Dubai tailor finds a perfect fit in the Emirates

When PN Parmar arrived in Dubai by dhow from India in 1956, there was no electricity, fresh water was delivered to homes by donkey and the local currency was the Indian Rupee.

Coming from a family of tailors in Mumbai, Mr Parmar, now 82, decided to set up his own tailor shop in Bur Dubai with the help of a small loan from a friend. Today, the original shop still stands, but the company has expanded to include a store in Jumeirah Lakes Towers and a Bespoke line in the Dubai International Financial Centre.

“In my first six days in Dubai, I was invited to dinner every night,” says Mr Parmar. “It was a time when everybody knew everybody. Life was simple, there were no street lamps and no running water.”

The first store was minimal, housing a table, some cloth and a place to change. With no electricity, all garments were hand-sewed, carried out under the light of a lantern at night. It took another six years before electric sewing machines came to the market.

The majority of Parmar Tailors’ clients were British, Iranian businessmen “and of course, the Sheikhs”.

In 1976, with 10 tailors, Mr Parmar relinquished the management of the business to focus on other projects. But when the company went “downhill”, he took back control, along with his son Prakash Parmar, 45, in 1984 when only two tailors remained.

“There was just the four of us, we created a ladies store and opened a store in Abu Dhabi, but eventually shut that down. In 2006, we created the Bespoke brand,” says Prakash Parmar, now the chief operating officer.

Today, Parmar Tailors employs around 140 staff; 90 are tailors with 25 of those working exclusively in the Bespoke business.

The growth of the business reflects how the men’s tailoring industry in Dubai has evolved in recent years. Gone are the days of commissioning a jacket and two pairs of trousers in Bur Dubai or Satwa. Since the late 1990s and early 2000s, there has been greater demand for more fashionable and personalised pieces — spurred on by the growing cultural diversity and presence of designer brands from the West.

“In the next four years, bespoke tailors see the market in Dubai maturing with a common vision of having spaces and sections of the city especially dedicated to bespoke tailoring and gentlemen’s lifestyle similar to that of Savile Row,” says Pawan Ishwar, who recently opened Knights and Lords in Dubai’s JBR.

Bespoke suits at Parmar’s are certainly inspired by Savile Row. A custom-made, handcrafted suit, for example, can take up to six days to produce and requires 6,000 hand stitches per jacket. Prices start at about Dh4,000 depending on the materials chosen. The tailors selected to work on the bespoke items need 10 to 12 years’ experience.

According to Euromonitor International, the menswear apparel industry in the UAE was worth $6.7 billion in 2014, with suits accounting for $381 million. By the end of this year, this is set to grow to $7.2bn before rising to $9.4bn in 2019 with suits accounting for $397m in 2015 and $463m by 2019.

The likes of Hugo Boss, Armani Exchange and Pierre Cardin have seen their market share grow steadily over the past five years, according to Diana Jarmalaite, an analyst at Euromonitor International.

“The boost of personal incomes and rising fashion consciousness and the link between personal outfits and business success, attracts men into the stores, especially those with international brands, which are often seen as synonymous with quality and fashion,” she adds.

This has had a ripple effect across the market boosting the bespoke tailoring market and also commissions in Satwa, traditionally the domain of women’s tailoring.

“We have more men now, they usually want us to make a copy of the suit they have,” says Shital Parmar, a tailor at Al Aryam Tailoring in Satwa. The area is traditionally considered the cheaper option for tailoring. Buy a men’s suit at Al Aryam Tailoring and you will be charged Dh270 for the labour with the material costing between Dh1,000 to Dh1,200.

But for men seeking something more high-end, the choices in the made-to-measure and bespoke sector are now more diverse.

“Before, tailoring was associated with the English and brands were not very strong here. In the past 15 years with the mall culture and the internet, people have had more exposure to different styles and they now know what they want,” adds Prakash Parmar.

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For a relatively new hotel, the Sheraton Grand Hotel on Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai has positioned itself comfortably as both a business and a leisure hotel.

First opening in November 2014, the Starwood-owned property has 474 rooms and 180 serviced apartments. I stayed in one of its executive suites, larger than the average-sized Dubai apartment with a big bedroom, separate lounge area and guest bathroom.

The lounge contains a coffee table and a dining table strategically placed close to a hub of plugs so that it can double up as a small desk. Complimentary Wi-Fi is available throughout the hotel, reaching pretty impressive speeds, with no buffering when I played any video.

The bedroom is separated by sliding doors to offer privacy if you choose to hold a meeting in your room.

