Dubai has had a slight love affair with zoning up the city into a myriad purpose built pieces. Those who like to do business, you can go there. Those who like academics, go here. Those who like IT and media, way over there. Perhaps fashion was the only genre left alone so far, with it's elements still spread among the 70 or so malls in the city and dotted into the landscape along Jumeirah Road, Bur Dubai and holes in the walls of Deira.
The noble idea behind Dubai's latest project, the Dubai Design District, is perhaps to change all that by providing a purpose built community dedicated to local design talent offering retail, office and residential spaces to those who are a little more art centric than the rest of the crowd.
My wife and I happened to visit the opening day, or opening night rather, rightly termed Meet D3, setup in a cozy area nestled between Al-Khail and Oud Metha roads with a not so bad choice of Burj Khalifa looking over in the backyard. The parking was problem free, so we were able to walk into the festivities quite quickly.
First sights and smells were these interesting half finished buildings with bold and unique facades. Down below, tents and stalls had been set up with music and street art with a generous provision for selfie cameras. We didn't have the time to check out the Chewing Gum factory but surely it was one of the biggest items of curiosity there.
A quick visit to a music tent introduced me to Speed Caravan's electric Oud playing Mehdi Haddab who pretty much knocked my socks off. After an hour of walking around braving the sandy winds, we got some moderately priced Mexican food and sat down to have a talk with the owners of Not Just a Label, an interesting platform set up to nurture and showcase the work of promising contemporary fashion designers from all over the world. Mashrou Leila, a contemporary Lebanese rock band played along on the big stage ahead of us.
One of the things that came out of the conversation with the NJAL folks was our disappointment with the lack of sufficient job creators on the fashion scene in Dubai. It comes down to questions like what is a novice fashion designer to do when there's few design houses with the oomph and capacity to hire them?Not everyone can start off with a boutique right after school and those early years working under an experienced fashion designer is, I would argue, a crucial point in any designer's training.
The impression of Dubai as a fashion hub may certainly be correct, but the frustration to me comes when knowing that over 80% of the time, the hub is but a place for trading, i.e shipping product designed or made somewhere else out the door. And some of these clothes, because of brand names and import duties, are clearly for people with deep pockets. When you visit a store in Sunset Mall or a Design Shop in Jumeirah, you don't get the impression that much of the stuff being displayed is made in the Emirates, leave alone the fact that they aren't even selling that quickly.
What we would like to see more of is real industries coming up in Dubai that caters to the entire spectrum of activities in fashion - design, fabrication, marketing and selling with emphasis on design and fabrication. If Dubai can encourage local talent to setup such industries, prices can go down, more people will get to see and experience those creations and the younger design community will have something to aspire to for jobs and career networking.
Its my opinion that the fashion ecosystem needs some kind of a balance. Let's step a bit away from this luxury boutique business culture which is a low volume business (might I add it even sounds ephemeral) to something that has more power and mass to it. We need more design firms set up in the Emirate which have good balance sheets and sufficient capacity to create new jobs. It'd be great if the Fashion houses and fashion consultancies can address these real issues.
We left the opening night after a few pieces from the John Newman gig but I left with a little void in my head not knowing exactly what the big plans are for D3 in the upcoming years and who might occupy the space in this zone. And how exactly are they going to reach out to the community of designers? I imagine the dream is a promising new landscape for local design and local fabrication and that this is not just another business park venture. What D3 could possibly flower into in 2017 or 2018 is something we'd just have to wait and see.