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UAE students stir fashion market demand amid COVID-19

Two UAE students are taking advantage of the lockdown imposed to contain the coronavirus outbreak in order to grow their sustainable fashion line.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is known for placing a high value on its youths. There is even a minister of youth affairs whose mandate is to bring together young professionals to represent the affairs of youth to the government.

The government initiatives have motivated many young people to take on new ventures. Ismail Dajani and Mohammad Sani Ali, both 16, started an online sustainable clothing line, Iris, two years ago. The busy American School of Dubai students say they wish they had more time to grow their business.

They are now studying at home due to the coronavirus outbreak calling Iris their ninth class.

“This whole COVID-19 situation has definitely given us more time to work on the brand and dedicate more time to it than we would normally be able to. With online classes, we have been able to condense the usual eight hours of school to allow us to have more time to develop the brand and adapt to this strange time,” Dajani told Al-Monitor.

The environmentally conscience students came up with the idea to create sustainable clothing for men out of scraps they collected from various garment factories around the UAE. Their first collection consisted of 15 original pieces of men’s shirts.

“We went to factories around the UAE and collected the ‘end’ pieces and made patterns and designs from the scraps. The idea of Boro textiles is prominent in Japanese fashion, and those sensibilities — which take into consideration the environment and not wasting — was our inspiration,” Ali told Al-Monitor.

The young entrepreneurs believe that the current global coronavirus pandemic is a good time to grow their company.

“The coronavirus crisis is being referred to as a quarantine on overconsumption. People are not buying or spending and only buying necessities, so people are reevaluating [the need for] things that they buy. This is beneficial for our brand as there is a sustainability element in our fashion line,” Dajani said.

Ali added, “We are both aware that our generation is known as the throwaway society, and with one of Dubai Expo 2020’s key themes being sustainability this also helped in our business ideology.”

Ali and Dajani said they liked the idea of creating something unique and different, but it has not always been easy and there have been challenges.

“I think the biggest challenge was the adaptation of the Dubai fashion audience to this new style. It has been difficult to model the vibrant robust clothing,” Ali noted.

With sustainability and recycling or upcycling all the rage, the two are way ahead of the curve.

“We want to incorporate the concept of a circular economy where we can reuse materials into the fashion industry, and how this can apply to other things in life. We want Iris to become a model for other circular economies or closed-looped production business,” Ali noted.

So, what are the next steps for the young entrepreneurs?  “We bootstrapped the first stage of funding and we have developed a pitch deck we want to show to potential investors. We will use those funds to develop a stronger e-commerce platform. We used Dubai to beta test our product and want to expand to greater audiences especially in Europe and America,” Ali said.

The average price for their unique one-off men’s shirts, available in medium and large, is $50.

“Our shirts are fashionable but have multiple purposes, combating consumerism, when people are reevaluating their buying habits,” Dajani added. 

All 15 pieces in Iris’ first collection, which came out just before the coronavirus outbreak, sold. Now the two students are developing their second line, and they are using social media influencers to help sell their products.