‘Shop till you drop’ has always been the mantra of Dubai, but now, local brands are asking people to factor in sustainability. We uncover some Middle-Eastern fashion treasures. By Sujata Assomull

Local brands in Dubai
The Dubai Mall is the world’s largest mall by land area and is home to the Dubai Shopping Festival. Photo credit: STEFAN TOMIC/GETTYIMAGES

There is no question that Dubai is the fashion capital of the Middle East. The city loves to dress up and is home to one of the world’s largest and most luxurious shopping centres, The Dubai Mall. Most tourists inevitably indulge in fashion shopping here. After all, you can find the best of Milan and Paris in Dubai. But you must also look out for some responsible homegrown brands on your next trip.

The New Wave

With Middle Eastern brands waking up to the need to be sustainable, you can now find some unique conscious buys in Dubai. The recent lockdown has only spurred this movement on. Local brands are usually found in smaller malls, studios in Dubai Design District (D3), or boutiques around the upscale residential area of Jumeirah. Bouguessa is a modern Arab brand known for its sartorial detailing and for injecting a feel of architecture into all its pieces. Sonam Kapoor Ahuja and Priyanka Chopra Jonas have worn the label, founded by the stylish French-Algerian designer Faiza Bouguessa. She says, “I am often told that there is a touch of orientalism in my designs, so maybe the aspect of modern designs with that twist appeals to our Indian clients.”

Local brands in Dubai
French-Algerian designer Faiza Bouguessa with her display at the Vogue Fashion Dubai Experience held in 2014. Photo credit: SAMIR HUSSEIN/GETTYIMAGES

During the lockdown, the designer has worked towards making her brand more responsible. “We had been thinking of working with deadstock to reduce waste for more than a year now, but due to the fast pace of the fashion calendar, I had not found ways to do so. I think the fact that we had to slow down for the past few months gave me the clarity to evaluate how to do so and also to explore these fabrics more creatively and give them a new life.” The result is an eco-conscious capsule collection that includes some easy but well-finished summer dresses that can be dressed up or down. You can even add a churidar under some of them to inject an Indo-Western twist to the ensemble. You can find her label on international platforms such as Net-aPorter and also at the multi-brand concept store Symphony, in The Dubai Mall, but you must visit her studio at D3 (building 7) to see her full collection. And she does take special orders.

Local brands in Dubai
French-Algerian designer Faiza Bouguessa. Photo credit: COURTESY OF BOUGUESSA

A stone’s throw away, KAGE is located in Building 5 at D3. It was founded by Dubai girl Basma Abu Ghazaleh just over a decade ago, as she saw a gap in the market for easy-to-wear separates. At that time, there were virtually no homegrown labels that created such clothes—most labels from the Middle East were all about couture. Today, her label retails from leading concept stores in Dubai such as Etoile La Boutique and Boutique 1. She acknowledges that it is not easy for local brands to enter the retail circuit, “Multi-brand stores are particular when choosing local. A local brand is usually looked upon as a second-class label.” Abu Ghazaleh says sustainability in the local market is about upcycled, pre-loved, and timeless pieces of fashion. KAGE recently launched a capsule collection using excess stock materials to make seasonless pieces—from kaftans to sarongs and shell tops, these are separates worn while lounging at home, to the beach, or to an evening soiree depending on how you dress them up. KAGE has always believed in using sustainable fabrics, and its founder says, “There has been a shift in the way a shopper in the region thinks about making their purchases.” KAGE is also known for its tailored separates, and blazers are a de rigueur part of their collections. “A blazer is a versatile fashion staple that can be worn from day to night. It’s for the cool lady, but also for the sophisticated entrepreneur,” explains the founder.

