While the Middle East region remains immensely conservative when it comes to standards of dress and the role of women, its growing economy and expanding cash-rich middle class means heightened demand for global fashion – pretty lingerie included.
That’s where Amourah.com comes in. As the first underwear shopping blog and e-commerce platform in the region, the start-up is catering to the needs of Middle Eastern women in more ways than one. They’re offering well-made, form-fitting, figure-flattering designs that are slightly more Bonds and Wonderbra than Agent Provocateur.
As founder Alex Tohme says, “My e-commerce start-up is not focusing on ‘sexy kinky lingerie’ because that doesn’t address the issue that women really want. They want advice, they want answers to their bra problems, and they want to feel like someone is focusing on their feelings and not their wallets.”
Tohme writes bluntly and openly about her and every woman’s quest to find the right bra on the brand’s blog and Facebook, answering questions regarding the correct fit and feel and tackling taboo subjects such as the curious case of migrating breast tissue. “Every woman should be celebrated no matter the shape and size,” she says.
After facilitating the discussion online, she found that women were reaching out with the same experiences and questions that she had. The solution? To set up a female-friendly, body-positive space where women at all ends of the cup-size spectrum could get advice and feel safe and comfortable to shop.
The Middle East seems like a potentially tricky market for this sort of thing. As Tohme jokingly says of her blog, “I think it’s the first time anyone actually showed their boobs in a bra in this region! But I’m alive and haven’t been arrested.”
The bold-talking businesswoman experienced pushback in the male-dominated retail industry, where she struggled to convince investors that well-fitting shapewear was an important thing, yet the demand is definitely there.
Just last year, Saudi women began boycotting lingerie shops with male-only staff, uncomfortable at the thought of being attended to by men who, due to “mixed company” rules, had to take measurements based purely on sight. Worse still, none of these stores were equipped with fitting rooms, forcing many customers to buy their bras and knickers first before heading to a public bathroom to try them on.
Though the Western perception of women in the Middle East tends to be rather one-dimensional, Alex Tohme and other female entrepreneurs are challenging that. As The Atlantic points out, they now make up 35 per cent of entrepreneurs in the region – a figure that far eclipses Silicon Valley’s 8.9 per cent. Furthermore, their success demonstrates how one can use start-up platforms to promote female empowerment and drive social change. As Tohme says, “If you take the risk it gives others confidence to follow.”
With Amourah.com, Tohme broadcasts the message that women should be able to talk about their bodies without shame or embarrassment – no matter where they are in the world. And in that sense, her customers are walking away with so much more than boost and better back support.