The best thing about homegrown brands, especially in a young urban center like Dubai, is that they greatly contribute to the culture. The emirate offers various free zones that support and encourage small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
Even though multinational companies dominate Dubai’s commerce culture, Chris, one of the founders of Artisan and Monkey, believes the next wave of business in the emirate will come from smaller, start-up boutique brands.
“These brands will further contribute to the multinational UAE culture and will give young people with an entrepreneurial mindset a chance to start their professional career right here in Dubai,” Chris, who prefers to only be known by his first name, told StepFeed.
“Without Arte, it would have been impossible for artisans like myself to get off the ground. And selling at Arte helped me refine my product and learn more about who bought these soaps,” founder and owner of The Camel Soap Factory, Lowmass, told StepFeed.
Here are some homegrown brands you should definitely know about:
1. Mirzam Chocolate Factory
“All of our single origin plantation choices – Vietnam, Indonesia, Madagascar, Papua New Guinea, and India – have been led by the history and stories of the maritime Spice Route, and countries who traded with fragrant and exotic goods hundreds of years ago,” the company says.
The beans then move to the winnowing machine where you can watch as the bean gets broken. Two granite wheels then grind the beans into small batches of smooth chocolate before it is tempered.
2. Wild Wood ME
The concept of wooden-framed glasses is not entirely new, but it certainly didn’t exist in the region until Wild Wood ME came to town.
“I felt like there was an opportunity to create a unique brand for this region that focuses on sustainability and eco-friendly materials,” founder and managing director, Luke Morris, told StepFeed.
In addition to offering stylish glasses, the brand employs eco-friendly fashion that only uses reclaimed or recycled wood. Each item is named after an endangered species to help raise awareness of those animals through the product.
“Even if the impact is equivalent to a drop in the ocean from a small business like ours, at least it's a start,” Morris added.
3. The Flip Side DXB
Launched just a year ago, Flip Side is Dubai’s only independent vinyl shop. Run by DJs and musicians, the venue has become a hub for music and a space for artists with weekly music documentary screenings, production seminars, and in-store DJ sessions.
Their stock comprises various genres that come from all corners of the world.
4. Artisan and Monkey
Driven by a desire for efficiency and style, two Dubai-based German executives launched Artisan and Monkey in a bid to promote a balance between the overlapping work and personal life one experiences in the emirate.
“Dubai's central geographical location as well as its past and current status as a major business and logistics hub were two main factors that motivated us to launch Artisan & Monkey here.
In addition, the tax-free business nature as well as a very business oriented processes and regulations made it very easy to set up a start-up business in Dubai," co-founder Chris told StepFeed.
The outcome was a minimalistic timepiece with easily interchangeable straps that can fit all occasions. Straps come in leather, nato, and mesh; named after international airports, featuring a 3-digit airport code.
5. The Camel Soap Factory
The Camel Soap Factory is a brand born when a Dubai-based mother needed an alternative to her 9-6 job. Step by step, founder Stevi Lowmass started learning how to make soap with camel milk.
“I noticed there was a real gap in the gift market for locally made products (this was in 2002). Combined with my love of natural craft soaps, I thought that making natural soaps with a local ingredient, camel milk, might work. The rest is history,” Lowmass told StepFeed.
At the factory, oils and camel milk are mixed in huge buckets with a saponifying agent. Fine essential oils are then added to the mixture. Once the soap blocks are cut into bars, they are left to cure for four weeks, after which they are packaged in reusable jute bags.
“Our vision [is] to put the UAE and the Middle East on the map for natural skincare … to create natural product in an environmentally sustainable manner. We are currently looking at extending our product range to incorporate other local ingredients going forward,” she adds.
6. Essentially Juices
Essentially is a homegrown juice brand that not only offers to cool you down but also to cleanse your system, bringing a unique product to the market.
“When we started in 2013, there was not a single meal delivery out here that offered nutritional solutions based on lifestyle healing protocols. Cold-pressed juice did not exist. It was all about an old-fashioned ‘minimal fat/counting calories’ kind of approach, which is a very unsustainable and unhealthy form of dieting,” co-founder, Wiebke Katsoudas, told StepFeed.
Essentially has been working with local suppliers of organic ingredients with 80% of their produce sourced locally from farms like Green Heart.
“Life can be hectic, messy and sometimes unpredictable, but living a healthy lifestyle should be simple. We think it all starts with food – clean and wholesome ingredients sourced from local, organic farmers and growers who care,” said Katsoudas.
7. Fatima Bint Mohamed Initiative
The Fatima Bint Mohamed Initiative (FBMI) is a carpet production and community development initiative aimed at supporting Afghani women and low-income families.
The initiative was established in 2010 in partnership with Tanweer Investments, employing 4,000 low-income Afghanis in Kabul and Jalalabad - 70% women, 35% of whom are widows - in the carpet production process.
“FBMI is an innovative social enterprise that harnesses the traditional skills of the Afghan people to produce beautiful hand knotted carpets, embroidered furniture, and local handicraft at fair market wages,” the initiative’s regional manager, Farshied Jabarkhyl, told StepFeed.
The initiative also provides its employees with free access to healthcare and education, accounting for more than 7,800 Afghani children going to school.
“It is estimated that FBMI has benefited more than 25,000 people in Afghanistan through its employment initiatives and social services since 2010,” Jabarkhyl added.
Free-range, hormone-free sheep wool is used in the weaving of the carpets. The sheep are raised by local shepherds across Afghanistan’s plains and mountains, encouraging a nomadic lifestyle as opposed to urbanization.
For the carpets’ base, fine hand-spun cotton is sourced from the Takhar, Badghis, Heart, and Helmand provinces. Vegan dyes harvested throughout the country for the coloring of the carpets keep farmers in business.
8. Made by Native
The company makes a variety of leather products, stitched together with tough, durable linen thread mixed with raw beeswax.
Conscious of the unhealthy highly chemical industrial chrome tanning, Made by Native uses natural vegetable-tanned leathers sourced from a family-run Italian tannery as a by-product from the meat industry.