Get your shop on with the most unique stores in town

We’ve scouted out Abu Dhabi’s best-kept secrets for unique shopping options

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We have to admit, the mall is usually our first stop when we’re on the hunt for something.

Whether furniture or fashion, just like George A Romero’s zombies, we’re all seemingly conditioned to respond to its inexorable draw, tempted by the prospect of more choice and sales than we’ll ever need.

But, take a chance and stray from the beaten retail path and you’ll be rewarded with something special, because hidden in the capital are a few undiscovered gems that
are worth seeking out.

And from Korean goods to hand-made furniture, homewares and fashion, we think these ones are worthy of a look – and with that in mind we talk to some of the founders to find out the story behind the store.

Around Abu Dhabi

Minbart

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“We want people to see themselves differently,” begins Sheikha Alia Al Qassimi, founder of fashion concept store Minbart, on her inspiration behind setting up the shop. “We want people to explore and identify their own style.

Established in 2014, the store fuses art with sartorial style to bring the capital’s most fashion-forward residents a curated shopping experience that you won’t find elsewhere.

Featuring items from local, regional and international designers, the store eschews cookie-cutter fast fashion trends for unique up-and-coming designers, a philosophy that goes hand-in-hand with Alia’s own style.

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“I love iconic pieces, I love things that aren’t everywhere,” she comments. “I don’t want to shop somewhere where five other people will be wearing the same outfit, and that’s the same concept I apply to my store.”

For Alia, the story behind any piece is just as important as the garment itself and is irrevocably woven into its threads.

“When we meet designers, we bring their stories back with us to our customers,” she says. “It’s not just about showing our customers the latest design; we want them to understand the designer’s inspirations.”

And while Alia has collaborated with 150 designers all over the world, her commitment to supporting local efforts lies at the heart of her business.

“I’m absolutely in love with the fashion scene right now in the UAE,” Alia enthuses. “Designers and entrepreneurs here are on an international level when it comes to style.

“It’s very important, both to me as a founder and to us as a team, that we act as a platform for those local and regional artists and designers; it’s a culture and a philosophy.”

Al Muneera, Al Raha Beach. Daily 10am–10pm. Contact: 02 552 2332, minbart.com

The Driftwood Factory

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Ben Swan, founder of The Driftwood Factory, found his way back to carpentry and his current business via a circuitous route.

Trained in the trade in the UK, Ben found the market difficult in the wake of the UK’s economic crisis. After becoming a SCUBA instructor and travelling the world, Ben surfaced in Abu Dhabi and saw an opportunity to return to his craft and create unique pieces of furniture.

“I started out in my friend’s garage just doing it for fun,” he reflects. “I made a few pieces for friends, and people said I should start doing it for real.

“We looked to Pinterest for some inspiration,” Ben adds, “and we saw that there was all this beautiful rough-hewn furniture, but you couldn’t get it anywhere in the UAE. We saw an opportunity.”

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And Ben took it. From mirrors to tables, beds and more, Ben saw that there was a real desire for handcrafted furniture in the UAE beyond the mass-produced market and founded The Driftwood Factory.

“Ninety percent of our stuff is custom-made to order,” says Ben of the design process. “People bring us their ideas, and we’ll make something similar but always with our own twist.

“We work with a lot of pine for our pieces,” he adds. “It’s fast-growing, which means it’s
a lot better in terms of sustainability – but also we can carve it to make it look old, rustic.”

For Ben, ultimately the satisfaction of returning to carpentry is something that never went away.

“I love to be creative; I always get an idea in my head and I want to see it in a physical form,” Ben comments. “When our customers get a piece of furniture that they love that I’ve made and designed myself, that’s really fulfilling.”

Store 56, M17, Mussafah, next to Pharmalink. Sat-Thu 10am–2pm. Contact: 052 879 1437, thedriftwoodfactory.com

Hanarum K-Mart

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This spot in Mussafah is the place in Abu Dhabi to pick up Korean cooking supplies. From fresh ingredients to homemade kimchi, rice and condiments, you’ll find just about everything you need to whip up that authentic meal you’re craving. You’ll also find some Japanese goods including miso paste and seasonings, as well as homewares. Near Cambridge International School, Mussafah. Sat-Thu 9am-9pm, Fri 1pm-8pm. Contact: 02 553 4842

Wrapping 2 Go

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A treasure trove of quirky finds, Wrapping 2 Go has everything from crockery to furniture. As the name hints, the store also offers bespoke party decorating services and can help you deck out your home for anything from a birthday to a romantic dinner. Mushrif CoOp building, second floor, Al Khaleej Al Arabi Street. Sat-Thu 1pm–9pm. Visit: instagram.com/wrapping2go

Bits and Pieces

Whether you’re after pepper pots or picture frames, you’ll find these and more at this beautiful shop that features unique and colourful finds. From homeware to décor and kitchen items, you’ll shop for one item only and end up with a basketful. The store also offers custom home décor products such as wedding and birth favours. Al Maqtaa Building 1, Muroor Road, Al Mushrif. Sat-Thu 10am-9pm. Contact: 02 444 4120, bitsandpieces.ae

Online stores

Seoul Sisters

It was a love for all things K-pop that spurred sisters Eura and Eunice Yuste to set up their own online service to help out the capital’s fans.

Aptly named Seoul Sisters, the community began as a pet project in 2010 to get their hands on the latest merchandise, and now the sisters help fans across the UAE get their hands on rare albums and more, direct from Korea.

“It all started one summer after we attended numerous K-pop events in the Philippines and thought, ‘We should have something like this here’,” the sisters say, both citing a love of boy bands SHINee and BTS.

“It was very difficult to find [merchandise] here since there wasn’t a big market, and generally K-culture still wasn’t as known globally as it is today,” they add.

But as time went on, it became clear that the obsession with Korean pop idols in the UAE was only just beginning.

“It makes us proud to see how the K-culture, and not just K-pop, has been received warmly in the UAE in the last
six years.

“We don’t claim to be the pioneers of this growth,” they add. “But we’d like to think that we have, as our mission states, brought K-pop closer to the UAE through what we do for the fans.

“You could say that we found the market by accident. We didn’t have initial plans of opening up the opportunity to fans. Things just fell into place, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Visit: facebook.com/seoulsistersuae

Bait Zait

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These days, we’re all guilty of using far too many chemicals – and that includes in our skin care regime. And if you want to go au naturel with your beauty products, Bait Zait is for you. From camel milk soaps to handmade scrubs, the organic brand will keep your skin happy from head to toe. Visit: baitzait.com

Little Majlis

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Shopping local, handmade products is made easy with Little Majlis. This online platform is home to handmade vendors from Abu Dhabi and across the UAE for a unique gift you won’t find elsewhere. From clothes to jewellery and home décor, you could browse for hours. Visit: littlemajlis.com

WORDS Camille Hogg
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