Dominic Nowell-Barnes says fashion was never something he dabbled in. Image Credit: Supplied

Sustainable, cool, comfortable, fashionable, impactful – Dubai-based fashion brand The Giving Movement (TGM) is effortlessly everything luxury customers want this season.

And the best part? For every item sold, TGM gives Dh15 to charity – raising over Dh19.5 million for two charities since their launch. We caught up with the label’s jet setting British founder and CEO – Dominic Nowell Barnes.

I remember having a level of anxiety on the day we went live as I had no idea if even one person would decide to buy one of our items.

- Dominic Nowell Barnes

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Entry into fashion

The 33-year-old British expat says fashion was never something he dabbled in. “Fashion was an industry I chose to immerse myself into around a year before launching The Giving Movement,” Barnes adds in an email interview with Gulf News.

Barnes says, “I had no background or further education fashion before starting The Giving Movement.

“In fact, I had no further education in anything. For the first 10 years of my career, all business and entrepreneurial learning was either through reading books or YouTube videos to build the core skill sets to run a company and learning ‘on the job’. “

Having been an entrepreneur since his teen years, Barnes says he felt the ‘for-profit’ model no longer motivated him – around the time he moved to Dubai in 2017

In an interview published in the UK, a young Barnes describes how he made a fortune in a floor lamination business after deciding to choose the school of entrepreneurship over getting a college degree at the age of 17. Reportedly, the business did four million pounds in annual revenue and was later acquired by another company.

“You could say that for the first ten years I bought and sold goods between Europe, China and India both online and wholesale,” Barnes tells Gulf News.

But it wasn’t enough for Barnes. Having been an entrepreneur since his teen years, Barnes says he felt the ‘for-profit’ model no longer motivated him – around the time he moved to Dubai in 2017.

The power of the many

Barnes says, “When I moved to Dubai I made a decision that whilst the impact I could have as a single person working on charitable initiatives or humanitarian initiatives would be limited to the hours I had in the day.”

“Instead, the idea of The Giving Movement was created. The concept was to build a business or engine, as I prefer to call it, where we take an everyday good that people need (fashion), then automatically donate from each item sold towards humanitarian causes.”

Jennifer Lopez has been seen sporting The Giving Movement in Los Angeles. Image Credit: The Giving Movement

“Our philosophy is that small acts multiplied by many, can transform the world.”

Barnes’ business idea remains simple, focus on good-quality clothes made out of sustainable materials and give back with each sale – $4 (Dh14.69) per item to be exact.

Barnes spent a year working on The Giving Movement straight out of his apartment.

“I was surprised to see no scaled fashion brands emerging from the UAE that was made in the UAE and so I spent some time in China, India and Europe understanding how factories operated – how goods were costed from yarn through to delivery to the customer then built a model to do that manufacturing from the UAE and whilst using eco-friendly materials.”

Launching in the middle of a pandemic

The Giving Movement launched online in 2020 with what some would call a risky business model – focusing on eco-fashion and sustainability with charity – in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Barnes reminisces, “When we launched, we only had three people in the team, so it was very hands on and intense, similar to the experience most startups have. We had to be able to be involved in everything, from web development to production, customer service, and social media.

“The first collection was honestly a test and consisted of around 50 styles in very small quantities.”

He agrees that the idea wasn’t an easy sell, and says, “It was a tough concept to get some investors buy into at first, as generally, investors want maximum ROI on their investment. Still I am grateful that we have found a fantastic set of investors who truly believe in our vision for the good that TGM and the fashion industry can do by developing a similar model.

Collections and designs

Investor Gaurav Sinha and wife Lucy Bruce Sinha were angel investors for The Giving Movement ahead of its launch. The philanthropist couple are also founders of Harmony House – one of the charity organisations that The Giving Movement raises funds for.

Today, the brand touts a vast selection of fashionable, comfortable and sustainable streetwear with styles ranging across loungewear and sleepwear, formals, modest fashion, jackets, bags, gloves and socks, undergarments, shapewear and more.

I encourage anyone that has a passion, whether in fashion or otherwise, to just start and fully commit to it. You will get there. You cannot lose if you don’t quit.

- Dominic Nowell Barnes

While most of the styles are unisex, there are collections for men and women, and even kids.

