Lady boss: a secret stash – Nazish Hussain CEO, Entrepreneur

Author: Haya Fatima Sehgal

A few years ago I came across the term ‘pre-loved’ (previously loved), and was a bit amused. Previously loved was a great way of saying the item had been used by somebody, and was now for sale looking for another home. My first question about it would be if there was an actual market for such a business in Pakistan. Do people buy used items as fashion accessories? I understood old furniture and household things, and I know we have the concept of used clothes, but had not experienced or considered branded accessories personally.

It’s not until I did some research that I found out that Pakistan has had a huge pre-loved market for brands for several years, and although I noticed casual sales over Facebook groups, I had not realised how large a market it actually was. So much so it took a young woman to leave her job in the corporate sector to start a business that would bring enough profit for a steady income.

Here we are not speaking about a few small items that our mothers may or may not want to part with; this was designer wear, jewelry, bags, shoes, watches, and yes, even a fantastic men’s designer wear selection. The brands ranged from regular to mid-range. High-end brands such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada, and Hermes have a market of their own.

My other question was: how would one recognise and filter the fakes? To find out more, I met Nazish Hussain, CEO of the online store Secret Stash, who helped me better understand the market and her business.

Secret Stash is currently Pakistan’s premiere online curated marketplace where women can anoymously buy and sell pre-owned luxury items for a discount. They do have office space for filtered clientele to see high-end items, but their main business is online. They mark the products as they genuine through their knowledge of the designers, and they stake their reputation on it.

How it began:

I had graduated from George Washington University with a major in marketing and a minor in communications. I moved to NYC, working for a tech PR firm for a while before moving back to Pakistan working as a media planner at Starcom, and then to the media team of Unilever before I started my own business.

The idea came to me while travelling abroad; I happened to see many high-end vintage stores, and found the concept absolutely brilliant. The idea that occurred to me was that who wouldn’t want to get original designer items in great condition at preferable prices in Pakistan. It was a niche market, and it just needed to be tapped.

The concept was that if you have things you’re not using or liking anymore, instead of just giving them away or storing them for years, this was an option that allowed you to sell off your unwanted items, especially high-end designer brands that were lying unused in a closet.

The idea stayed with me when I returned home. I kept thinking why something like this didn’t exist in Pakistan. It took some time, and after a few months of pondering I decided that I could just find out myself. I kept working on the idea, keeping in mind the local cultural sentiment: ‘what would people say’. With my background in digital I knew it had to be online and anonymous. The name ‘Secret Stash’ was coined to highlight the privacy of shoppers and sellers, and the first step towards the ‘pre-loved market’ in Pakistan was taken.

I launched the website in December 2014, but I didn’t go full time until November 2016.

The challenge:

In the beginning, I struggled with being an entrepreneur. I was used to the corporate world of a steady salary and being surrounded by a lot of people. On top of that, I was introducing a completely new concept of buying and selling pre-owned items online, in a nascent e-commerce market. It was tough to stay motivated as I was navigating the unchartered waters alone. I soon started a consultancy, even went back to working fulltime while running Secret Stash part time.

In the summer of 2016, I applied to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit and unexpectedly got accepted. It was happening in Silicon Valley that year at the Stanford University and was a complete game changer for me. I got to hear CEOs and founders of every major tech company in the world: Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Air BnB… you name it. Even more exciting than that was getting to hear the former US president Barack Obama speak. I also got to interact with entrepreneurs from all over the world. Hearing all these great leaders speak and network with fellow startup founders made me realise everyone goes through these challenges; the encouragement and reinforcement convinced me to leave everything else and give my everything to Secret Stash.

I wouldn’t use the word difficult but it does have an extra set of challenges that come from running an e-commerce business in Pakistan. But because we’re doing something different, it’s exciting at the same time. It’s taken a lot of time to not only build a customer base but also educate them on the concept of a pre-owned marketplace. The high number of repeat customers and the high growth we’re seeing tells us we must be doing something right. Every time we meet a satisfied customer it motivates us to keep doing what we’re doing.

As for validation, we’ve been featured in some of the top publications in Pakistan, and the coverage has been positive overall.

In the few years that Secret Stash has been operational, the number of people shopping online in Pakistan has grown tremendously

Business growth has always been a challenge. It continues to be one. Secret Stash has had a triple digit growth. My goal is to ensure we sustain this growth level.

The Feedback:

Overall, the feedback has been positive. We’ve developed a market, and we now have thousands of loyal customers across Pakistan buying and selling with us on a regular basis. One of the key values of our company is trust. We ensure we give our best across the board to both buyers and sellers. We’re giving them a service that no one else is. It’s a very important part of our company’s values to remain a trusted partner. If we get feedback on what we can do to improve we take it into account.

Finding my balance:

I believe strongly in working smart. I’ve never found the environment of a rat race and burning the midnight oil appealing. We keep set office hours at Secret Stash, and as a team we try to come in on time and leave on time so we can still do other things in our personal lives in the evenings, which I think is essential to have a healthy work-life balance. As for the people who hold me together in this, it’s my family. They have supported me throughout my entrepreneurship journey.

The market:

In the few years that Secret Stash has been operational the number of people shopping online in Pakistan has grown tremendously. Every brand today has to have an online presence and an e-store if they want to be competitive. And I believe a lot of credit for this has to go to giants like Daraz.Pk that have changed the way Pakistani consumers shop. We’re still very far from being as connected as countries like China, and 90 per cent of our people are just not comfortable moving beyond cash on delivery. We have a long way to go. With the passage of time, and with more international players coming in, our market will continue to grow and change.

My commitment to quality:

We’ve introduced a quality score criteria that is helping us filter products in terms of the condition of items we accept. If for example an item is below a 6/10 we won’t accept it.

As for authenticity, we check every item, and if there is as much as 1 per cent doubt, we don’t sell it.

How would I define myself in a few words?

An optimist, just trying to live and let live.

About my Pakistan:

Pakistan is home. Notwithstanding all the faults and issues, it’s our home, and there’s no place like it. I believe we can all play a role in making it a better place.

Words I live by:

Be honest and work with integrity. This is a value you have to have yourself and instil in your team. Believe in yourself and don’t listen to naysayers. Don’t be intimidated. If you have a good idea, persevere, and you’ll surprise even yourself with the results. Try to learn from your mistakes, and grow and ensure you don’t make the same mistake twice. Don’t try to do everything yourself. You’ll need a thick skin and not take everything personally.

The writer is a Lifestyle Blogger and writer, covering all positive things from Pakistan

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