Dubai Design District woos top brands

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Dubai Design District woos top brands Amanda Fisher / 19 March 2014 Dubai Design District, whose first phase opens in Jan 2015, makes a presentation before international delegates.  Less than a year away from opening the first phase of Dubai Design District, the city’s latest industry hub is on a charm offensive to woo international brands. Dozens of British designers and brand owners are in town this week, as part of an international United Kingdom Trade and Investment (UKTI) ‘GREAT’ campaign to further ties with key industries in eight countries around the world, including China and Hong Kong.  The designers, who paid to be a part of the delegation in an effort to expand their business in the Middle East, had a presentation by Dubai Design District (d3) top brass, including managing director Lindsay Miller. This follows a delegation from Italy last week, while designers from Lebanon are set for similar treatment in the coming days. But the exercise is aimed equally at small-time start-up designers as the elite international fashion houses, with the Dh4-billion development expected to house 10,000 people in the first phase — which will see nine buildings open by January 2015. Women’s wear designer Cristina Sabaiduc is hoping to grow the eponymous boutique label that she launched 18 months ago. Currently based in London’s trendy Shoreditch area — aptly the district that d3 has taken inspiration from in its plans — Sabaiduc says she sees a market for her fashion in Dubai. “I focus on a lot of big shawls and scarves and beautiful silks, and I think there’s a lot of demand for that in the Middle East.” While she was not yet selling in this region, Sabaiduc said she was in talks with people in Dubai’s fashion industry. She said while d3 would not be the same as a design district like Shoreditch that evolved organically, if the development was done well it would thrive like other design hotspots of the world. “If you provide the right facilities and operations, there’s a hunger for it here and I think that will almost overtake the fact that it’s been created…it could definitely work.” D3’s tax-free benefits, which guarantee 50 years without needing to pay taxes, seemed to be the major attraction to others interested in branching out in the region. Lascivious lingerie creative director and founder Chloe Hamblen said the tax-free provisions drew the attention of most brands at the presentation — all of whom were looking to expand in the region. “The reason why we have taken the time to come out is because that’s what we’re aiming to do.” Others present said having the design, art, fashion and luxury sectors combined in one place — along with other services like marketing and PR — would be a draw card, while the tax-free provisions may be the impetus needed to take the risk. UKTI Retail Sector Specialist Fred Bassnett, who is leading delegates in the UKTI’s UAE campaign this week, told Khaleej Times the country was one of the top three markets for UK brands, along with the US and China/Hong Kong. “There’s only London in the world that has the selection of brands that we have. Here in Dubai it’s seen clearly by the UK industry…as a market that they want to be involved in because of the high profile and the actual spending profile of not only the local populace, but also the tourism populace.” He said initiatives like the UKTI’s were “hugely important” in helping the UK economy recover after taking a hammering during the global economic recession. But brands like Sabaiduc’s say they are worried about the costs involved being part of d3 and feel they may not have a space there. Subaiduc said in an ideal world, she’d be able to open a second office in d3, but it was more realistic her foray into the MENA market would initially be limited to exhibition spaces and fashion shows. “For small businesses, it’s a big gamble (to open an office overseas).” However, D3’s Miller says there is a place for designers of all sizes. “We do have specific start-up packages and we have facilities to consider all kinds of elements of the value chain.” While the bigger brands would likely be established in the exclusive real estate in d3, for example with waterfront views, there were offices of different sizes in different locations to suit varied budgets. She said there was also the option of sharing working spaces, facilities and equipment such as 3D printers with other companies. “It’s important for this zone to have all segments, not just luxury and not just emerging and we’ve reflected that in the pricing and the product design.” Miller said the reason d3 was targeting international brands was to engender “cross-pollination” of the kind that would lead to the creation of unique designs, as well as collaboration. “If we can bring all of this talent together, design at the end of the day is a suggestive product…it’s really about what the consumer appetite is for your product and that’s a lot about bringing different designer viewpoints together.” But courting international brands may also drive up competition for local designers wanting a presence there. While Miller would not reveal how much space had already been contracted to particular companies, she said there had been 550 different approaches in the six months since the initiative was announced. She said she expected to be at full capacity by early next year, around the launch date. For more news from Khaleej Times, follow us on Facebook at , and on Twitter at @khaleejtimes Taylor Scott International

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