Dubai’s fashion industry is on the verge of going global.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, has signed a decree bringing together public and private sectors to foster the growth, innovation and sustainability of the emirate’s design and fashion industries.
The news follows plans announced in June for Dubai to become a global fashion hub by 2020. The numbers speak for themselves, with the retail sector forecast to grow to Dh151 billion by 2015 and visitor numbers expected to swell to 20 million in the next seven years.
Construction has begun on the Dubai Design District, or D3 as it’s better known, near the Business Bay area of the city. Deliberately situated near The Dubai Mall, the site is to house design, fashion and luxury organisations as well as other -supporting entities.
Also, the Dubai Fashion & Design Council is forming this year, and taking the first seat on the new council’s board, and the only one that has been announced, is Dr Amina Al Rustamani, the group chief executive of Tecom -investments and a D3 representative.
“Dubai’s design and fashion industry has a great opportunity to put itself on an equal footing with the likes of London, Paris and New York,” she said. “But to unlock the industry’s full potential, it will need to be strategically developed by the people and organisations that know the -industry best.”
One of the industry leaders is Steven Kolb, the chief executive of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) and a guest of honour at Dubai’s first Fashion Forward event in May.
Spearheading one of the industry’s most respected organisations, established more than 50 years ago and with 400 members, Kolb believes Dubai would benefit from having a similar body.
“I think what they need to develop here is an ‘ecosystem of fashion’,” he explained.
“It’s all about connecting the areas of design, media, manufacturing, retail, international partners and stakeholders. That’s basically what CFDA does. Things such as that don’t happen overnight; it takes time to build a structure, it takes a real commitment. It’s like a start-up – you must have a solid business plan and see where that takes you.”
Speaking about the concept at Fashion Forward, Kolb said he “probably” wouldn’t accept a seat on the new board. “What I would accept, however, is a deeper relationship as an adviser and collaborator – that seems more appropriate,” he said. “I think the right board would consist of people from the region. They must be the ones to represent their own. But I’m happy to advise, counsel and be a best friend.”
One locally based industry heavyweight who may be fit for the job is Bong Guerrero, the founder and chairman of Fashion Forward (FFWD). “Sheikh Mohammed has already [previously acknowledged] the FFWD team,” said Ezra Santos, one of the leading fashion designers in Dubai’s Filipino community. “I think they should be on board. I’m not sure what the council’s exact purpose will be but I’ve wanted to see this for a long time.”
Santos hopes the council will eventually be able to offer or coordinate grants and subsidies for emerging designers. First up, though, the industry needs more support, he said.
“I would like to see the council and government meeting with locally based designers and people in the fashion -industry.
“It would be great to have a Fashion Week that is fully supported by the government – one that would attract more international buyers. I also hope the government will push the fashion business here internationally, as the French Chambers and Federations have.”
More details about the mandate of the council are expected to be revealed in the coming months, with a focus on small-to-medium sized enterprises, Emirati craft industries and bilateral trade ties.
However, just having a council gives the local sector greater credibility abroad, said the Dubai-based couturier Rami Al Ali, who created his label 12 years ago. “The new Dubai Fashion & Design Council is a great initiative,” he said. “It will not only help develop talent but also be a step towards building a solid base for the professionals in the industry. Cities such as New York, London, Milan and Paris are fashion capitals because of their ability to set trends. With these new resources [the council & D3] in place, Dubai will be able to reach the same standards.”
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