Jazia Al Dan­hani is the woman at the helm of Dubai De­sign and Fash­ion Coun­cil, tasked with tak­ing the city’s fash­ion in­dus­try to the next level

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We in­ter­view the head of DDFC, an in­cu­ba­tor for as­pir­ing fash­ion de­sign­ers and women who’ve ben­e­fited from it.

Jazia Al Dan­hani is pos­si­bly the most im­por­tant per­son in the de­vel­op­ment of Dubai’s de­sign in­dus­try. The Emi­rati was ap­pointed CEO of Dubai De­sign and Fash­ion Coun­cil in Fe­bru­ary this year, tak­ing over from Nez Ge­breel, who had been in the role since the coun­cil was formed in 2014. Jazia had pre­vi­ously been work­ing for the coun­cil as ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of in­dus­try de­vel­op­ment and mar­ket­ing.

For those who don’t know, the Dubai De­sign and Fash­ion Coun­cil (DDFC) was cre­ated by His High­ness Shaikh Mo­ham­mad Bin Rashid Al Mak­toum, Vice-Pres­i­dent and Prime Min­is­ter of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, with the aim of rais­ing the emi­rate’s pro­file as a re­gional and global des­ti­na­tion for de­sign. It doesn’t just fo­cus on fash­ion, but also on graphic de­sign, ar­chi­tec­ture, prod­ucts and in­te­ri­ors. ‘I think ev­ery­thing we do in Dubai is some­how re­lated to de­sign, whether it’s an iconic tower or a fash­ion show,’ says Jazia, ‘so it re­ally is one of the most im­por­tant things we have here. The chal­lenge is there and I’m ex­cited to take it on.’

There are so many new brands start­ing in the UAE that the coun­cil is some­thing that is wel­comed by the in­dus­try. ‘I think so many peo­ple choose to start their brands here be­cause the in­dus­try is still grow­ing and they are look­ing for­ward to be­ing part of the fu­ture. I think it is eas­ier here to be­come a suc­cess­ful de­signer be­cause there is not as much com­pe­ti­tion as there is in some of these cities. Now we have the DDFC that will hope­fully be a big at­trac­tion for up­com­ing de­sign­ers as they know they will have the help from us.’

Ed­u­ca­tion, nur­tur­ing and sup­port­ing lo­cal tal­ent are pil­lars of the coun­cil’s role, which has most re­cently seen men­tor­ship and in­tern­ship pro­grammes, which pro­vide di­rect learn­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties and busi­ness ac­cess to cre­atives from all over the re­gion, giv­ing them ex­pe­ri­ence with those who are

al­ready suc­cess­ful and work­ing in the in­dus­try, al­low­ing them to have a plat­form to de­velop and hone their skill sets. There are now 38 stu­dents in men­tor­ships, con­nect­ing them to peo­ple they wouldn’t have oth­er­wise had ac­cess to.

‘They all have a very clear ob­jec­tive of what they want to learn from their men­tor and meet them for one hour every two weeks for five months, some­times more depend­ing on what each per­son needs,’ says Jazia. The progamme isn’t just for fash­ion cre­atives but for any­one in­ter­ested in any as­pect of de­sign, be it in­te­ri­ors, graphic, prod­uct or of course, fash­ion. When the five-month pro­gramme is up, Jazia hopes to re­cruit new stu­dents to the pro­gramme. ‘We don’t have a pref­er­ence of who we want to help, we want to help ev­ery­body within the re­gion, and Dubai in par­tic­u­lar. This is their home, so they de­serve to be nur­tured by us,’ Jazia says.

When it comes to in­tern­ships, the DDFC is work­ing with lo­cal uni­ver­si­ties to place stu­dents within com­pa­nies to give them the ex­pe­ri­ence they need. ‘We are con­nect­ing the uni­ver­si­ties in Dubai to the in­dus­try and find­ing place­ments for stu­dents in rel­e­vant com­pa­nies,’ says Jazia.

‘Our aim is to pro­mote the in­dus­try and Dubai as a place where peo­ple can SUS­TAIN their busi­ness. It is of course a grow­ing in­dus­try and there are many CHAL­LENGES... but I think we will achieve the vi­sion’

Jazia was also in charge of or­gan­is­ing (and judg­ing, as part of a panel fea­tur­ing Le­banese de­sign star Reem Acra) the col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween DDFC and Fash­ion Scout that saw UAE-based de­sign­ers Deb­o­rah Hen­ning and Shaika Amal Al Mak­toum present their col­lec­tions in Lon­don (turn the page to meet the two de­sign­ers). ‘We wanted to choose an Emi­rati de­signer, and an in­ter­na­tional de­signer who is based here. These two both shone through. Their de­signs are unique and dif­fer­ent for this re­gion.’ Jazia told us. She con­tin­ues: ‘I have heard from them that it was a great ex­pe­ri­ence. Be­ing an in­ter­na­tional plat­form, I think it was a very dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence for them, but it seems to have been a great suc­cess. Of course it was fan­tas­tic for Dubai, but mostly for the de­sign­ers, who got to show their col­lec­tions.’

