Pandemic Diaries: These creatives have embraced Dubai as their new home

Filed on July 8, 2021

When jewellery designer Astha Jagwani Takhtani came to Dubai in March last year, it was to explore opportunities for her husband’s gold business in the city. Little did they know that the outbreak of a global pandemic would confine them here, without an option to return home to Mumbai for the next five months. “It worked in our favour. That time here sealed our decision to move to Dubai, even though we weren’t entirely sure when we first came,” she said. The move also gave the designer a platform to explore the Middle Eastern market for her eponymous brand Jewellery by Astha Jagwani. “I always wanted to take my brand international but never actively pursued it. This push out of my comfort zone came at the right time, especially as the market in India was suffering due to the pandemic.”

Jagwani-Takhtani isn’t the only one to have made this location switch. The unprecedented times brought on by the pandemic made many people evaluate what their new normal should look like. Dubai, in particular, saw an influx of expats since last March—an eclectic mix of entrepreneurs and creatives from South Asian countries. While some were short-terms visitors, others took the plunge to make the city home, bringing with them not just their families, but also their creative pursuits.

Take the example of fashion designer Anoli Shah. While Shah’s husband already had a base in the city, they moved here full-time after becoming first-time parents in June last year. “I have been participating in exhibitions here for a few years now. So, I already had a client base. I just had to let them know about the move.” So, she used her Spring-Summer ’21 collection to make this announcement — collaborating with a local photographer and Dubai-based influencers and style lovers to shoot her newest designs across the city. “It definitely created the buzz I was aiming for. Ever since I released this campaign on social media, there has been greater brand recall. I now want to focus on stocking with local partners (we are already available at Vesimi) and hosting intimate trunk shows.”

New market, new opportunities

A new city and environment are a playground for creative juices to flow. While Jagwani-Takhtani had an inkling of the preferences of local women owing to her previous exhibitions here, she spent her early days noticing their taste in jewellery more keenly. It inspired her latest collection—set to launch this July—made with the Middle Eastern and international markets in mind. “My jewellery tends to be traditional, but I have taken a more western approach for this line. It’s still a meenakari collection made in Jaipur, but I have worked with a pastel palette for the enamelling. There are studs and necklaces that women can wear over their abayas, as well as a range of hand harnesses,” she says.

But it isn’t about simply adapting an existing business to tap into an Emirati client base. It’s about finding new opportunities as well. Shah, by virtue of being in a city with easy access to international brands, is now collaborating with celebrity and film stylists back in India. “Typically, the styling department of a film travels abroad extensively to source the clothes. Due to Covid-19-related travel restrictions, that has become impossible. So, I am now working as a consulting stylist and personal shopper for leading stylists back home like Eka Lakhani and Anisha Jain,” reveals Shah. “It’s a brand-new opportunity that I am very excited to build and grow while here.”

To the world, by way of Dubai

It is the ease and effortlessness of Dubai living that has lured many. Case in point? Renowned makeup artist and beauty entrepreneur Natasha Moor. Moor came to the city in December last year for a bridal client. While she had visited several times in the past on short trips, this time she fell in love with the city, and decided to move. “Hong Kong, my hometown, has a mandatory 21-day quarantine rule for all incoming travelers. Dubai, on the other hand, has made it incredibly easy for me to travel for my work commitments. Moreover, there are so many expats here. Life is convenient, fun and comfortable.” Mumbai-based jewellery designer Shaheen Abbas too was in Dubai on a holiday  last November, when she realised it was the perfect second base for her family to lead a very global life. “We initially came for two weeks but ended up extending the trip. We experienced a different side of the city that really charmed us,” says Abbas. “We finally took the plunge and shifted this April.”

Both Moor and Abbas are cognisant of the massive potential for their respective brands here. “The Middle East is a huge market for any beauty brand. While my label isn’t available here yet, it is definitely something I am working on. There has already been great interest and curiosity about the products,” says Moor about bringing her eponymous makeup line, Natasha Moor Cosmetics, here. Until then, Moor has been using her time productively to collaborate with local talent — she recently released her #MoorThanMakeup campaign on social media, conceptualised with her digital marketing agency in the US, but shot locally. The video, that encourages women to look past their insecurities, features real women like fitness and lifestyle coach Linda Chambers Cochrane, designer Paula London and even Shah among others.

Abbas’ fashion jewellery label Flower Child by Shaheen Abbas had always been well-received when she visited for exhibitions. “Our fresh design perspective and accessible pricing always worked in our favour. Moreover, our e-shop ships globally, so we do have local patrons,” says Abbas. “There is so much potential to grow in Dubai. I am taking this time to return to the drawing board to work on new ideas and partnerships. The world is my oyster, and this is the perfect city to set off on a very international journey.”