10 best alternative shops in Dubai

Ten unique boutiques that are essential to showing off your sense of individuality and style

Dubai is the city of shopping. Huge global brands fill massive malls that record billions of dirhams in retail sales every month from expats and visitors alike. It is estimated that the emirate is home to more than half of the world’s major international fashion retailers. But look past the established labels and conventional chain stores to find a strong undercurrent of unique independent outlets, local labels and speciality stores that in many ways offer a better representation of its distinct identity. We take a look at some of our fave spots to spy a special something.

Boo-Burys

We’ve all felt the abject dread as a party guest utters the horror phrase “we used to have that exact table!” while pointing at the recently home-assembled Swedish piece in the corner. As we usher that particular caller towards the door, we again think if only we had time to make our living room so tastefully unique it would make visitors green with envy. At Boo-Burys, the “brilliantly British” boutique for handcrafted unique furniture from the UK, you are sure to find something to ensure your home stands out from the crowd. Staff are happy to offer interior design tips to those looking to break from the norm. The Al Quoz outlet has classic and contemporary pieces, quirky antiques and one-offs such as vintage suitcases and quirky wall art to liven up your living room.
Open daily 10am-8pm. Courtyard Gallery, 6 Street, Al Quoz, www.booburysfurniture.com (04 224 1692).

FBMI

On the surface, there may not appear to be anything hugely unique about this outlet in Dubai Design District, especially given the exceedingly high quality of carpets and rugs in every corner of the city. But shopping here means not only are you assured to feel comfortable underfoot, you can also enjoy the cosy feeling of knowing you are doing something good. That’s because all profits made at FBMI go towards the salaries of the female weavers in Afghanistan, as well as providing access to social services, children’s education and free health care for their communities. Check out the website to see some striking original designs, from classic Arabian carpets to dazzling modern rugs.
Open Sat-Thu 9am-8pm; Fri 3pm-8pm. Building 2, Dubai Design District, www.fbmi.ae (04 243 2327).

Greenheart Organic Farm Shop

We could all do more to support efforts to grow sustainable farming in the UAE. An easy way to start is by occasionally foregoing the Saturday supermarket sweep and instead popping to an independent organic outlet such as this small farm shop in Barsha South, which sells freshly harvested fruit, vegetables and herbs grown in the UAE, as well as imported organic produce and grass-fed organic meat. The company began life in 2012 as a weekly delivery service, distributing mixed vegetable boxes to Arabian Ranches residents before setting up a website with an online shopping facility. After expanding to supply local businesses, the Greenheart shop opened in Barsha South in 2013. Avoid the trolley dash next time your fruit bowl demands a top-up.
Open Sat-Thu 11am-5pm. The Light Commercial Tower, Barsha South 2, www.greenheartuae.com (04 361 7010).

Heritage Touch
The UAE comprises a marvellous mix of cultures and nationalities, so any store operating in the Emirates would do well to cater to this cacophony of customs and lifestyles. Home interiors retailer Heritage Touch is one such spot, stocking at its showrooms and warehouses across the UAE with hand-carved and unique pieces inspired by workmanship from Arabia, Africa and India. Its first store opened in Abu Dhabi more than 20 years ago and its operation has since expanded across the emirate and into Dubai, meaning its uniquely designed tables, chairs and sofas featuring exotic designs now grace living rooms across the country.
Open daily 9.30am-9pm. 4th Street, behind Gold & Diamond Park, Al Quoz (04 341 2080), 20th Street, Al Mina, Abu Dhabi (02 673 2749); www.heritage-touch.com.

Minbart, Abu Dhabi

It’s fitting that this boutique gallery in the capital aims to stand alone as a stage for creativity – its name comes from the Arabic word for “platform”. Minbart stocks dozens of designers including Bjorg, Ijo Design and Bionda Castana, yet just as much effort goes into uncovering lesser-known local brands. Each year, Minbart turns its space into a live working studio to celebrate the UAE’s artists and designers. The store recently took its brand online, allowing fashionistas across the country access to its range of dresses, abayas, jewellery, bags and shoes plus original artwork and quirky stationery.
Open daily 10am-10pm. Al Muneera, Al Raha Beach, Abu Dhabi. www.minbart.com (02 552 2332).

