Esquire meets Mr Draper
Now before Mad Men aficionados out there get too excited, no, the show’s dapper protagonist has not jumped from the advertising sphere to the personal shopping one, Mr Draper in this instance refers to the moniker behind a brand new men’s styling service emerging in the UAE.
Esquire sat down with Mahmoud Gao, managing partner and founder of Mr Draper to discuss the region’s newest sartorial servant…
So tell us a little bit about this new service Mahmoud…
Well basically, we wanted to eliminate the hassle people experience when it comes to shopping, and for us to do that we have to eliminate the malls and the online stores. When shoppers buy stuff online the fit might not be quite right, or the material’s not quite how it appeared on the website. With Mr Draper, you go to our website, gives us some basic information like height, style preferences and so on. The stylist that gets assigned to you follows it up and finds out a bit more about what you like or don’t like, then based off that she’ll prepare a clothing package and send it to your house for you to try.
You then have five days to try everything on, if you like anything there’s the option to purchase it, if you don’t- simply put it back in the box and request a pick up.
When returning the items, the customer has the option to give us feedback on the garments so we start to understand them a bit more. They can state if the shirt was too big, too expensive, if they didn’t like the colour or the style, or the price. Then if the gentleman wants a new package, he will give us some more information about what he wants from the next one and the process starts over again. And that whole service is free of charge. Essentially the more time someone uses the service, the more personalised it gets for them. The first package is always a bit different because we send a lot of options and we try and get feedback to determine their tastes.
How does the styling process work once you have your basic information from the customer?
We get a lot of information when we speak to you on the phone. Sometimes it’s styling, but to be quite honest, right now, it’s more of a personal shopper. Guys usually know what they want, so for us to try to suggest wholly new things to them is quite risky at this time. We kind of want to stick to what they want. We call a customer and he’ll say, “I want jeans. I usually wear clean cut jeans, slim but not skinny” or “I only wear shoes without laces” and so on. So we pick out things based on that in their sizes. We will throw an exploratory piece or two in to see how they react to it. They don’t ask for it but we try and gauge to see if the customer is willing to explore it. A lot of the styling actually happens in the In House service. A gentleman will book an appointment, come in and Elise our stylist will have a chat with them – like she would on the phone – and she really explores what they’re about. She goes back and forth from our inventory, and says “try this, how about this” etc, and whenever the customer is finished they just buy what they like. That’s where we have a lot of customers coming to us and saying “I would never have picked this stuff out for myself but when I see it on I like it, I’m going to go for it.”
How long have you been operating in the region, and why did you chose the UAE?
Three months. In Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and sometimes Sharjah. We chose the UAE mostly owing to circumstance if I’m honest. At the time I was working as a consultant for a small start-up, I was working with them for eight months and they couldn’t afford to pay me. So they said I had two options, either I carried on with them and got paid when they got a new contract, or start entirely afresh and get a new job. So I started looking for a job for around two weeks until my girlfriend at the time said, “You’ve always wanted to run your own business so why don’t you start something?” I spent a week trying to come up with business ideas, from TV shows to restaurant or gym ideas, and then one day I woke up to an email from one of my very good friends. It was a referral email, one of those ‘I refer you and I get money off’, or something like that. And for some reason, I opened the email – which is something I’d never do – and it was about men’s shopping service called Trunk Club in the US and I thought, ‘this is the kind of service they need in Dubai’, and that day we started a business plan.
Forgive us for being cynical, but if the service is free, how does Mr Draper make money?
That’s a very good question, even customers ask me that! But we’re just like a shop in mall, except we don’t pay mall rent. Other than that, we operate like a normal shop and we buy clothes wholesale. Some brands tell us how to set the price; for example Ralph Lauren and Lacoste are exactly the same price as in the shops. Some brands on the other hand say “it’s up to you what you want to charge.” But we buy wholesale, and we sell retail.
How does it work when you have a brand in mind that you’d like to include in the service?
First I look at the style and I see if it’s something that’s missing from what we already have. Japan Rags for example is a bit more funky and edgy and we didn’t have that at the time. We look after the classic, traditional look so that was a little bit different. Then I get the price and examine what kind of terms we can get. Sometimes clients help us ship across; they’re really helpful because we take very small orders. And honestly, sometimes it just depends on whether the brand wants to work with us or not. Because we’re such a unique concept, a lot of people don’t get it, so there’s a whole brand reputation thing that goes on. But for us we don’t display anything, not in a shop or online, so a lot of brands are willing to work with us on the concept, which is cool.
How many exclusive lines does the service currently have and what lines are you looking to expand into?
We have six. So six out of fifteen, and two more are coming this month. Brands like Suit Supply, AG Jeans, Japan Rags and Valentino Polos – which you won’t find anywhere else. We also have CB- Made in Italy shoes, they’re pretty pricey but they’re handmade. We’re looking right now for the equivalent of Zara or Massimo Dutti, which is very difficult. We want the same as those in terms of price and style, but finding it is very difficult as neither of those two distribute to anyone but themselves.That’s the first problem, and the second is that the way they make the clothes and ship it here is very cost effective, and they can charge the prices they do charge. We’re looking, but we can’t really find the same quality and style for the same price. On the accessory front, people have approached us about sunglasses, handkerchief and bow ties so expanding into that shouldn’t be an issue with that. But we have had a lot of demand for women. Customers asking if we can do the same things for their wives or girlfriends, which is very interesting. So there could be a Mr and Mrs Draper soon, we’ll see.
Finally, why the name Mr Draper? We’re assuming Mad Men’s sartorially sharp Donald Draper has something to do with it?
(Laughs) Honestly, the original intention for us was that Draper is a very masculine name in general. When you look at the definition of Draper in the dictionary, it’s an individual that dresses someone else. So that was our intention. A lot of people however did make the connection with Donald Draper – we didn’t necessarily mean for that to happen – even if we knew it might – but that was good for us. He’s such a great character and in a way, he represents our brand. But it also hurts us sometimes because people expect us to do a suiting service, which is something we might get into, but not yet…
Mahmoud Gao started up Mr Draper three months ago with the help of his two co-founders Mary Freij and Tiba Al Damen. For more information on using the service, visit http://mrdraper.ae/