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Three Questions for...

Emma Sawko

CONCEPT-STORE owner Emma Sawko finds Dubai unmatched for its retail diversity and enthusiasm for new ideas.

Jane Szita: What has Dubai taught you about retail?

Emma Sawko: Comptoir 102 was my first ever retail experience. I was coming from New York City and didn’t know much about retail in Dubai, its market or how it worked. It has been an instinctive move; all I knew was I wanted something different from the shopping experience there, the global brands and flagship stores. Many of my favorite interior design and fashion brands were missing, and I couldn’t imagine being in a mall.

That is how I decided to open something totally different from what Dubai had to offer. In terms of design, shopping experience, brands, food and so on. Friends with a European view of business and retail told me my idea of bringing healthy and organic food in the land of burgers and fries was crazy. Opening a shop in an old villa, while everything happened in malls, was suicidal. But « different » was my moto. And I learned that it’s okay to take risks. People here are actually very open to new concepts.

JS: What shopping habits have you noticed?

ES: People are more careful about what they buy. I have a feeling that they are also looking for more authenticity and individuality. The days of wanting the most expensive thing, or exactly what your friend has got, are over. People are hunting for unique pieces. I also think that more people come to settle in Dubai, whereas they used to come for a few years and then leave again. Because they are staying longer, it means they are more willing to invest in their interior. Online shopping is also a recent trend. It took time, but now it’s a well-established shopping habit here.

JS: Comptoir 102 blurs the boundaries by housing a café and hosting events alongside its retail function. Is this a feature of Dubai in general?

ES: We were among the first to do it here and now there are more examples, but of course it’s a global trend too. People don’t shop like they used to. These days they want to take their time, enjoy the experience and feel good. The total vibe is what’s important.

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Publication date: 9.8.2018
Auhtor: Jane Szita for the Vitra publication "The Merchant #02"
Images: Comptoir 102, Saeed Khalifa, © FRAME Publishers