Bargain hunter

Dia Shams runs a luxury consignment business, where she sells Chanel, Hermès, Fendi and other high-end brands online, at Valamode.com. She meets clients in person in Ottawa. (Photograph by Julie Oliver)

Dia Shams is a bargain hunter with a taste for Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Hermès and Dior. She makes it her mission to track down upscale brands like these for her clients. Business has been brisk since starting Valamode, a resale fashion company, last August.

“It’s like your own personal shopper hunting down bargain deals for your designer stuff,” she says. “There’s nothing more fun than being able to hunt down the right piece for the right person.”

Shams creates profiles for each client, with their shoe and dress sizes and the names of designers they like, creating a wish list for them. As upscale items come through, she matches them to the ideal clients. If she can’t find a suitable match, she posts the items on her website, which has garnered interest with clients from faraway places such as Austria, Russia and France.

“My goal is to get Ottawa engaged. I’ve put in years of research to ensure the best value and experience will come when partnering with Valamode, either as a buyer or shopper, and hope to bring forth that market and fashion knowledge to my client. The best feeling is having clients come back knowing they can trust Valamode with handling the merchandise and processing it.”

Surrounded by designer handbags, shoes, accessories and clothes, in her Ottawa South home office, Shams enjoys the process of matching gently worn luxury consignment goods with clients.

Getting shipments of designer pieces in the mail is like getting presents every day, she says, and the research that goes into determining their authenticity and history is a passion.

“It’s fun seeing what era something came from, what collection it was, who the designer was,” says Shams. “You play with stuff all day long and have so much fun doing it.”

She says it’s taken years of working in the fashion industry — Shams was the handbag specialist at Holt Renfrew for a few years — to be able to verify the authenticity of pieces down to the grade and colour of the stitching.

Picking up a limited-edition Louis Vuitton handbag, Shams’s eyes light up. It’s bag number 3,423, one of only 10,000 that were made worldwide. “I see stuff like that and I get so excited,” she says.

Shams’ online business can be found at Valamode.com. She interacts with clients through email, Face Time and Skype, and in person if in the area.

It’s a lot to juggle with a full-time job in human resources. A support system of family and friends have been there for Shams from the beginning.

When it’s time to send out beautiful packages with personal notes to her clients on the West Coast and beyond, she’ll recruit girlfriends to come over and help.

She gets her boyfriend to try on menswear items, too, if she’s not sure about certain pieces.

Valamode’s online offerings consist of bags, shoes and accessories — for now — with 49 items currently listed at prices between 30 and 70 per cent off the original retail price.

There’s a Prada pouch for $64 and a $980 Louis Vuitton handbag, which originally sold for $1,650.

Valamode offers clients a 70 per cent share of the sale price forChanel, Hermès, and Louis Vuitton items; 60 per cent for designers such as Gucci, Prada and Burberry; and 50 per cent for designers such as Coach and Michael Kors.

Shams says she’ll be launching a collection of clothing on the site on March 21, with 160 items on her list so far, including a recently added brilliant blue Vera Wang summer dress and men’s dress shirts from Dolce & Gabbana.

Shams says that now that her business is starting to pick up she’s ready to hit the ground running.

“It took a while for me to decide how far I was going to take it. Now, I want the town to know we’re here,” she says.

“Ottawa is really starting to stand out, with fashion week, networking and even our galas. We’re really getting it together when it comes to connecting over fashion.”

Ottawa fashionistas hoping to browse the vintage and designer items in person will soon be able to do so.

Valamode is planning quarterly downtown pop-up shops, with the first in the works for this spring.

Shams is also participating in the Ottawa Vintage Clothing Show, with the next event slated for April 13 at the Ottawa Convention Centre.

Connect with Marie-Danielle Smith |msmith@ottawacitizen.com