Asian fashion e-commerce start-up Zalora aims to become a multi-billion dollar company, and according to managing director Michele Ferrario, Southeast Asia's burgeoning market holds the key to achieving that goal.
"Singapore is well-served in terms of online and offline retail, but when you think about smaller towns in Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand, people there do not have the same access to fashion as people in developed markets," he told CNBC's "Managing Asia."
Home to more than 600 million consumers, the region's internet retail market is at an "inflection point," according to a UBS report published last June. Analysts estimate online spending across Southeast Asia is poised to hit $35 billion by 2020, on the back of high internet penetration and widespread smartphone usage.
"We thought this is a huge opportunity to change the way people access fashion," the 34-year-old said.
Backed by German venture fund and start-up incubator Rocket Internet, Zalora made 69 million euros (approximately $81 million) in revenue in 2013 and over 44 million in the first half of last year. Ferrario declined to reveal latest revenue figures.
But competition is stiff, with heavyweight competitors from the West like Amazon and ASOS, more established regional rivals like China's Alibaba and Japan's Rakuten, as well as fellow start-ups including Lazada. Meanwhile, a lack of high-speed internet, poor logistics infrastructure and varying cultures, make Southeast Asia's flourishing e-commerce market difficult to navigate.
"The market is very fragmented, with 600 million people living in different countries [using] different currencies [and practicing] different religions. That changes the way we do business," Ferrario said.
To cater to the region's diverse tastes, Zalora localized its websites and services, from having Vietnamese-speaking customer service operators to offering Muslim products for shoppers in Malaysia and Indonesia.