Dubai: With foreigners making up roughly 90 per cent of its population, Dubai’s designers say the city is great for new brands and entrepreneurs who want the world to take notice.
“Dubai is a melting pot. There are over 200 nationalities here, so there’s always a different target audience to cater to without even leaving the country,” said Shaimaa Gargash, one of three Emirati sisters behind the 3-year-old fashion label House of Fatam.
Of $7.6 billion (Dh27.91 billion) spent in the Middle East on fashion in 2012, just under a third was spent in Dubai alone, according to Bain and Co.
Local designers say there is a misconception that Arab women in the Gulf — who traditionally wear long black robes over their clothes and matching black scarves over their hair and even faces — are not daring when it comes to what they wear underneath and in front of other women.
“They are actually more adventurous than people think,” said Lamia Gargash, one of the founders of House of Fatam.
Lebanese designer Zayan Ghandour says fashion is not merely a luxury, but a necessity in this part of the world. One of three women who own Sauce, a highly sought-after brand of boutique stores with six branches in the United Arab Emirates, Ghandour says the majority of her customers are Gulf Arab women who are not afraid to experiment with bright colours, being and the latest trends.
“The lady in this part of the world takes her fashion very seriously,” she said.
Saudi designer Lama Taher says her brand, Lumi, is selling out across the region because Arab women have learnt to value locally made products, rather than only wearing international luxury brands.
“They love to flaunt their beauty, but there are different ways to do it and different platforms. It can be in public, or in (private) gatherings and parties and events,” the 27-year-old said.
Capitalising on the growing interest in local brands, Dubai Design District or D3 will be built up over the next decade to act as a gateway for emerging designers from South Asia to North Africa.
“We believe Dubai Design District will be different than what you hear about in Milan or Paris. … We want to create our own identity,” Al Rustamani said.
If Dubai wants to offer something unique and authentic, it will have to attract designers from outside the UAE, says Egyptian jeweller Azza Fahmy.
Fahmy, who has been approached by D3 as an adviser, is an icon among young Arab artisans for successfully infusing Egyptian and Islamic art into wearable, modern pieces. She created a line of jewellery for the British Museum inspired by the Haj, and her jewellery will be on the runway on Sunday during London’s Fashion Week, for designer Matthew Williamson’s show.
Fahmy says D3 needs more than just buildings to come alive.
Ancient metropolises like Cairo and Damascus — where thousands of years of history and civilisation are on display in the bazaars, architecture, poetry and cuisine — inspire artists, she said.
“You need to collaborate with the countries around you that already have culture and civilisation, each helping one another,” she said.