The start-up scene for fashion brands in the UAE is getting bigger and bigger, with local and independent retailers delivering unique and innovative designs that challenge the offerings of well-known, multi-national brands.

However starting up a fashion business in the UAE is not an easy task. Not only do designers face tough competition from other local designers but also international brands with huge market shares. Whilst many designers in Dubai have the passion and skills to create beautiful clothing, they often lack the business knowledge and support networks to execute their plans and make their fashion brands a success.

The gaps in the UAE Market

In order for fashion start-up brands to be successful, designers have to complete the tricky task of spotting a gap in the UAE market. A lot of research is required to make sure your product is special and different from the hundreds of other collections out there. Remember you are not only competing with local designers but international fashion brands too.

A possible gap in the market involves going down the conscious and responsible fashion path, which is becoming increasingly popular all over the world. Sustainable fashion is all about designing and manufacturing with ethical values and using material that do not damage the earth or drain its resources.

A great way to encourage the growth of sustainable fashion in the UAE would be to get local design schools, malls and retail franchises partnering with local fashion designers on upcycling projects. This would involve re-using the organisations’ and companies’ dead stock and turning it into sustainable clothing. Not only would it eliminate wastage, but it would also provide opportunities for local fashion designers to meet with fashion industry experts and form partnerships.

Although there are now many fashion events taking place in the UAE (which we will go on to discuss later) local malls could consider putting on their own events on a much smaller and more local scale. Whereas the big fashion events in places like Dubai tend to showcase designs from the top regional talent, local malls could set up catwalk shoes and mini events for upcoming designers in their local area. This would provide a great opportunity for upcoming designers to showcase their work and also increase local consumers’ awareness of independent fashion brands.

How local retailers can help upcoming designers

In order for fashion start-ups in the UAE to be able to compete with international brands, local retailers need to show their support. This may be through hosting networking events that help upcoming designers to connect or actually stocking upcoming designers’ collections to help them get their names out there. Local retailers could form partnerships with local designers that benefit both parties. Local designers can start making money from the sales of their designs and local retailers can gain a unique selling point that makes them stand out from their competitors.

What is the process internationally and how is the UAE adopting tried and tested methods?

In other countries fashion entrepreneurs are privy to mentoring programmes, government initiatives and other schemes that help them to obtain the funding and knowledge they need to give their start-ups a chance at being successful. It appears as though the UAE has taken note of the rise of start-up fashion businesses in other countries like the UK and USA with the construction of the Dubai Design District.

D3 project

Construction is currently underway for the Dubai Design District (D3), a site that will house design, fashion and luxury brands. The idea behind the district is that it will make Dubai a global destination for fashion design like London, Paris, Milan and New York.

The initiative is backed by the newly formed Dubai Design and Fashion Council who aim to nurture local talent and support start-ups by creating scholarships, mentorships and collaborations for local designers to use to carve their futures in the fashion industry.

Fashion events in UAE

Dubai is quickly emerging as a fashion hub in the UAE due to the support that upcoming designers are getting from international fashion enterprises as well as the local Government and consumers.

In 2004 there were just four fashion events taking place in the UAE, which grew to nine in 2008. The local governments support the country’s fashion events and see them as a way of promoting tourism. Popular events include the DSS Dubai Fashion Fiesta and Fashion Forward Week.

Fashion Forward Week is a movement that aims to inspire, nurture and grow local talent, with the ultimate goal of driving the entire fashion industry in the region forward. The event features numerous catwalk presentations from regional designers and inspiring talks and panel discussions led by experts in the industry as well as fashion academia.

A new fashion event in Dubai, dubbed Fashion Week Middle East took place this October. They plan to run this event twice a year, in October and March.

International fashion mentorship programmes and events

One of the best ways for UAE fashion start-ups to get noticed in the industry is through global mentorship programmes and schemes. Whilst many fashion mentorship programmes are aimed at designers in the UK and US, the NY Fashion Tech Lab and Decoded Fashion both offer support and mentorship to international applicants.

The NY Fashion Tech Lab is a mentorship programme targeted at fashion tech start-ups. It was founded by a number of big fashion design companies including Ralph Lauren, Macy’s, Kate Spade & Company and J.Crew. Together the founders aim to focus on companies in the early stages of growth who need the means to showcase their fashion tech innovations on a wider scale. The programme is open to international applicants.

Decoded Fashion provides upcoming fashion designers with opportunities to showcase their work at their summits, which are tended by big names in the industry, as well as investors. Fashion designers can also benefit from joining their mentorship programme and attending panels and keynotes at the summits where they can learn from the best in the industry.


Image credits: UKTI, kameraderie and mj0310

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