In conversation with Maya Talih Khatoun of RIOT

Image courtesy of RIOT

The fashion industry is the second most polluting industry after oil and gas. The total greenhouse gas emissions from textile production stands at about 1.2 billion tonnes each year, more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined according to Nature Climate Change.

Realising the damage that fashion causes the environment, Maya Talih Khatoun along with her cousin Tima Hamadeh, launched RIOT, an online marketplace for pre-owned fashion items.

To date, the pair have raised $350,000 and are currently looking to raise their Series A round.

Why did you become an entrepreneur?

I worked with the UN [United Nations] in economic development and poverty management and I was interested in circular economy and sustainability. I was in Dubai and had started speaking about RIOT three years before we launched. As soon as we started getting serious, we rounded up the money and we were ready to go and spoke to developers and had a prototype of what we wanted to do.

How did the idea for RIOT come about?

The whole idea started from our own closet. We were hoarding designer items and because they were expensive we didn’t want to let go of them. The realisation of monetising pre-loved items got us researching. As soon as we started this research, we wanted to create a luxurious experience and give customers more and more reason to wear pre-loved.

How have you incorporate technology into your business?

We’ve created an algorithm that assigns a retail value to determine what something is worth, it’s a price calculator. We outsourced it to financial analysts based out of Mumbai. We use data points of every single retail website in the world, its constantly evolving and changing and getting more and more refined.

How do you find a balance between work and home life?

I don’t find a balance. It’s a constant struggle and you always feel guilty. I’ve sacrificed more time with my kids unfortunately, and I’ve sacrificed my social life completely. You just don’t have the time to do anything. My day starts at 6am, I’m in the office before anyone at 8am and then I leave around 7pm in time to get my kids to bed and then I work at night or I research. It’s a rush, but I love it.

What were your main challenges when you first started RIOT?

Setting up, the legal part of it, the trade licences, all the hidden costs were major challenges. Finding the right people for our team was very, very difficult. You want people who are good and willing to take a massive pay cut because they believe in your dream.

There were cash flow issues too, it’s really like a chicken and egg situation, you end up having to spend money to get money, but where do you get that initial money from?

It became all-consuming, I’d go to sleep still dreaming about RIOT. When it’s your own business, it’s a risk and a leap of faith. I didn’t have the physical or mental capability to focus on anything else.

How did you deal with these challenges?

You persevere and you show up everyday and you let people know that you’re serious and you get things done the way you want them to be done. When it came to finding the right people, we found people who truly believed in what we were doing and were willing to stay with us and grow with us. People have to believe in what they’re doing and be passionate.

What will you sector look like in the next decade?

The region will definitely catch up with the rest of the world where the pre-loved market will be massive. When it comes to technology, we’re trying to create a custom calculator to measure the positive environmental impact so customers can see their choices and actions. In the near future this will be very important for people, and seeing their environmental impact will be important.






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