Business guests or those staying in suites have access to the executive lounge, open 24 hours, where light meals and snacks are served throughout the day. Located on the 39th floor, the lounge is one of the biggest I’ve come across in Sheraton hotels and offers great views of the city (when there isn’t a sandstorm or fog).

Despite its size, the lounge has been sectioned off to create more intimate spaces. If you fancy spreading out your paperwork with access to plugs, there is a big table close to the bar; if, however, you want a client meeting with nibbles, then smaller tables offer more privacy.

Back in the room, the king-size bed was comfortable, however, the goose-down duvet was too heavy for the Dubai climate. The Nespresso machine was handy for that early morning coffee.

The Sheraton has nailed the room service; meals arrive within half an hour — ideal when you need a proper hot meal rather than just a sandwich after a long working day.

The hotel also has a small cafe downstairs and two other restaurants. Plus for those impromptu meetings, a business lunch is available at Feast — a western, Middle East and Asian buffet restaurant — for just Dh49 from Sunday to Thursday.

q&a all the crossroads you’ll need

Carmen Ortiz, director of marketing at Sheraton Grand Hotel, tells Triska Hamid more about the hotel:

Where does the Sheraton place itself in the competitive Dubai hotel market?

We have positioned ourselves as offering a crossroads to Dubai. First of all we’re in the middle of the city and we are very accessible to the old and new parts of Dubai. We have the metro station and we can target the corporate traveller since we are in front of the DIFC and you can walk to the World Trade Centre and the many offices nearby. We also target and are attractive to the leisure traveller not looking for the beach, but someone who wants to be close to everything that happens here. In 10 minutes you can get to the old souqs, or Dubai Mall and with the metro you can go to the marina or JBR or any other mall in the city.

Who stays here?

We have an inventory of 654 rooms, suites and apartments. We have 180 one, two and three-bedroom apartments, which makes us very appealing to GCC families and guests who are looking to stay for one or two months or a year.

How do you cater to business guests?

For Sheraton, connectivity is key. Usually business centres are hidden, but here, we want people to be on the computer and socialise at the same time or have a drink and croissant. We have a media hub in the lobby with the plugs and everything you need to work. Our concierge also has a WhatsApp account; make all the requests you want.

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* The writer was a guest of the hotel

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Given its proximity to Dubai, Sharjah’s hotel scene is lacking – in numbers and quality. Besides the Hilton, the emirate’s only other decent offering for business travellers is the Centro. The three-star property, part of the Abu Dhabi-based Rotana portfolio, is located a few kilometres from Sharjah Airport and about 15 minutes away from the city centre.

The Centro range is Rotana’s line of business hotels, located in various commercial hubs in the region with easy access to airports, transport links and a no-nonsense/no-frills attitude to a night’s stay.

But it is not a place for the ill-prepared business traveller. The amenities are limited and few: if you had no time to shave, there won’t be a razor on hand. Forget your toothbrush? Nope, Centro does not supply them either.

This is a hotel for the more organised of travellers, one on a budget who prizes convenience over luxury.

The Centro Sharjah has 306 rooms and suites. The rooms are fitted with queen-sized beds that could do with softer sheets. Still, it is comfortable enough and if you’re on a business trip you probably won’t be staying more than a couple of nights. Rooms have walk-in showers and are equipped with irons and ironing boards. Each room has a separate lounge table and chairs that works as a desk or dining spot.

Room service was prompt and decent quality for the price. The hotel’s sandwiches come in a packed box, so you can take them with you for lunch ahead of days filled with meetings and conferences.

There are also two dining options in the hotel. C.taste, an all-day buffet and à la carte venue or c.deli, providing 24-hour service offering salads, sandwiches and desserts as well as pastries. Both are suitable for informal business meetings. For the more important and discreet discussions, the Centro has three meeting rooms available for hire.

Wi-Fi, although available throughout the property, costs Dh55 per day.

The Centro Sharjah has an outdoor swimming pool and a gym equipped with a fair amount of kit for those wanting to stay active after working hours.

Given that it is only a three-star property, the service and quality of the stay at the Centro Sharjah was surprisingly pleasant.

Q&A

Michael Kasch, the general manager at Rotana Hotel Management, tells Triska Hamid more about the Centro Sharjah:

How does the Centro cater to business guests?

Centro Sharjah is a stylish and affordable hotel. Its strategic location, in close proximity to Sharjah Airport, business districts and Sharjah University, serves as the perfect haven for executives, giving them adequate time for their business objectives while not compromising on leisure activities.

How long does the average guest stay? For three days.