And while UAE de­sign­ers are look­ing to show their col­lec­tions in­ter­na­tion­ally, could we ex­pect to see in­ter­na­tional de­sign­ers pre­sent­ing their ranges on Dubai cat­walks? ‘Dubai wel­comes any­body and if any­body were to ap­proach us to do their show here we would def­i­nitely be wel­com­ing them to come.’ Pag­ing Demna Gvasalia... Look­ing to the fu­ture, we al­ready know there are big plans for Dubai’s fash­ion in­dus­try – this was why the DDFC was set up in the first place. ‘Dubai is in the vi­sion of His High­ness [Shaikh Mo­ham­mad] and that is what we are work­ing to­wards,’ Jazia ex­plains. ‘Our aim is to pro­mote the in­dus­try and Dubai as a place where peo­ple can sus­tain their busi­ness. It is of course a grow­ing in­dus­try and there are many chal­lenges, but with help­ing to de­velop all of the el­e­ments and the eco-sys­tem around that, I think we will achieve the vi­sion.’ The new vi­sion for the city’s de­sign in­dus­try be­gan with Dubai De­sign District, aka D3, which was opened in 2015. That’s where DDFC’s ul­tra-mod­ern of­fices are, and where we met Jazia.

‘The great thing about D3 is that you come here and al­ways meet peo­ple who are work­ing or in­ter­ested in de­sign of some kind. We are try­ing to de­velop the area as the de­sign hub of the city.’

When I met Jazia in D3, it was day one of the bian­nual fash­ion event Fash­ion For­ward (FFWD). FFWD is now in its ninth sea­son and acts as a start­ing point for up­com­ing and lo­cal de­sign­ers to show their col­lec­tions on the cat­walk. FFWD at­tracts big-name re­gional de­sign­ers, in­clud­ing Michael Cinco and Furne One, and as a re­sult sees in­dus­try ex­perts fly­ing in from around the world to watch the shows.

‘We at DDFC heav­ily en­dorse Fash­ion For­ward be­cause it is the only plat­form that is reg­u­larly hap­pen­ing twice a year and has been for a num­ber of years now,’ says Jazia, ‘It’s im­por­tant to be sus­tain­able and con­stant, which Fash­ion For­ward is, and that’s why it’s been a suc­cess.

‘Hon­estly all the shows are im­por­tant for us, as they are all re­gional de­sign­ers, but I would love to see some of the shows of de­sign­ers that we at the coun­cil have helped – there are many tak­ing part.’

Fash­ion For­ward has the mo­nop­oly of lo­cal fash­ion weeks at the mo­ment but once, Dubai Fash­ion Week was the go-to fash­ion event. There have been ru­mours of a re­turn this year but so far noth­ing has been con­firmed. ‘I can’t com­ment on that now, but you never know what sur­prises are around the cor­ner.’ Jazia says.

Of course fash­ion shows are an amaz­ing plat­form for suc­cess­ful de­sign­ers, but not ev­ery­one can af­ford to do this. The DDFC also looks at other ways to help smaller brands, ex­plains Jazia: ‘We are try­ing to help as many de­sign­ers as we can in var­i­ous dif­fer­ent ways. The Lon­don Fash­ion Scout part­ner­ship was one of these ways, but we also have lo­cal show­cases like Mar­ket OTB that hap­pens twice a year and we are look­ing to en­dorse more reg­u­lar events in the fu­ture that are smaller and less ex­pen­sive as a start­ing point for new de­sign­ers.’

One of these ini­tia­tives is the DDFC Mem­ber­ship, which launches this week. ‘This will be a big­ger pro­gramme to de­velop tal­ent of a larger num­ber of peo­ple. For those sign­ing up to be a mem­ber there will be talks, work­shops and ex­pe­ri­ences that they can par­tic­i­pate in over the year. Any­one can sign up.’

The mem­ber­ship pro­gramme is the first of many ini­tia­tives launch­ing this year, she adds.

‘You can ex­pect to see a lot of changes.’ And when asked if we can ever ex­pect Dubai to be recog­nised up there with the likes of Lon­don, New York and Paris? ‘With the vi­sion of His High­ness [Shaikh Mo­ham­mad] any­thing is pos­si­ble!’

A talk at Fash­ion For­ward; DDFC points emerg­ing de­sign­ers to the stands at the an­nual Mar­ket OTB event

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