Dubai’s Model Ambitions

Will Dubai’s massive fashion industry investment propel it to the big league?



Global fashion heavyweights descended on Dubai in October for Fashion Forward – the emirate’s very own fashion week – as well as the first Vogue Fashion Dubai Experience, where style moguls such as Donatella Versace, Silvia Fendi and Roberto Cavalli all made their presence known.

Dubai’s string of fashion events clearly underlines its ambitions to become a global style hub by 2020. Earlier this year, the emirate announced the launch of Dubai Design District, which will be a full-service commercial hub for design industry-related organisations, brands, and supporting enterprises, along with retail facilities for emerging and established designers.

According to industry experts, Dubai’s ambition to rub shoulders with other fashion capitals across the world is natural, owing to the region’s hunger for luxury fashion and retail.

“Fashion consumerism is at its highest in Dubai and we have got almost 85 per cent of global fashion brands represented here and they are fighting to be here. We have to take a smart approach here wherein it is fine to export or bring in these brands but it will also be good to look at what we can actually offer. For that, we should champion our own brands,” said Bong Guerrero, CEO and founder of Fashion Forward.

“International brands want to expand in Dubai because the purchasing power of the region is quite exponential. A lot of fashion items were created for this market.”

Local retail giants are also rooting for the fashion industry’s contribution to the economy.

“A focus on driving the fashion sector will no doubt energise Dubai’s economy with the city to serve as a hub for the world’s leading brands to reach out to the fashion-savvy population in the region and will play a key role in driving the retail sector,” said Mohamed Alabbar, chairman of Emaar Properties.

In order to tap into Dubai’s thriving fashion market, Alabbar said that Emaar has begun an expansion of Fashion Avenue in its flagship Dubai Mall by one million square feet to accommodate more high-end brands.

“With 1,200 stores, most of which are Middle East debuts or flagship outlets of global brands, the mall continues to see increased interest from brands across the world,” said Alabbar.

However, experts warned that being a thriving fashion retail market does not necessarily mean that the emirate will be transformed into a successful fashion hub.

“It will be very easy to say yes to the fact that Dubai can be a fashion hub due to a thriving retail market but I don’t think I am ready to say yes to that yet. Being good at shopping does not mean that you support fashion or design,” said Simon Collins, dean of fashion at Parsons The New School for Design.

Collins said that to be a true fashion capital, Dubai should be able to strike the right balance between producing good designs through local talent while learning to also leverage trends for business. He added that marketing tools and avenues to exhibit fashion wares are imperative but investing in and nurturing good designs might take a while to yield high returns.

“They (Dubai) need to recognise the long-term commitment that is needed in building a fashion industry. You have to be consistent through good times and bad,” he said.

With Dubai’s penchant for luxury and innovation, it remains to be seen whether the emirate can one day compete with the likes of established fashion hubs such as London, Paris and Milan.