In 2022, the label raised $15m in a Series A funding round, led by Knuru Capital with the participation of other investors across the EMEA and Asian region.

In just over three years since launch, the brand has captured the attention of celebrities worldwide. Barnes is now among one of the industry’s 500 most influential people by Business of Fashion (BoF).

Why $4?

Speaking about the fixed amount donated per item, Barnes explains, “The decision to implement a $4 per item policy for donations at The Giving Movement was driven by a desire to create a tangible and impactful contribution to social causes.

“We believed that by allocating a fixed amount per item sold, we could establish a transparent and easily understandable framework for our customers.”

Barnes has proven that his concept, disruptive and risky as it was, worked – raising an astounding Dh19.55 million ($5.32 million) for charity since its launch (based on their website and as of June 2023).

Charities chosen

“Our choice of charities at The Giving Movement was guided by a strategic alignment with our mission and values.”

Dubai Cares focuses on ‘quality education for primary and secondary grades, in addition to technical and vocational training that prepares children for a hopeful future.’ The organisation was formed under the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives.

The day shelter in India founded by TGM’s investors – Harmony House – provides free education, food, clothing and medical care to 500 children in two centres on the outskirts of Delhi.

Justifying prices

TGM’s products are for customers with a certain level of purchasing power. The lowest priced items we saw on the website was around Dh120, going all the way to over Dh1,200 – at full price. The brand comes under the ‘affordable luxury’ segment.

Sustainability and quality is key and this can drive up costs, according to Barnes.

“Our pricing model is to control every aspect of the supply chain from yarn to last mile delivery, this enables us to make the decision on how we cost and price each garment,” Barnes comments.

“Eco-friendly materials and more eco-friendly delivery options, such as using couriers with sustainable fuels is undoubtedly more expensive and hence why the price increases. When you then layer the donation model on top of this, it’s how we get to our price points.”

Barnes adds, “We are the first brand in the GCC to scale making our entire collection in the first few years entirely out of the UAE, so it can be challenging as a recently launched startup to get to a standard that say a factory who has invested hundreds of millions if not billions into the latest manufacturing technology.”

Why recycled fashion costs more?

When it comes to recycling – the reason why more or all brands aren’t doing it is the cost, Barnes reveals.

Sustainable fashion
“It is much cheaper to produce a virgin yarn than to process waste into a recycled alternative. If it was cheaper, I am sure many more brands would be doing it.” Image Credit: Pexels

“I think I understand the concept [unaware customers may have] that if you are using ‘waste’ or recycled materials to produce fabrics it should be cheaper. It definitely isn’t, at least with every yarn supplier we have found around the world,” the CEO says.

“It is much cheaper to produce a virgin yarn than to process waste into a recycled alternative. If it was cheaper, I am sure many more brands would be doing it.”

Why Dubai?

Barnes says the UAE and the GCC offer the perfect environment for his business. He adds, “Dubai's dynamic landscape and commitment to building inclusive communities align with our mission, making it an ideal hub for expanding our reach and making a difference on a global scale.”

The Dubai resident is married to entrepreneur and fashion industry peer, Ghizlan Guenez. Guenez founded modest luxury fashion brand, The Modist.

Online to phygital transition

After having been a fully online business, TGM opened its first retail store in Mall of the Emirates, Dubai in 2022.

Talking about making the decision to open a physical store, Barnes explains, “Having a retail store provides a completely different experience to shopping online. You get to meet our team; understand why we do what we do and touch and feel the fabrics.

“The idea we have is to create an experience when you come to the store, you will hear loud music, smell scents and have enough of our team ready to support you with any questions you have about our brand and products.”

15 new stores and next plans

And the brand is set to open many more stores in the region, Barnes confirms.

“We are in the final stages of building a 2024 plan to include an additional 15 stores, many of which are already signed and in the build-out phase.”

Barnes remains tight-lipped yet excited about possible collaborations and collections.

Recently, the founder posted a picture with Ye – who despite being controversial is known to be a fashion genius – triggering rumours of a possible collab with the Grammy-winning musician.

Barnes says, “As we continue our journey expanding our creative avenues, stay tuned for official announcements and exclusive sneak peeks. We can't wait to share it with our incredible community!”