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Youth fashion labels seek fast track in UAE

Clothing firms excited by Dubai’s status as a window to the world

Men carry Abercrombie & Fitch Co. shopping bags
Image Credit: Bloomberg
Men carry Abercrombie & Fitch Co. shopping bags in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C.
Gulf News

Dubai: Youth fashion retail has come of age in the UAE. Or should that be trending?

If any further confirmation was needed, it has been provided by the announcement that Abercrombie & Fitch — a label that enjoys an exalted status with the youth demographic — will have its own stores in the UAE through a tie-in with Majid Al Futtaim Fashion.

“Throughout the discussions surrounding the joint venture with Abercrombie and Fitch Co, we were able to demonstrate a detailed understanding of the brand’s DNA,” said Asil Attar, CEO of Majid Al Futtaim Fashion.

“It was this ability to comprehend the culture of the brand which made us the partner of choice for Abercrombie and Fitch in the Middle East. Introducing Abercrombie & Fitch brings a fresh brand, which has already demonstrated huge global success, which we are in no doubt will continue with its introduction to the region.”

The first outlet is to open in Dubai during 2014. But it is interesting to note that the US fashion label has chosen to make an entry at this point.

At various times over the last five years the Abercrombie & Fitch franchise had been coveted by some of the biggest retail groups in the UAE and GCC. In fact, since 2010, speculation had reached fever pitch that its entry was imminent.

Other global youth brands are checking out the local scene or have already set up stall here, much like the high-end fashion labels and more main-street apparel names had done during the late 1990s and last decade.

For Mohammad Al Madani, chairman and CEO of Al Madani Group and franchise holder for Levi’s among other youth-oriented names, the recent burst of activity is not surprising. “Youth fashion is trending now in the UAE — 10 years ago some of these global brands just weren’t interested in a presence in Dubai,” said Al Madani. “It was seen as too distant a geography for them.

“Now, Dubai is the window for the same brands to showcase themselves not just in the Gulf but to the rest of the world. They need to be in the world’s largest mall or some of the new shopping structures that are on the way.”

Being part of a prestige location is one thing. Shopper demographics have their own role to play in fashioning this latent interest.

According to Euromonitor International, the current population mix is weighted heavily towards the youth brigade. In such a marketplace, they will inevitably set the agenda for what should be today’s fashion and which are the brands that need to be in vogue.

“While over the next 20 years UAE population age structure will change, with 35-44 becoming the biggest age bracket, retailers who invest to appeal to younger consumers now will be tapping in a very large demographic... at least in the medium term of five to 10 years,” said a retail analyst at Euromonitor.

“In the longer term these retailers could either follow this consumer group as it ages or invest in new brands which meet more closely the lifestyles and needs of a more mature age group.”

According to Giuseppe Albarelli, co-founder and CEO of Franklin & Marshall, which fashions its range around US campus-wear imagery, the present momentum will draw in a lot of niche brands as well, which will widen the category beyond the generic youth labels.

“Now that a lot of generic fashion brands have placed their footprint in the Middle East, smaller brands have realised the opportunity in this market,“ said Albarelli. “The mindset isn’t changing as much as it is evolving — young consumer appetites are expanding beyond the traditional luxury mono brands.“

If young shoppers in the UAE feel they are spoilt for choice, they wouldn’t be off the mark.