How do you compete with other hotels in Sharjah?

The constant slashing of prices by competitors has made the market vulnerable and imposes a threat to business. We, however, utilise a differentiating strategy to tackle this and provide our guests with great value and top-notch executive hospitality. We are on the constant pursuit to engross our target audience through various experiential marketing initiatives.

What does your business centre offer?

The fully equipped meeting rooms and business centre (called The Link) are designed to appeal to those who value effective solutions and efficient amenities. The colours, layout, lighting and leading edge technology have all been carefully selected to enhance interaction, encourage communication and ensure productivity.

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Given its proximity to Dubai, Sharjah’s hotel scene is lacking – in numbers and quality. Besides the Hilton, the emirate’s only other decent offering for business travellers is the Centro. The three-star property, part of the Abu Dhabi-based Rotana portfolio, is located a few kilometres from Sharjah Airport and about 15 minutes away from the city centre.

The Centro range is Rotana’s line of business hotels, located in various commercial hubs in the region with easy access to airports, transport links and a no-nonsense/no-frills attitude to a night’s stay.

But it is not a place for the ill-prepared business traveller. The amenities are limited and few: if you had no time to shave, there won’t be a razor on hand. Forget your toothbrush? Nope, Centro does not supply them either.

This is a hotel for the more organised of travellers, one on a budget who prizes convenience over luxury.

The Centro Sharjah has 306 rooms and suites. The rooms are fitted with queen-sized beds that could do with softer sheets. Still, it is comfortable enough and if you’re on a business trip you probably won’t be staying more than a couple of nights. Rooms have walk-in showers and are equipped with irons and ironing boards. Each room has a separate lounge table and chairs that works as a desk or dining spot.

Room service was prompt and decent quality for the price. The hotel’s sandwiches come in a packed box, so you can take them with you for lunch ahead of days filled with meetings and conferences.

There are also two dining options in the hotel. C.taste, an all-day buffet and à la carte venue or c.deli, providing 24-hour service offering salads, sandwiches and desserts as well as pastries. Both are suitable for informal business meetings. For the more important and discreet discussions, the Centro has three meeting rooms available for hire.

Wi-Fi, although available throughout the property, costs Dh55 per day.

The Centro Sharjah has an outdoor swimming pool and a gym equipped with a fair amount of kit for those wanting to stay active after working hours.

Given that it is only a three-star property, the service and quality of the stay at the Centro Sharjah was surprisingly pleasant.

Q&A

Michael Kasch, the general manager at Rotana Hotel Management, tells Triska Hamid more about the Centro Sharjah:

How does the Centro cater to business guests?

Centro Sharjah is a stylish and affordable hotel. Its strategic location, in close proximity to Sharjah Airport, business districts and Sharjah University, serves as the perfect haven for executives, giving them adequate time for their business objectives while not compromising on leisure activities.

How long does the average guest stay? For three days.

How do you compete with other hotels in Sharjah?

The constant slashing of prices by competitors has made the market vulnerable and imposes a threat to business. We, however, utilise a differentiating strategy to tackle this and provide our guests with great value and top-notch executive hospitality. We are on the constant pursuit to engross our target audience through various experiential marketing initiatives.

What does your business centre offer?

The fully equipped meeting rooms and business centre (called The Link) are designed to appeal to those who value effective solutions and efficient amenities. The colours, layout, lighting and leading edge technology have all been carefully selected to enhance interaction, encourage communication and ensure productivity.

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Most hotels claim to anticipate their guests’ needs and cater to them as part of their five-star service. Few, however, truly anticipate with much accuracy.

The Four Seasons George V hotel in Paris, however, must employ room whisperers, or maybe the walls do actually talk because the maids shifted and altered the room to my taste, without me placing a single request.

A makeshift water bottle bidet was transformed into a Romanesque plastic jug, a towel on the floor was interpreted as the need for a prayer mat and my absolute favourite — a quick scan during turndown service and the maids understood I don’t like my sheets tucked under the bed.

This was not just anticipation, this was “room-reading” and it’s invaluable for the business traveller on the go with little time to spell out their wants and needs at every stopover.

The 244 rooms in this property, built in 1928, are spacious by Parisian standards and tastefully decorated in a French baroque style in mint in ivory. The bathroom is an ode to marble playing host to Bulgari toiletries — and a wonderful echo in the shower. The bed and pillows are extremely comfortable and the sheets so crisp and soft they almost emit a sense of affection while you sleep.

The standard rooms come with a small living area and a small desk — a snag for the executive that wants to spread work out.

