her followers. With everyone on the app, you are able to shop their ‘dream virtual closet’, and Noor’s is proving extremely popular.