Dubai may be home to the biggest mall in the world, and consumerism might possibly be in the city’s very DNA, but there are alternatives to chain store shopping for luxury labels. The city has a growing independent shopping scene, hidden in detached villas or smaller community malls, that will ensure you go home with something more exciting than the ubiquitous Gucci, Prada or Chanel.

These independent boutiques are owned by both expats and Emiratis who are keen to bring smaller designer labels to the city or to launch local talent. If you want to discover Dubai’s more creative side, here are the standouts.

Quirky items for sale at Zoo Concept in BoxPark, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Browse quirky gadgets and throwback accessories at Zoo Concept in Jumeirah's BoxPark  © Lara Brunt / Lonely Planet

Best for quirky souvenirs: Zoo Concept

This concept store in trendy BoxPark stocks quirky gifts, gadgets, jewellery, clothes and accessories. Owner Hussein Abdul Rasheed curates an always-interesting mix of up-and-coming local labels like Hudoob (pop culture caps) and international brands such as Retrosuperfuture sunglasses, alongside panda-printed plates and knitted Coco Chanel dolls.

Best for homewares: O' de Rose

A one-stop-shop for interior decor, home accessories and some fashion too, O' de Rose is the place to head for an upmarket multicultural feel. All of its pieces have a free-spirited sense of style, from Moroccan glass tea cups to bold African patterned cushions, while Arabic calligraphy-inspired canvases hang next to colourful depictions of Indian deities. Housed in a villa, O' de Rose takes advantage of the homely set up:  feel free to sit for a while in the rose-scented garden with its cooling fountain.

Indie furniture and clothing for sale at O Concept, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Get a pop art statement piece for your living room at O Concept © Lara Brunt / Lonely Planet

Best for furniture: O Concept

A crazy pop art/industrial warehouse full of furniture, accessories and racks of clothes, O Concept is the brainchild of Emirati owner Omar Bin Khediya. Luxury just got that little bit weirder here with Ferrari-branded neo-classical chairs next to kitsch pop art and futuristic-looking furniture. It is not cheap, but if you are looking for a statement piece, this is the right place.

Best for art: Pro Art Gallery

Pretty much the only gallery in the United Arab Emirates to regularly show street art, the small and unpretentious Pro Art Gallery is the place to pick up a print of some of the finest handlers of spray paint, like Banksy, Blek le Rat or Shepard Fairey or even a more 'traditional' piece from the likes of Chagall or Dufy. Keep an eye on the website for its ever-changing list of exhibitions.

Clothing, artwork and jewellery on display at S*uce, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
S*uce is the place to grab the latest trends © S*uce

Best for fashionistas: S*uce

S*uce,  which has blazed the trail for local designers and stocks hard-to-find, of-the-moment global names, is the mother of all independent boutiques. Find the latest neon handbags from Fyunka, eye-popping bracelets and achingly hip dresses from Zahan Ghandour, as well as limited collections from up-and-coming Emirati talent like Dima Amad. These designers live, breathe and work the latest looks, so you had better keep an eye on your credit card in here. Although its main store is now in Dubai Mall, the original is still in the smaller Village Mall in the Jumeirah area, with additional branches at The Beach at JBR and in the Galleria Mall.

Best for souvenirs: Antique Museum

Do not believe either word in its name: this dusty warehouse in Al Quoz behind Times Square Mall is not a museum nor does it sell antiques. It is, however, a veritable Aladdin’s cave of Middle Eastern trinkets, from glass mosaic hanging candle holders, to tajine dishes and carved wooden furniture. You can lose hours in the massive warehouse where everything is piled high in narrow corridors, but keep browsing, and the staff will bring you cups of tea and water to keep you going.

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First published in July 2012

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