Looking for a way to support small businesses and offer unique options for shoppers, Annabelle and Anna Bolton-Riley set up online platform Little Majlis. We speak with Annabelle about a love for unusual pieces and the importance of shopping local…
Tell us about the journey towards setting up Little Majlis…
Anna and I set up Little Majlis in 2012. It was something we always talked about – developing a business – and we had a background in design and construction so design is something we’ve always been passionate about.
We became aware that there was this little underground culture of creative people having house sales and importing or making things to sell, but it wasn’t available to the mainstream community. So the idea was that Little Majlis gave these creative people a platform to get their products out there, and it also gave the wider community a chance to access it.
What are the criteria for selling on your platform?
The idea is non-mass produced products, so things that are handmade; they can be imported but the idea is that they’re artisan or boutique products, things you won’t find in malls.
Why is it important to you to support these kinds of businesses?
The UAE is an amazing place for shopping but it is often hard to find something that’s a bit special, customised, personalised or out of the ordinary.
When we started developing Little Majlis, that was before there were markets. Now there’s a much greater awareness of small businesses and trying to encourage local makers, and for people to get out and buy their products and support them. It’s really something that the UAE has grabbed hold of and run with. But at the time it wasn’t and people were doing it under wraps in their home and if you weren’t a friend of a friend of a friend, you weren’t in the know.
After you set up the website, were you surprised to see more talented people come out of the woodwork?
I was and I think we are at a stage now that we find that people who arrive in the UAE and find out about the platform, they try to come up with an idea because they want to be part of it. Rather than coming across with something they’ve had, they do it the other way: they come up with an idea for a small business of their own to be part of that community.
Was it challenging for you to set up a new concept?
Well, it is not new worldwide, but it was original at the time here. I think what we’ve tried to do too is solve problems for people here, so we have made it relevant to this region. Setting up a business here is much different to doing it abroad and it is very expensive for someone who is either just starting out or not sure if they’re going to be in the country for long, so it’s a platform for people to do something in a flexible and low-cost way.
What kind of feedback do you get?
Generally, we like to think we’re a very inclusive and supportive community – and we call our platform a community, it’s not just an e-commerce website. We provide support to sellers and we like to think it’s much more supportive than other platforms. Anna and I are both actively involved in the business and so it does have a personal feel about it. This is important to us because the people who sell, it’s personal to them too; it’s something they’re very passionate about.
WORDS Rachael Perrett