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a guide to buying the right fabric in the UAE

The UAE has many great sights to experience and boutiques to shop at, but perhaps one of the country’s most overlooked offerings is its plethora of textile stores.

The options are endless – from crisp, striped cottons great for tailored blouses to intricate laces that would make breathtaking gowns. But for a first-time fabric shopper, the task can be daunting.

For those who have no idea where to start when it comes to navigating old Dubai’s souq-style streets, and who operate under the assumption that fabric is paid for at full price, here’s a quick breakdown.

Each emirate has its own textile district – in Abu Dhabi, fabric stores can be found at Hamdan Centre and Madinat Zayed Shopping Centre, and in Dubai at Deira’s Naif Souq and Satwa.

For people in Dubai, Satwa is the most easy-to-find area, and has convenient parking options. Not only is it accessible through Google Maps, but most of the store owners speak and understand enough English for a successful negotiation and transaction to be made.

Along Al Satwa street sits a line of fabric stores selling a variety of textiles, textures and prints. Champion Textiles (which is pinned on Google Maps) is a good place to start. Store owner Narendra Devnani has been here for 25 years, and says his selection of cotton materials attracts lots of customers who have remained loyal over the past two decades. While most of his clients are Arab, and seek out fabric for abayas, he sees people from a wide range of backgrounds come into the store.

I visit the shop on a Wednesday at noon. Most fabric stores in Satwa close between 1.30pm and 4pm. I meet shopper Camila Velasquez, who produces dance shows at BnF Events and Entertainment company in Dubai. She is looking for fabrics for performers’ costumes. The company’s latest project, Phantom of the Opera, requires a costume for the character Christine, and Velasquez examines a range of off-white laces and linings available at Champion.

"We produce many shows, and sometimes get ready-made outfits, but other times, need to make them from scratch. So I just buy the fabric here, and give it to a tailor around the corner," says Velasquez.

She shows the salesman a screenshot on her phone with a design for the lace dress, to give him a better idea of what she is looking for. He shows her additional laces and matching satiny linings for the dress.

Most of the time, the fabric salesmen are very knowledgeable and happy to help. Yes, they are in the business to make sales, but their input can help you pick out the perfect fabric for your project.

It is a good idea to take along photos and describe exactly what you are trying to make, whether it is fitted trousers, a flowy dress or a sari. The salesmen will be able to tell you exactly how much fabric you will need. While they might try to oversell you by a metre or two, it is safer to get a little extra fabric anyway, in case there are any hiccups at the tailor later.

A couple pick out a soft denim fabric at Champion for trousers. While they are confident they don’t need more than two metres, the salesman insists they buy an extra half a metre.

"But look at the roll – it’s taller than I am," says Aisha Ahmed. She is carrying a pair of her own sample trousers, which she hopes to get replicated. When I ask if they are happy with the price, her partner, Kamran Qureshi, says jokingly: "We’re still working on it."

Don’t forget bargaining is essential when shopping for fabric in the Middle East. While foreigners may already find the prices relatively affordable, salesmen will almost always lower it further.

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