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Want to set up a fashion brand in the UAE? Here’s how…

Aug 27, 2018 | UAE Company Setup

If you’ve ever walked around one of the UAE’s famous malls, you’ll know exactly how big the appetite for high fashion is in this part of the world. Many of the biggest names in the industry – from Balenciaga and Chanel to Gucci, Prada and Versace – have opened stores in Dubai, keen to tap into this demand for quality clothing and accessories.

When we look at the numbers, it is understandable why the big names would want to get involved. Spending on consumer goods – which among other things includes garments, textiles and jewellery – grew by 37% in the UAE in Q4 2017 in comparison to the same period the year before.

Such incredible growth presents an opportunity, not just for the large fashion brands, but for home-grown businesses looking to capitalise on this insatiable demand.

Why now is the time to start a fashion brand in the UAE

Entering a market occupied by the huge names listed above may seem futile – after all, no SME in the land can compete with Gucci or Prada when it comes to brand recognition, marketing spend, or anything else for that matter. On the contrary, however, the fact that these brands are occupying this space in the UAE shows just how huge the demand is for high quality clothing and apparel. And this presents an incredible opportunity to the smaller brands who can offer something that the big players cannot – home-grown, boutique fashion.


If you think you’ve got the very thing to fill this gap in the market, here’s everything you need to know about starting a fashion brand in the UAE.

Huge potential gap in the market: The demand for prestigious, international brands may be met, but not so the demand for home-grown, modest, UAE fashion houses. The modest or Islamic fashion industry is currently booming – spend on clothing and apparel by Muslims is expected to reach USD 368 billion by 2021 – and the big names are only just taking an interest. This coupled with the huge expat community looking to buy local, presents an opportunity in the UAE – considered by many to be the shopping capital of the region – which is unlike any other in the fashion world.

Set up in the mainland or a free zone: Depending on the nature of your business, you have the option of setting up a UAE fashion brand either on the mainland or in one of the nation’s many free zones. If you are looking to open a retail outlet, a mainland set up in one of the UAE’s malls is likely to be the best option. Alternatively, if you are setting up an e-commerce fashion brand, it’s possible to establish your business in a free zone and take advantage of the many benefits they offer, such as 0% corporate and personal tax, 100% company ownership, 100% repatriation of capital and profits and 100% import and export tax exemption. You can even set up in a free zone such as Fujairah Creative City without the need to take on office space.

If you are looking to open a retail outlet, a mainland set up in one of the UAE’s malls is likely to be the best option.

Easy, straightforward set up: There are no additional licences required to start a fashion brand in the UAE, regardless of whether you set up in the mainland or in a free zone. The licence application process is incredibly straightforward. On the mainland, simply apply directly to the Dubai Department of Economic Development (DED) – this process is so simple that you can usually be registered in just 90 minutes. If you opt for a free zone, you can apply directly to the relevant free zone authority. Licences are usually issued in a matter of days. In both cases, it pays to work with a company formation specialist who can manage your application for you to ensure a smooth and timely process. While a licence is all you need to trade, if you are establishing a brand, you may also wish to apply for a trademark. This can be done online via the Ministry of Economy website.

Set up with multiple shareholders: While you have the option of going it alone with your fashion brand in the UAE, you certainly don’t have to. It is possible to establish a company with multiple shareholders both on the mainland and in many of the UAE’s free zones. These shareholders can be either individuals or corporate entities.

Apply for multiple visas: When establishing your fashion business – whether in the mainland or a free zone – there are multiple visa options available. If you opt for a free zone, most will have an upper limit on the number you can apply for – usually linked to the amount of office space you commit to lease. For mainland setups, there is no maximum cap, however this is once again linked to the size of your premises. The general rule is one visa per 100 sq ft of office space.

Sponsor your dependants for their visas too: As well as applying for plenty of visas for your employees, it’s also very straightforward to sponsor your dependants for their visa applications as well. Whether you require a visa for a spouse, child, maid or driver, the process is four straightforward stages: entry permit, status adjustment, a medical fitness test, then Emirates ID registration and visa stamping. Given this is such an important procedure it’s a good idea to get advice from an expert in setting up UAE free zone businesses – to ensure that before starting an application, both you and those you are hoping to sponsor meet the entry criteria.


Open a corporate bank account with ease: Once you’ve successfully applied for your licence and established your business, you’ll be able to set up your corporate bank account. The application process is quick and simple. If your business is in a free zone, staff can advise on the best bank to suit your needs – and can even arrange meetings in-branch for you. On the mainland, a company formation specialist can also provide the same service. Alternatively, you’re welcome to approach any local or international bank on your own.

Will you be the UAE’s next big fashion house?

The fashion industry in the UAE presents a truly unique opportunity to the entrepreneur with the requisite skills to take advantage of it. Here we have a multi-million dollar industry, home to some of the biggest names in the business. But rather than being an obstacle, this creates a platform – a platform for up and coming, home-grown UAE brands to sit alongside some of the world’s most prestigious fashion houses.

The fashion industry in the UAE presents a truly unique opportunity to the entrepreneur with the requisite skills to take advantage of it.

The demand for home-grown fashion is evident. So much so that Jane Monnington Boddy, director at the trend forecaster WGSN recently said of the UAE: …it is more than coming into its own, particularly with the internal emphasis on homegrown designers. For this part of the world [the Middle East], it is absolutely correct to say that it is and will continue to be a fashion hub.’

Got what it takes to be at the forefront of this fashion hub? Now is the time to find out.

Setting up your own business has never been easier. Virtuzone takes care of it all so you can focus on what matters – building your business. For more information about company formation in the UAE mainland or free zones, please call us on +971 4 457 8200, send an email to info@virtuzone.com, or click here.

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