O-Concept

We love to make the most of our precious weekend time, so whenever we can tick off two jobs at once, we do it. Combining an early jog with the dog’s morning walk? Check. Keep up, Fido. Dusting off from the curtains while practising our tennis backhand? Sure, why not? Strapping the dishes to the roof rack ahead of a drive to the car wash? Maybe not, but you get the idea. So when we want to browse brands such as Sunboo Hana Hani and Forever Young while our morning coffee is being freshly brewed, we head for O-Concept, the eclectic fashion boutique and café in Jumeirah 1. The spacious store is all exposed ceilings and polished cement flooring, bringing New York cool to Dubai. They even have their own signature coffee - the Nanacino.
Open Sat-Thu 9.30am-11pm; Fri 11am-11pm. Jumeirah 1, www.oconceptstore.ae (04 345 5557).

S*uce
This store has been a UAE favourite since 2004 when it opened in Dubai’s Village Mall with the goal of providing brands and styles that customers couldn’t find anywhere else. Since then, S*uce has set the standard for the country’s independent boutiques to follow. It now has a larger outlet in The Dubai Mall, plus stores in the city’s Four Seasons, Galleria Mall and The Beach, opposite JBR, as well as one at Marina Mall in Abu Dhabi. Stores stock clothing, shoes, bags and accessories from an ever-changing list of local and global designers, including current favourites Alice McCall, Kloset, Manoush and Zayan the Label. The award-winning brand has branched out to include speciality shops such as S*uce In The Hood and S*uce On-Sea.
Open Sun-Wed 10am-10pm; Thu-Sat 10am-11pm. Marina Mall, Abu Dhabi (02 6818650); Open Thu-Sat 10am-midnight; Sun-Wed 10am-10pm. The Dubai Mall (04 339 9696); www.shopatsauce.com.

Pier Import
Although born in California in the ’60s, this brand has been a UAE institution for quality vintage wares for almost 20 years. The Dubai outlet moved from its long-term home at the Mazaya Centre on Sheikh Zayed Road to its new home off Jumeirah Beach Road, opposite the Dubai Zoo, where we hope a new audience will discover its vast collection of eclectic customised and refurbished goods. There is also an outlet near the Corniche in Abu Dhabi. Don’t be surprised to find an antique tennis racket or 19th century typewriter among its ever-changing collection. A refreshing alternative to the country’s chic norm.
Open Sat-Thu 10am-10pm; Fri 2pm-10pm. Opposite Dubai Zoo, Jumeirah 1 (04 343 2002); Al Markaziyah, Abu Dhabi (02 665 8395); www.pierimport-me.com.

Pro Art Gallery
If you want to develop an interest in art but don’t know your Monet from your Manet, or you think Raphael was a 6ft ninja amphibian, this gallery near Jumeirah Mosque is a good place to start. Aiming to make art accessible, this unpretentious spot regularly offers limited-edition prints that are within the budget of those who don’t begin their weekend by choosing between the Bentley and the Bugatti. Known for displaying work by respected street artists from the UAE, Pro Art Gallery displays paintings, sculptures and photographs created by more than 50 renowned artists from around the world. Even if you don’t know art but you know what you like, you’ll probably like this gallery.
Open Sat-Thu 10am-9pm; Fri 1pm-8pm. Palm Strip Mall, Jumeirah Beach Road, www.proartuae.com (04 345 0900).

The Zoo Concept

With festive gift-shopping just around the corner, it’s about time we paid a visit to one of our favourite spots for zany presents that loved ones don’t need and didn’t ask for. The Zoo Concept, aptly named due to its location across the road from the (although now closed) Dubai Zoo, is a haven for nerdy knick-knacks that would hip up the hippest hipster’s apartment. Stores in The Dubai Mall, BoxPark and Souk Al Bahar – plus one opening soon at CityWalk – complement this outlet, where you can easily spend an hour or two marvelling at the wonders within. Shirts bearing silly slogans, cool clutch bags and other witty wearables could be the reason staff never stop smiling. They even smiled through a visit from Jaden Smith, free-spirited son of US actor and rapper Will. Now that is smiley.
Open Sun-Thu 10am-10pm; Fri-Sat 10am-midnight. Jumeirah Beach Road, Jumeirah 1 (055 224 1538).

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