Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 30 March 2020

Dress to impress: the homegrown app StyleCity aims to help users hone their styling skills

StyleCity has participants exploring some of the city’s trendiest spots in real-time, mixing and matching 1,500 accessories and clothes and competing for the best-dressed title

Homegrown app StyleCity has users scoring points based on how well they style their characters. Courtesy of StyleCity
Homegrown app StyleCity has users scoring points based on how well they style their characters. Courtesy of StyleCity

Dubai has a reputation for attracting some of the most fashion-conscious people in the region. Home to numerous international and local brands and designers, as well as the world’s largest shopping mall, being fashionably – and appropriately – dressed at all times is a priority for many. Those looking to hone their styling skills further in a fun manner even have a dedicated app on hand.

StyleCity by Dubai company Dubzplay has been described as “a mobile game created in the region for the region”. The app features an American Idol-style competition in which players are judged on their ability to put together an outfit. The platform offers both a single-player mode, where users are presented with different scenarios and have to pick the right look for the occasion, and a multiplayer competition, where users are pitted against each other, with one of them winning each season.

Mohannad Khallouf (right) and Wael Abdulkader launched Dubzplay in 2015
Mohannad Khallouf (right) and Wael Abdulkader launched Dubzplay in 2015

The premise sounds simple enough but, with 1,500 items of clothing and accessories fitting together to give different permutations, painstaking effort has gone into perfecting the game. “StyleCity is four years in the making,” Mohannad Khallouf, co-founder and chief executive of Dubzplay, says. “Gaming apps require more time and effort than regular apps. We had to work with animators, stylists and mathematicians. At one point, our team grew to about 40 freelancers for a single app.”

It didn’t help that this was Dubzplay’s first project. Khallouf started the company in 2015 with childhood friend Wael Abdulkader. They had to overcome the usual challenges that start-ups face, such as securing funding and finding talent.

But they also had to do it in a relatively new market. “We wanted to create a Dubai app because it is obviously a destination most people are familiar with,” Khallouf says. “This is a special place for both of us. We were both born and raised here and wanted to show Dubai in the best possible way.”

The judges in the game are modelled after real influencers. Seen here is a rendering of Saudi model Rawan Abuzaid (@model_roz) in the game. Courtesy of StyleCity 
The judges in the game are modelled after real influencers. Seen here is a rendering of Saudi model Rawan Abuzaid (@model_roz) in the game. Courtesy of StyleCity

The game features various landmarks that players can visit virtually (and where they can put their fashion senses to the test). Burj Khalifa, Burj Al Arab, The Dubai Mall and a rendition of a completed Museum of the Future are some of the attractions that feature in the game.

Abdulkader says the app industry in the UAE is a “sleeping giant” the duo hoped to awaken. While international app markets are saturated, the UAE’s budding industry still presents plenty of potential. Mobile gaming apps for women is one area Dubzplay thinks is grossly underrepresented, which led them to try to bridge the gap.“There’s a stereotype that men are more interested in gaming than women and, while that may have been true in the past, I think we can also put that down to the fact there weren’t enough games for women,” Khallouf says. “Things are changing drastically and female gamers are a huge segment for today’s market.”

In StyleCity, users are introduced to different scenarios and have to put together the right outfit for the occasion
In StyleCity, users are introduced to different scenarios and have to put together the right outfit for the occasion

The duo are already thinking about a second “season” of the game, one that may be based in Abu Dhabi, followed by a Jeddah version. However, in a world where we are ­increasingly coming to accept alternative dress senses and personal styles, how does an app decide who is the “best dressed”? Within the game are celebrity judges based on real famous figures in the region, who have contracts with Dubzplay and StyleCity, including Saudi fashion model Rawan Abuzaid and fashion influencers Fouz Alfahad and Noha Nabil. However, in reality, the winner is decided by an algorithm that was 18 months in the making, using input from a team of stylists.

“There isn’t one perfect outfit that wins the game,” Abdulkader says. “There are a bunch of things that work well together. It depends on which outfit is worn to which occasion. And it’s based on real life as much as possible. For example, your clothing usually gets noticed more than your shoes.”

StyleCity was downloaded 100,000 times in 24 hours after it was launched – making it the fastest ­downloaded game in the UAE. The app has 200,000 users to date, with 80 per cent living in Saudi Arabia.

“We’ve been seeing the growing role of women in the region in all aspects of life,” Khallouf says. “The UAE and Saudi Arabia are really pushing boundaries when it comes to apps. It’s quite exciting."

Updated: January 14, 2020 06:19 PM

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