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Designers upping their game for Fashion Forward Dubai season nine

Fashion Forward kicks off at ­Dubai’s Design District on Thursday with a packed three days of runway shows, sector talks and designer ­presentations. The latest edition will see 17 new brands debuting their collections before eagle-eyed buyers, members of the press and public.

The significant leap in participant numbers appears to reflect renewed optimism when it comes to the wider fashion ­industry.

According to a Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry report, based on Euromonitor data, the retail market in the Middle East has shown some ­resilience to lower oil prices. The study forecasts that retailing in the UAE has reached Dh200 billion this year and will continue to grow by 5 per cent on average, per annum.

“While UAE ready-to-wear is still in its infancy – less than 10 years old – we’re in a period of robust acceleration and designers are upping their game,” says Bong Guerrero, chief executive and co-founder of FFWD.

“It’s always good to scout new talent and launch labels into the market, and as a platform, we’re proud to do that. We support and subsidise wherever we can. We always coach participants to have solid business plans of a minimum of three years, and cash flow is everything. There’s a whole business eco-system in fashion, and brands need to be committed long-term because it is not a cheap affair.”

New inclusion to the FFWD schedule this month include Saudi Arabian abaya brand Ghudfah by Sarah Albaz, ­Kuwaiti brand Ghain Ghada, Lebanese couturier Abed Mahfouz and Dubai-based label Anaya.

Showing alongside first-timers are UAE-based couture masters Furne One and Michael Cinco. Their shows are anticipated to draw the crowds, as are key ­industry talks on everything from funding to trend forecasting. Attendees with an eye for upcoming jewellery collections can also peruse the work of ­regional brands, including ­Vinita Michael and Rula Galayini, in a dedicated accessories space called The Showcase.

“I feel that to do a fashion week and professional show, you have to be somewhat established,” says Chathuri Samaraweera, owner and head designer at the prêt-à-porter label Anaya.

“If you’re just starting out, and don’t know what you’re doing, there’s no mileage in doing a show. For me, Fashion Forward is worth it in PR terms alone. For example, visibility-wise, it can cover you for the year which is great if you don’t have the budget of Dh10,000 to Dh30,000 to give to a PR company. I would expect to see some kind of results about a month after the event.”

Samaraweera started her contemporary women’s label in 2011 with Dh18,000 of her own money. Six years later, she has her own studio, a staff of 10 people and stocks her pieces in various Dubai boutiques.

Her best advice for burgeoning brands is to outsource the ­manufacturing of their clothes within the UAE. “I wouldn’t ­recommend ­anyone invest in production in the beginning,” she says.

“It’s a huge liability in terms of hiring people, rent and licences. You can use local tailors instead and your first orders might only be five to ten pieces anyhow. Once you’re established – and it took about a year for me – reinvest everything. It was important for me not to have any loans from any partners or investors.”

The Dubai Chamber points to continued growth in the ­domestic fashion and luxury market, driven by the expansion of available retail space and new local and international players coming onto the scene.

The report forecasts that ­consumer spending will amount to more than Dh750 billion this year across many categories, and that outlay on apparel and footwear will account for about 7.4 per cent of people’s total ­expenditure.

“It all comes down to the ­survival of the fittest,” says ­Guerrero.

“Creative ideas have to backed up by solid support and ­financial planning because the market is ever changing and volatile. It’s still very young market for regional labels, and whether brands are seven years old or two years old, the challenges they face are the same. Naturally, the advantage that seasoned ­designers have as brands is that of maturity, visibility, network and capital.

“I’m hopeful 2017 will be on the upturn and it continues to give opportunities to regional labels to inch themselves into the retail space.”

• Fashion Forward S9 runs from Thursday to Saturday at Dubai Design District. To register or buy tickets, which cost from Dh100 for a one-day pass, visit www.fashionforward.ae

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