With outlets of major global brands in almost every GCC state, online retailers offering international delivery of each season’s hottest items, and the rising number and popularity of regional and international ‘fashionistas’ on social media, Khaleejis have become increasingly fashion conscious. But when everything is within reach and when followers in the hundreds and thousands are emulating their social media icons’ style, how can you break away from the identical-looking crowd and have your own unique style? In other words, how can you make a fashion statement? The answer may lie in vintage retail.
The vintage or resale industry is experiencing an unprecedented boom around the world, with resale shops generating a revenue of USD 17 billion in the US alone in 2017, according to First Research. Reasons for this boom are manifold, with customers scouring the racks and bins of vintage shops looking for one-of-a-kind pieces to complement their distinctive styles, to find a good bargain, or because they believe that buying vintage items would reduce their environmental footprint.
For Emiratis Adel Galadari and Ahmed Al Aqeeli, however, it was always about the superiority of vintage style and quality. The long-time family friends founded The Collector’s Corner, a Dubai-based online retail store selling vintage designer glasses, as a result of a more than decade-long shared passion for collecting them. It all began when the two saw a photo of a young H.H. Sheikh Zayed Al Nahyan, founder of the UAE, sporting a pair of stylish sunglasses that caught their eye. They were determined to identify, search for, and acquire them. With time, the two became obsessed, challenging each other to identify and find the glasses worn by other sheikhs and celebrities in the past. The sheer size of their ever-growing collection, which even included women’s vintage eyewear, drove them to start the business.
Founded in 2013, The Collector’s Corner is one of the few vintage shops that have emerged in this part of the world, with Lebanese Dubai resident Dana Wolley Zayat’s Wayed Vintage, established in 2007, claimed to be the first vintage jewellery boutique in the GCC region. The trend still seems to be in its infancy in the region.
We meet with Adel and Ahmed to discuss the vintage market in the GCC, find out what it takes to run a vintage business, and debate the pros of buying vintage glasses as opposed to new ones.
From where do you source your glasses?
Ahmed: You can find them anywhere. Anywhere. You just have to know what you’re looking for.
Adel: We get them from all over. Germany, the US, Saudi Arabia, Dubai… Because of our experience in collecting them, we know where to look for them and who to trust in terms of suppliers. However, getting them in bigger quantities now [for the business as opposed to just personal wear] is much more difficult.
When it comes to vintage glasses, how do you ensure authenticity?
Ahmed: You get them from the main suppliers. Vintage glasses are not like vintage watches and cars. People don’t make copies of vintage glasses because there’s no mass demand for them. It would be a loss for them [imitators] to have copies made. You’ll find copies of new glasses, however, because they move very quickly in the market.
What is a fact people don’t know about vintage glasses?
Ahmed: A lot of people think that vintage items like sunglasses have to be used/worn, which is not always true. Many are just new old stock that wasn’t sold.
How do you price the glasses? What does it depend on?
Ahmed: The rarity, the quality, and the brand. If the glasses are rare, then the price will be high. If there are many pieces available around the world, then the price will be less.
Why should people buy vintage as opposed to new glasses?
Adel: First and most importantly, the appreciating value it has if you know which piece to buy. Secondly, in terms of quality, nothing beats vintage sunglasses. When you just hold them in your hands, trust me, you will automatically feel the difference! It’s incredible! Better quality means the glasses will be longer lasting.
What are the differences between sunglasses made today and those made before?
Adel: Before, glasses were mostly made in house by specific brands. For example, Cartier glasses were made in France and Ray-Bans in the US.
Ahmed: Now, there are a few big companies, like Luxottica, that make most brands’ glasses for them. They manufacture them in China, whereas before they were made in European countries like Germany. Quality and therefore more expensive glasses are the ones that are made in house by individual brands today.
How does running a vintage business differ from running any other kind of business?
Adel: You need knowledge because you’re educating people about the pieces when you make a sale, about the history and the quality of the items. That’s why when we participate in events, we are there on the floor ourselves, educating potential customers about the sunglasses. We don’t hire salespeople to do it.
Why do you think the vintage market isn’t very big in the GCC region?
Adel: I don’t think it’s a small market. People nowadays, and especially Khaleejis, are looking to be unique, and I was quite surprised to see the knowledge people have on these things! Some of the people who approached me are quite knowledgeable about the vintage market and know exactly what they are looking for. I am not only talking about sunglasses here; the vintage watches market is also huge! People are learning, and it’s incredible because day by day I can personally see people’s interest is increasing, which is good for us!
Your bestseller to date…
Ahmed: The Cartier brand. People would be willing to pay any price for vintage Cartier sunglasses because they know the brand and that the cost of making the glasses is expensive. In addition, many of our clients’ parents and older family members wore them when they were younger, so they have a personal appeal to them. Clients want something like their parents had.
Your most memorable sale…
Adel: We had a client from Abu Dhabi who asked us to find sunglasses that her father lost, and we were able to source them with great difficulty. It was very emotional for her father when she surprised him with them.
The glasses you had the most difficult time finding…
Ahmed: That’s a tough question. One of them was a pair that H.H. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum [vice president and prime minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai] wore in the 1970s. It took years to find out what brand they were in the first place and then to acquire them.
Are you planning to expand and sell other vintage items, such as vintage watches, for example?
Adel: Yes, when we open up a permanent store, where we’ll hire people and educate them about the vintage business so that Ahmed and I will have more time to focus on expanding the business.
How can someone get their hands on a pair of your vintage glasses?
Ahmed: For the time being, you can order through our social media page, or you can ask us for a private viewing. We’ll bring the glasses to you, and you can take your time inspecting and choosing them. We also participate in exhibitions in the UAE like the Modern Women Show, Mirbad, and the Mother of the Nation Festival.
You can check out The Collector’s Corner’s latest vintage finds on their Instagram account, @the.collectors.corner.
Sharifah Alhinai is the Managing Storyteller at Sekka.