Local brands in Dubai
Studios in Dubai Design District house local fashion brands. Photo credit: ADAMCHE011/GETTYIMAGES

Essential Ad-Ons

D3 was built to be the design hub of the city, and it is dotted with boutiques and quaint eateries, but one store that every discerning traveller must visit is Montroi. The brainchild of Enrique Hormigo and Samir Aghera, Montroi is a Dubai-based design label that celebrates nomadic life. The brand’s name is derived from a village in Europe, thought to be a part of the ancient Silk Route, and showcases a clean yet multicultural aesthetic. Best known for handcrafted leather goods, perfumes, and accessories, Montroi works closely with local artists and can personalise everything from a luggage tag to a trunk. Its bags are made in Italy, the rosewater is from Oman, and perfumes made in Grasse, France.

Local brands in Dubai
KAGE recently launched a capsule collection using excess stock materials. Photo credit: COURTESY OF KAGE

Local brands in Dubai

When it comes to sustainability, the brand’s main concern is preservation of crafts. “We benefi t from ‘being in the right place at the right time’ as this region is looking for more depth in their purchases. We create products that age well and tell stories; products that we can treasure for longevity,” says Hormigo. The brand encourages visitors to come by and have a cup of tea at its studio located on the street level of Building 7 in D3, so that you can learn the story behind the products. You will also find a selection at its store in Louvre Abu Dhabi.

Local brands in Dubai
Montroi is a Dubai-based design label that celebrates nomadic life. Photo credit: COURTESY OF MONTROI

While in Building 7 at D3, you might want to drop by HALM Design Studio and look at some arm candy that combines the best of three cultures. The bags combine Scandinavian minimalism, British pragmatism, and Dubai’s love for luxury. Swedish creative director Hanna Ransjo, who has lived in the Emirates for over 25 years, and British project manager Hannah Louise Brewer, who came from womenswear label Temperley London, created the signature bag called the Chilluxe. It works as a perfect day-to-night accessory, and was given the ultimate seal of approval when Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan carried it at her fi rst offi cial engagement of 2019. Ransjo says, “We aim to encourage slow fashion with a fresh twist on aesthetics, such as smaller leather goods or interchangeable straps you can add to each design.” It is a mindful approach to design.

Local brands in Dubai
Montroi works closely with local artists. Photo credit: COURTESY OF MONTROI

The Art Route

If you are looking for more avantgarde stuff, drive to Sharjah to visit Reemami. Trained graphic designer Reema Al Banna’s label is known for its bold and beautiful designs. “Realising how much waste the fashion industry makes and seeing it first-hand, I had to find solutions to use all the surplus materials,” says Al Banna. The brand is rooted in Middle Eastern culture and the founder believes there is an increasing appreciation for local art and design. But it is challenging for local designers to be sustainable. “Designers in the region have limited supplies and limited sources for fabric, and we depend on a lot of suppliers outside the country.” The label, which has been worn by Hollywood stars Bella Hadid and Kelly Rowland, is committed to becoming 100 per cent sustainable. “Repurpose, reuse, recycle—that is our mantra. For example, we regenerate some of our samples to make new samples.” It is also one of the few local labels to address swimwear. A girl who loves the outdoors, Al Banna likes to inject a feeling of adventure into her designs.

Local brands in Dubai
Reema Al Banna’s label, Reemami, is known for its bold designs. Photo credit: COURTESY OF REEMAMI
Local brands in Dubai
Al Banna likes to inject a feeling of adventure into her designs. Photo credit: COURTESY OF REEMAMI

Apart from attempts at sustainability, all these local labels share a dedication to good craftsmanship. As Halm’s Ransjo says, “What makes the region so special is that it is a melting pot of exciting backgrounds holding on to traditions that will soon be lost in other areas of the world.”

You can fly to Dubai from any of the major Indian cities. Emirates has the most number of connections. The airport is just five kilometres from the city centre, and cabs are easy to find.

Vida Downtown (twin room from INR9,000) is an urban lifestyle hotel close to the Burj Khalifa and The Dubai Mall. If you want to stay on the beachfront, Jumeirah Al Naseem (doubles from INR 40,000) is a contemporary retreat home to some of the best restaurants in the city.

Related: #TnlSupportsLocal: Here’s Why You Should Know About These 10 Sustainable Indie Textile Labels