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27 September 2016Last updated
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From Dublin to Dubai

A variety of Irish products, including woollen garments, jewellery and fragrances, are fast filling up UAE store shelves, says Colin Drury

By Colin Drury
11 Mar 2016 | 12:00 am
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  • Source:Supplied Image 2 of 2

It is a country famed for many things: wonderful literature, stunning scenery and friendly people, to name a few.

Now, Ireland is gaining an international reputation for something else entirely: world-class design.

Global sales in this sector – which includes everything from jewellery to couture, fragrances and homeware – reached some Dh155 billion last year, and over 48,000 Irish people are in its employ.

And nowhere, say industry experts, trend predictors and professional buyers, is this market more likely to expand in 2016 than in the UAE.

Rising trade between the two countries, the current value of the euro and the fact that there are more than 10,000 Irish expats living here are all factors expected to make Emerald Isle products in vogue in 2016.

‘Ireland is one of those countries where you know that things are going to be made with great craftsmanship,’ says Binoy Chacko, head of buying housewares with Pan Emirates department stores. ‘Plus it’s good value, and the UAE, even though it is a country that likes its luxury, is also a country that likes a good price.’

His contention is supported by Enterprise Ireland, the Irish government agency that supports businesses overseas and has an office on Shaikh Zayed Road. Officials there reckon more Irish goods are coming into the country than ever before.

‘The creative industries in Ireland are booming and we’re starting to see that lead to more products on sale in the UAE,’ says Róisín White Barrett, trade development executive with the agency. ‘That’s because the Irish population here is rising, yes, and also because there’s a growing international awareness that Made In Ireland means made with love and attention.’

Friday travelled to Showcase Ireland to speak to some of the designers and companies you’ll be talking about in 2016.

Fashion: Carraig Donn

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Irish wool products not only symbolise luxury and sophistication, but also superior quality and finish.

Knitted dresses and sweaters might not be the usual buys considering the UAE’s climate, but given that the country loves its fur coats, there’s no reason Irish wool and Aran knitwear can’t take on the same luxury status. So says Martin MacNamara, business development manager at Carraig Donn, one of Ireland’s most successful fashion designers, as well as long-term purveyors of high-end wool garments.

‘This is a luxury material, and garments that are made from it are generally handmade or hand-finished,’ he adds.

‘That means quality, style and comfort, and the world is beginning to understand that. This company has been around 
50 years and I don’t think there’s ever been a time when traditional Irish wool has been so in vogue.’

The business was started by housewife Maura Hughes in the small town of Westport, on the country’s west coast, back in 1965. She formed a cooperative of local women to keep traditional knitting skills alive while making themselves some money.

Since then, the brand has developed into an operation that employs 500 staff and produces 5,500 garments every week, 
which are sold across the world.

‘The UAE is never going to be our biggest market, but you’d be surprised to learn how many items we sell online that go there,’ says Martin. ‘I think that’s partially because of the rising Irish population in Dubai but also because people want quality no matter where they are. And Irish wool guarantees you that.’ Visit www.carraigdonn.com

Jewellery: Chupi

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Chupi’s jewellery has taken the world by storm in just five years, selling online in over 65 countries and turning over Dh2 million annually.

For Chupi Sweetman, the woman with perhaps the best name in Ireland, life has always been about shiny things. ‘I was always the kid covered in glitter and glue,’ says the 32-year-old. ‘But I never dreamed I’d end up making beautiful, sparkly jewellery as a career.’

Chupi’s creations – nature-inspired rings, necklaces, bracelets and pendants as well as bespoke pieces – sell online in more than 65 countries, with an annual turnover of Dh2 million. Not bad for a business that’s less than five years old. Initially a Topshop fashion designer, she set up her jewellery business because she wanted to ‘create something that wasn’t as disposable as women’s fashion; something that lasts forever and is passed down families.’

This is why she’s so pleased to establish a word-of-mouth name for herself in Dubai. ‘The customers we’ve had from the Middle East really understand the concept of buying something precious and having it for the rest of their life,’ she says. ‘They buy a ring with an eye to it being something that one day their granddaughter or great granddaughter will wear. It’s such an honour to be the person who designs that piece.’ Visit chupi.com

Cosmetics: Ri Na Mara

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Made from seaweed plucked out of the waters off Ireland’s west coast – said to be Europe’s purest – Ri Na Mara’s products are very popular in Dubai.

In Gaelic, Ri Na Mara means King of the Sea – an entirely appropriate name for this company given its luxury skincare range. After all, everything is made of freshly harvested seaweed.

Each product, from face moisturisers to hand creams and body lotions, is created from plants hand-plucked off the western coast of Ireland, said to have Europe’s purest waters. And, because that means they come packed with vitamins, proteins and minerals, they are particularly appealing to UAE users, says company director Deirdre Ui Chathmhaoil.

‘With the high temperatures there, it’s so important to moisturise daily,’ she says. ‘This is probably why our most popular product in Dubai is the face moisturiser. It has a very high content of seaweed extract so its amino acids are easily absorbed. The same goes for the hand cream and body lotion.’ Visit rinamara.com

Fragrance products: Max Benjamin

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Max Benjamin is a pioneering brand in creating a variety of scented products such as candles, diffusers and bath and body sets.

If there’s one thing the Middle East knows well, it is fragrances. Which is exactly why high-end candle maker, Max Benjamin, is so excited to be sniffing out success here.

The company has already conquered Europe – its first major contract was with the world-famous Selfridges – and Japan. Now, it’s turning its nose towards stores in the UAE.

‘This is a region known worldwide for its discerning tastes when it comes to fragrances,’ says David van der Bergh, managing director.

‘People have strong opinions and that is why it is an exciting part of the world for all scent makers. You know if you’re popular there, you’re doing something right.’ And 
it’s all a long way from how things started – nothing more than a hobby for David’s sister, Orla.

The 44-year-old learned the skill of mixing oils and waxes to create handmade candles while living in the US in the early Nineties. When she returned to Ireland, 
she put her skills to good use and would make such items as gifts for friends and family. They became so popular that she started hosting candle parties, where people came, smelled and bought.

The name Max Benjamin was chosen because that’s what her two sons are called. ‘It evolved from there,’ explains David. 
‘We now have an annual turnover of about €2.5 million (Dh10 million).’ Max Benjamin candles are available at Marina Pharmacy stores in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

By Colin Drury

By Colin Drury