Regional fashion start-ups with physical stores, from The Giving Movement to Les Benjamins

As Karen Wazen opens her first retail space in the UAE, we look at other online-first brands that have invested in bricks-and-mortar stores

Karen Wazen, pictured in an ad for her Season 10 collection of sunglasses, has opened a physical store. Photo: Karen Wazen Eyewear
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When influencer Karen Wazen launched her eponymous eyewear brand in Dubai in 2018, no one could have guessed that she would be celebrating its fifth anniversary by opening the company’s first retail space in the same city.

“I’m so excited to be celebrating with our very first independent space in Dubai – where the brand was born,” she said.

Located on the first floor of the Mall of the Emirates, the space – more a retail presence than an actual store – is made up of the sleek lines and clean shapes that typify her pared-back eyewear.

The space is done up by her mother’s architectural firm Hakim Diab Architects, and the result is stainless steel cabinets and clever conveyor-style podiums, with rotating tubular displays to showcase the minimalist eyewear, including Wazen's new Season 10 collection.

The brand launched after Wazen, who has more than 8 million followers on Instagram, decided to put her lifelong love of eyewear to good use.

First available online only, the brand soon expanded to being stocked at major retail outlets including Galeries Lafayette, Harvey Nichols, Level Shoes, Ounass, Shopbop, Bloomingdale's, ABC in Beirut and The Frankie Shop in Paris. Once established with a physical presence, opening a store was the next logical step.

Hers is not the only regional start-up that has taken the leap from e-commerce to retail.

Athleisure wear brand The Giving Movement, one of the region's biggest success stories, opened the doors to its first retail space in December 2022 at Mall of the Emirates.

It was launched as an online-only brand during the pandemic, by Dominic Nowell-Barnes in April 2020. As the world was dealing with a lockdown, the brand arrived at just the right moment to satisfy consumers stuck at home, by providing a need for comfortable, relaxed clothing, as well as creating a budding sense of community.

Made from sustainable materials, such as recycled plastics and organic cotton, it is sold as jogging bottoms, gym wear and oversized sweatshirts. Nowell-Barnes has added a charitable donation into each purchase, with every sale raising $4 for Dubai Cares and Harmony House. With customers able to donate without having to do anything other than shop, donations have passed $4 million as of January.

In December last year, The Giving Movement hosted its first pop-up store in a huge space next to Nike at the Mall of the Emirates, before switching to a smaller, but more permanent placement within THAT Concept Store. It has also hosted a pop-up store within The Courtyard, Dubai, and plans for a flagship store are under way, with an expected five stores in total.

In addition, Nowell-Barnes has recently launched a spin-off company called Fifty Made that stocks just 50 of each size of each design.

Another name that has put down roots in Dubai is Les Benjamins, although at a slightly slower pace. Founded in Istanbul in 2011 by Bunyamin Aydin, Les Benjamins merges West and East street culture fashion.

Starting with just 30 T-shirts, these were later shown at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Istanbul and then Milan Fashion Week. From there, demand exploded.

Stocked at the likes of Harvey Nichols, Saks Fifth Avenue and Antonioli, it introduced womenswear for its spring/summer 2018 in Paris, and in December 2021 collaborated with The Webster in Miami for Art Miami and is now a regular at Dubai's own Sole DXB.

During that time, it also opened the doors to its first store in Dubai at Mall of the Emirates.

Updated: December 21, 2023, 10:47 AM