Chelsea Adams, Travel Bursary Report on Dubai
Chelsea Adams, 3rd year Retail Management Student
International Travel Bursary:
Dubai 10th-14th February 2012
What influenced my decision to apply for a travel bursary to Dubai were mainly my fashion modules. I had studied fashion last year and one of my assignments was based on haute couture clothing, which is high-end, made to fit designer clothing. From this assignment I learnt that the main market for this type of clothing were the wives of Arabian billionaires, from countries such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi. I thought that this was quite strange as due to Islamic laws in these countries, women had to remain covered from head to toe in black burkas and therefore would only be able to wear these expensive clothes under their burkas or at home.
For my creative fashion project this year, I had to come up with an idea for my own fashion brand and design a range for it. My first idea for the project was to look at how religion influences fashion, from this I remembered what I had learnt about haute couture fashion the previous year and began to look at places such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi etc. Dubai had always appealed to me through its high level of development and fashion focus. I then decided to look at how the women in these countries express their individuality through fashion while still abiding by Islamic law. According to the FCO website, Dubai is one of the safest places in the world and was known for being one of the more commercial parts of UAE, meaning that Islamic laws may not be as strict; therefore, I felt this would be one of the safer destinations as I would be travelling alone. Studying Dubai further I found it had a number of attractions from a retail perspective, being home to the largest shopping mall in the world, while also being known for a number of souks and traditional style markets. This would therefore allow me to compare these types of retailing to that of the UK and also observe any changes that retailers may have to make when entering countries to comply with the countries laws.
I first arrived on Dubai in the early hours of Saturday 11th February, after passing through customs and visa control, the next step was getting from the airport to the hotel. Once outside there was a line of red topped taxis and minibuses, with another line of pink topped taxis for women only, I felt this very reassuring being a female travelling alone. Though it was the early hours of the morning, driving through the city on my way to the hotel, there was a sense of excitement, with every building lit up and many people still out and about. I later learnt that this was common in Dubai as due to the low crime rate many establishments were stay ale stay open late and street parties with went on to early morning would often occur.
After a good night’s sleep, for my first official day in Dubai I decided to find out the where the train station was, so that I would be able to make my way around the main places I wanted to visit. This turned out to be around the corner from my hotel, beside this was Burjuman Mall, this was considered to be one of Dubai’s smaller malls, though it still contained over 300 shops including high end designer stores.
After a quick visit to this mall I made my way to the train station and travelled towards Mall of the Emirates. Dubai uses two railway lines for four main routes, with trains arriving around every five minutes, making it a really easy and convenient to get around. I couldn’t help but notice how clean the stations were and that there was a separate carriage at the front of the train for women and children only. I also noticed that the men and women had separate prayer rooms within the malls, shops and other areas in which they were called to prayer five times a day.
I arrived in Mall of the Emirates in the late afternoon and was overwhelmed by its size as well as the number of international retailers. I was really interested in the atmospherics used in these stores (how the store creates a certain atmosphere through stimulating the senses, e.g. through sight) in comparison to that of the UK. I noticed that the use of displays and props where much more creative in Dubai than that of their UK counterparts. The picture below shows an international store called Zone A1, themed with airport features such as a conveyor belt, airport style seating and mannequins making airline emergency procedure gestures.
Designer stores, were everywhere, especially in Mall of Dubai, which is the biggest shopping centre in the world; these stores were very impressive in terms of the creativity of their window displays, each of which had a theme, for example, such as the mosaic styled Louboutin Store (Pictured below) and the Louis Vuitton cupcake displays.
In these stores I was able to see first-hand the catwalk styles that I had been studying for my fashion project. I also noticed new and innovative moves from designers, diversifying into new markets such as home wares, cafes (see below) and even hotels, for example, the first eleven floors of the famous Burj Kalifa is an Armani Hotel. What I couldn’t help but notice, was that the main customers of the high-end designer stores were men and women in traditional Islamic dress, such as head coverings, long black burkas worn by women and long white robes by men. Seeing this I felt supported what I had learnt while studying fashion, that though these women are the main customers for expensive designer and haute couture clothing, they rarely wear them in public. This however shows, they have a great appreciation for fashion and can still enjoy express their individuality through it, this can be seen through the use of designer accessories and designs embroidered onto the sleeves and helms of their burkas.
It was amazing to see this modern and innovative retailing of large shopping malls complete with ice-skating rinks and aquariums compared with the humble and traditional types of retailing when visiting the textile souks in Deira on Sunday morning. These consisted of streets and alleyways filled with small textile businesses and market stalls filled with every type of fabric and textile available, including laces with hand crafted embellishments and bold tartan prints. This was a very different retail environment in which sellers would approach their customers and actively draw them to their shop or stall and sell to them, this is very different to UK retailing as customers are able to haggle with sellers and negotiate deals. From speaking to some of the shop and stall owners, I learnt that this style of retailing made the area a very popular destination in Dubai for fashion wholesalers and tourists. I found these shopkeepers to be very friendly, allowing me to take photos of these fabrics and take back samples to use for my fashion project. I found it very easy to communicate with the locals as most of them spoke very good English; however, many of the tradesmen were not from Dubai, but had come from places such as India and Lebanon to trade.
That Sunday afternoon I made my way to the Global Village, this was an park filled with themed pavilions themed based on countries around the world such as China, Turkey and Iraq etc, each containing stalls selling foods, clothing and ornaments etc, specific to that country. It was interesting to see in this traditional type of retailing in the form of markets where haggling is common, made more commercial through incorporating a number of shows, funfair attractions and global culture, making it a family day out. The Global Village was located in the desert outside Dubai City centre, making it more difficult to reach; however, this attraction still generates thousands of tourists each year, turning this simple form of retailing into a very successful concept.
I really wanted to see as much as possible of Dubai before I left including some of the sights such as the Burj Al Arab, which is the world’s only seven star hotel and the famous man-made Palm islands, so I decided to take a tour to cover all the sights. This tour took me along the Dubai coastline where I was able to see spectacular sights and stop off at Jumeriah beach, the Burj Al Arab, Emirates towers, internet city, the Burj Kahifa and the Palm. I finished off my last night by visiting the world’s largest dancing fountain, beside Dubai mall, this was an amazing water display based on the fountains at Vegas and was a great way to finish off the trip.
Overall I felt this trip was an amazing experience, though I had travelled before, I had never been somewhere so far away alone and therefore I feel this trip has really improved my organisational skills and has given me a sense of independence, through planning and making my own arrangements for my trip, such as reading up about local laws and customs. I would love to pursue a career in fashion buying and feel this experience has given me real insight into some of the aspects involved in this job such as travel, communication, organisation and visiting suppliers etc. I feel that I have gained real insight into the local culture in Dubai and it was nice to see how well the women in this city where treated, being respected and given as much rights as men. I feel that Dubai is often perceived by Western countries as a strict and dangerous place to visit, especially for women, though I found this to be very different in the places I visited. I feel that Dubai was the ideal place to visit from a fashion retail perspective and I have gained some insights and photos in which I can incorporate into my fashion project and other assignments.