The lack of power plugs was also an issue. Unlike modern hotels where an array of plugs is attached to the desk, you may have to disconnect a lamp to charge your laptop. Wi-Fi connectivity is available throughout the hotel however, and gathers decent enough speeds to procrastinate on YouTube. Owned by Saudi Arabia’s Kingdom Holding Company, the hotel caters well to its Middle East guests. Room service menus are available in Arabic and serve a wide range of familiar delights from hummus to a mixed grill. For those after a taste of France’s culinary heritage, the George V houses two-star Michelin restaurant Le Cinq, where you can admire eighteenth century furniture as you dine.

Breakfast is served here too, a civilised affair with no sign of a wasteful buffet. The menu is varied enough to satisfy the majority of tastes. I opted for a lemon souffle pancake.

q&a city’s executive haunt

Triska Hamid offers more insights for the business traveller planning a stay at Four Seasons George V hotel:

Where is it located exactly?

On Avenue George V, just off the Champs D’Elysees, and a few metres away from George V metro station. The hotel has its own chauffeurs, but taxis are plentiful in the area. Despite being in the heart of Paris, there is still a great sense of tranquillity within the hotel.

There are so many hotels in Paris better suited for business travel. Why stay here?

If the Ritz is a place for the glamorous set, the W for the young party animals, then the Four Seasons is for important people. Everywhere in the hotel there are people worth speaking to, be it diplomats, businessmen or sports personalities. A random hello with someone in the corridor may lead you to meet the woman who dresses the world’s first ladies. A chance encounter at the George V is a free networking opportunity — making it a good choice for the business traveller.

How else does it cater to business guests?

The ballroom is frequently used for conferences. There are several meeting rooms, a business centre, an excellent concierge who, among his many other skills can print out any document, offer translation services, and book whatever it is that you may need — a restaurant, car or a tour of Paris. The gym is also open at all times so you can fit in some exercise no matter what time your day starts or ends.

Is there a pool?

Yes and it is magnificently decorated in the style of a Versaille palace.

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Erbil may have been named the Arab tourism capital in 2014, but the Kurdish city is not attracting many tourists now. Instead, because of local tensions, many visitors flying into its airport are there for business and Erbil International Airport caters well to such visitors.

It has differing grades of lounges, but for the more important dignitaries, diplomats and those with wasta, the VIP lounge is the initial stepping point.

Situated a short car ride away from the main terminal, the invitation-only VIP lounge offers a quiet meeting point for travellers. If you are destined for this lounge, you are likely to be part of an important business delegation or a diplomat, so a quick access and exit from the airport, without the hassle of passport and luggage checkpoints, is key.

The lounge is a spacious room segmented into private areas with a bar serving hot and cold drinks and nibbles such as nuts and crisps. The gold decor, plush sofas and French baroque-inspired furniture amplify the sense of grandeur. But don’t expect a spa, business centre or sleep area. This is literally just one big room divided into six sections – each with a table, sofa and chairs.

Several waiters are on hand to fetch anything you may need. The staff here also check in your luggage and reclaim it too, which takes much longer than if you were to do it yourself. But it’s a nice option to have and you can use the time to get some work done or network.

The Wi-Fi is freely available and of a decent enough speed. The one primary snag is that the only tables in the lounge are coffee tables – not particularly comfortable for working on a laptop.

Access to and from the plane is via black luxury cars (for the real VIPs) or small vans (for business class ticket holders) that drive up to the steps of the aircraft.

For those who prefer to have as little interaction with other travellers as possible, this lounge is ideal but you need to know the right people to get in. For the more social or less important traveller, the CIP lounge is an alternative option. It is available to business class ticket holders who must pay US$130 for the privilege of accessing its small minibar and selection of pizzas and crisps.

q&a refuge from the turmoil

When was the airport built?

It was first built in the 1970s as a military base. Work on the civil airport began in 2003 with the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime and was finished in May 2005. Its current reincarnation as Erbil International Airport (EIA) was completed in 2010 with an investment of $500 million. The UAE’s Dnata handles EIA’s services and operations, including customer baggage, ramp services, cargo handling and ground support for equipment maintenance.

Which airlines fly to EIA?

Several European and regional carriers fly into EIA including Austrian Airlines, Lufthansa, Royal Jordanian Airlines, fldubai, Emirates and Qatar Airways. Iraqi Airways, the country’s national carrier, has several international and national flights daily, but as yet does not operate any flights between EIA and Sulaymaniyah International Airport.

Is it safe to fly into Erbil?

