BY ANAAM IKRAM
From kaftans, scarves, to handmade bags and shoes, Rasha Salah Khunji’s unique store, is a home to many talented businesswomen and serves as a platform for them to display their work amongst the likes of similarly skillful individuals. Calling itself an “incubator”, it is perhaps one of the most diverse shops in Bahrain, offering a bit of everything in terms of fashion to women of all needs and wants under one roof.
Owner of Blossom Events for Exhibitions and Conferences and Managing Director of Showcase101, Rasha’s career took a very different start to her current fashion-business-guru status today. Having received her education in the United Kingdom, Rasha started worked in the banking sector before opening her own events management company Blossom Events and hasn’t looked back since. With 16 years of experience working in both the public and private sectors enhancing techniques of exhibitions and looking after small businesses, it is no wonder that Rasha has ensured all of the designers on display in Showcase 101 are properly looked after and are on the road to success.
The boutique aptly titled Showcase101 Multi-Brand Business Institute is an incubator. The shop is a full-time mini exhibition featuring an array of local brands all in one location, as well as improving the performance of the entrepreneurs in the boutique and their business opportunities by means of advice and consultancy on exhibitions.
A combination of creations by 16 various designers, all of whom have a unique element to their collection, creates the quirky yet classy aesthetic of the boutique. All the essentials that make a fashionable closet are present. Rare products like hand-knitted items, and accessories are featured to cater to the needs of all its customers as the various collections at this boutique are exciting, trendy, and distinct.
Showcase101 has made a name for itself by being the only shop to serve as a home and a mentor for all of its designers, as well as giving them opportunities to display their work outside the country. Designers who choose to stay for a year or so become known as “Anchors” and are prioritised and privileged as they get the chance to travel with Rasha to various exhibitions, either within or outside Bahrain. There they meet other designers, even other incubators around the Gulf region and get the opportunity to display their work in the new locations. Rasha says the process of selecting an Anchor is not just based on how long the designer has been with the boutique, but also criteria such as the designers ambition, seriousness about her brand, and her communication skills with the team, such as follow-ups and her ability to market her own product; Rasha herself provides them with monthly tips to improve all of these areas. Currently in Showcase101 there are four Anchors, all of whom travelled to Kuwait with Rasha for the exhibition that took place on the 13th of March of this year, along with four other brands from within the boutique. The one-day exhibition allowed the Anchors to show off their work in the Kuwaiti market. The next day, designers were allowed to supply the incubators in Kuwait with some of their work to see how the market there responds to their designs. Dubai and Oman are also other markets where Rasha says her designers would have the opportunity to display their work, further increasing their expansion opportunities over the Gulf region.
Showcase101 does all it can to help its resident designers and therefore takes every opportune moment to assist them and aid in the growth of their brand, which is why the designers get to frequently attend exhibitions and events in Bahrain. Throughout the year the designers get this kind of exposure, Rasha says. Of course, it is also necessary to make sure who the organisers of the events are and how often do they partake in such events and exhibitions, what their expectations are of the designers to determine the importance of the event, and how can it help the girls. According to Rasha, the designers are involved in at least 2 big events (that last over 2-3 days with a bigger organisation) and around 2-3 small events (that are only a day).
Exhibitions are not the only help the designers are offered. There are coaching sessions which take place with Coach Hamsa, a Bahraini life-inspirational coach, once a month that focus on building a better network within the Showcase101 family. These sessions help the designers understand what their target and aim is while they are with the boutique and what it can offer back, Rasha says, as the reason to support them so intensely is to help them grow.
Additionally, the designers are also offered social media promotion sessions twice or three times a month. These short sessions are related to helping create a strong market presence whether it is branding, Instagram techniques, improving business development plans, or finding strategies to develop the business further. During the longer sessions that are offered, local famous fashion designers are invited to speak with the designers within the incubator or open the public. Recently Showcase101 introduced a weekly Fashion Brainstorming Session in which an expert designer comes in and speaks to the team, giving them tips on how to choose their fabrics, colours, and styles based on the latest trends. Other brainstorming sessions focus on improving sales within the shop through means of either the internet or through attending local bazaars. Showcase101 makes sure its designers are well looked after and educated from the moment they join the team till the very end. The designers were also treated to a one-to-one session with Harvery Nichols Kuwait’s Personal Shopper Musead Al Mutari who gave them styling tips, and the following day doors were open for the public for the sessions. The shop is also a proud member of Businesswomen Kuwaiti Network, says Rasha, where they are an active member. The network is headed by CEO Maha Al Baghli, who is also the CEO of ‘Safira’ charity – also supported very strongly by Showcase101 – which works hard to support the fight against cervical cancer. The shop even has products on display by them and the profits of any item sold go directly to the charity’s funds.
The designers who wish to display their work in Showcase101 come into contact with the boutique through their Instagram page and can fill an online application, or come to the shop directly to apply. Designers chosen to be displayed are selected through a filtering process after deciding where in the shop there is a gap – in terms of what kind of item is missing because they do not want too many of the same things. There is so much demand, Rasha says, that there are waiting lists and through the boutique there is a great deal of opportunity, it just depends on when designers can be allocated into the shop rightfully.
The process to decide which designers are selected to be displayed is not as quick as one might think. After the initial application, the potential candidate has to bring their products to the Showcase101 team who determine how serious the designer is about turning their hobby into a business. If it is an already existing business but it is finding it hard to get up on its own feet, Showcase101 can then turn itself into a location for them which makes it easier for the public to gain access to the products.
Showcase101 and even Blossom Events are not just about selling novelty items or setting up exhibitions, but along with helping multiple businesses simultaneously, it is also heavily involved in charity work. Whenever there is an exhibition done by the boutique, the charity that it is being done for is necessarily mentioned, Rasha says. Some of the charities they support are Dream Society and Childswish. Donations were also made to the kids ward in Salmaniya Hospital on behalf of the boutique as well as having a joint venture with hospitals, such as Royal Bahrain Hospital, to do special sessions on Breast Cancer.
Blossom Events is also the recipient of an award presented by Her Highness Sheikha Sabeeka in 2011 in the Events and Exhibitions Sector, in the category of Women Entrepreneurs. Every year in December these awards are given out to women in the different sectors of business.
“I believe that nothing is impossible. As long as you have a dream, don’t let just be a dream, go out and fulfill it and make it a reality. Everything can be done as long as there is passion and if you believe in yourself.”
For more information on Showcase101 and sessions offered:
Coach Hamsa: @hamsacoaching
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