Yes, although travel to Iraq is discouraged by many governments around the world. A few planes flying over Iraq have been the target of anti-aircraft fire, but all airlines are now operating flights in and out of Erbil and Baghdad. ISIL has certainly affected the mood of the country and the terrorists do share a border with the Kurdish region, but Erbil remains a safe haven.

How many visitors travelled through Erbil International Airport last year?

According to official statistics, about 1.5 million visitors travelled through Erbil, rising from 1.2 million in 2013. Travel has waned since the onslaught of ISIL last June, but with Mosul’s airport under ISIL control, most residents in the surrounding provinces travel through Erbil instead.

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The writer was a guest of the Erbil International Airport VIP lounge

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When Mai Medhat launched Eventtus, a social platform for conferences and events three years in Cairo, she was just one of a handful of female technology entrepreneurs in the region. The 27-year-old Egyptian attracted investment from the likes of Vodafone Ventures and Cairo Angels to develop her company and she is now expanding in the UAE with the help of AstroLabs.

AstroLabs is the brainchild of Mohammed Meki and Louis Lebbos, the founders of one of the most successful digital companies in the region – Namshi, the online retail site.

Now the two have partnered with Google for Entrepreneurs to find the best technology start-ups in the region, and they are focusing on women.

“We need to highlight more women entrepreneurs and women in executive positions,” says Ms Medhat. “People need to hear success stories and achievements by women in tech to believe that we can do it and we can do it right.”

To date, AstroLabs, launched in March 2013, has provided training and support to 120 start-ups from Egypt, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, raising US$50 million in funding among them. Some have gone on to claim regional and international success, including the Arabic food website Shahiya and online car service Careem. One of AstroLabs’ main aims is to increase the participation of women technology entrepreneurs by 25 per cent.

They have recently nominated two female technology entrepreneurs from the region for the BlackBox Connect accelerator programme in San Francisco.

“While women across the world constitute a significant number of university graduates, sometimes more than men, we don’t see this representation happening in technology,” says Mr Lebbos. “There are a lot of theories as to why this is. The more women with jobs in the tech ecosystem, the more other women will be comfortable joining it. It would be good for the overall economy.”

The region has become a hotbed for female entrepreneurs in recent years keen to shatter the corporate glass ceiling and reach the top of the pyramid in their own right, and the easiest way nowadays is through technology.

“The region compared to other parts of the world has more women in tech start-ups participating as a percentage based on the programmes we’ve seen even compared to Silicon Valley,” says Mr Mekki. “Tech start-ups are a great equaliser, you can set up your own business and own ideas and make things happen yourself without being encumbered with bureaucracy or gender bias.”

The two have already accepted more than 20 companies to be part of the community and claim to be accepting new applications every week. They include the likes of Jordan’s Madfoo3at, South Africa’s ImpressME and Innspire from Sweden.

AstroLabs will house these companies in a 6,500 square feet centre in Dubai’s Jumeirah Lakes Towers. The centre, the first such Google-sponsored hub in the region, will open next month and will play host to a bevy of partners from all around the world to help the local tech community thrive and bring global standards to the region.

AstroLabs has also partnered with the Dubai Investment Development Agency, part of the Department of Economic Development to drive investment into high-growth sectors. The emirate is keen to attract more tech-focused companies to Dubai ahead of Expo 2020 and is planning to invest Dh4.5 billion to turn the city into an innovation hub for global technology businesses and entrepreneurs.

“We’re creating a very diverse group in terms of industry, background and country background,” says Mr Mekki. “They’re mostly from the Middle East for now, but we’re working on partnerships to bring more international start ups here.”

Membership offers companies access to AstroLabs’ network of experts, an office space and mobile device development lab. A monthly membership for entrepreneurs is Dh1,500 and Dh2,250 for a licensed company. The fee includes licence and registration costs associated with starting a business from scratch.

“The reason why we created AstroLabs is to tackle the biggest challenges that entrepreneurs face when starting up a company – high cost of rent in Dubai and the talent gap in the region,” says Mr Mekki.

While interest and investment in the region’s technology sector has picked up over the past couple of years, the development of the sector is still lagging behind other emerging markets. One good indicator of the health of the sector is the penetration of e-commerce. Across the Middle East just 1 to 2 per cent of sales are generated online, whereas in the United Kingdom it accounts for 15 to 20 per cent of all retail transactions.

“There’s no doubt that tech entrepreneurship is still in its early days,” says Mr Mekki. “There are major players who are definitely interested, the commitment of Google shows that. But it is still early days in terms of where the region as a whole stands.”

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