From April 14th – April 19th, 2018, five University of Wollongong Australia (UOW) students enrolled in MGNT351:Responsible Leadership toured Dubai to engage with local academics and industry experts to initiate dialogue and research on responsible fashion business. The study tour is funded by a grant awarded to Professor Mario Fernando (UOW) and Dr. Zeenath Reza Khan (UOWD) by the Council for Australian-Arab Relations (CAAR) of Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

The theme for the Autumn 2018 MGNT351 tour was “Fashion through an Ethical Kaleidoscope”. The Fashion Industry, as vibrant as it is, is plagued with its own set of ethical dilemmas. The industry has seen its share of irresponsible practices including low wages, hazardous work places, poor safety records, environmental pollutions, and manipulative marketing and advertising strategies. By 2020, Dubai is getting ready to become the next fashion destination. Dubai’s aim is to surpass world’s iconic fashion destinations in Paris, New York and London. Given the magnitude and frequency of irresponsible business practices reported worldwide, Dubai is determined to develop its fashion hub by embracing responsible business practices.

In an intense, yet fun and collaborative setting, faculty, UOW exchange students and experts from the Dubai fashion industry debated on an array of ethical issues the fashion industry is caught up in and how students across cultures can become tomorrow’s champions for responsible fashion business.

The UOW students undertook the tour as part of their MGNT351: Responsible Leadership group project on social innoivation. “It was great to be part of a process to provide this type of exposure to students who would be our future responsible leaders” said Professor Fernando.

Dr Zeenath Reza Khan (UOWD), the local host, through her excellent networks developed a wonderful itinerary for the students. For the first leg of the tour, UOW exchange students visited the Dubai Design and Fashion Council (DDFC) where Khulood Khoory the Development and Relationship Manager at DDFC delivered an engaging talk on how it is supporting the growing design and fashion industry in the city, locally and globally. “It was so fascinating to see how the government envisioned the potential of an industry and went about creating an infrastructure to support it” commented Darcy Clempson, MGNT351 student (Bachelor of Politics, Philosophy and Economics, UOW).

Next the students met with Professor Sass Brown, the founding Dean of the Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation. Professor Brown, a guru in fashion ethics, took the students through the intricacies of the fashion world, the highs and lows of the varying practices across the world.

On the second day, the tour group first visited Runway Dubai in TECOM where Modupe Omonze (founder) and Sandy Saksena the Empowerment Officer at Echelon Advisors Office came together to give the students a sneak peak at what it’s like to conceptualize and roll out a social initiative whereby they promote and provide a platform for indigenous and rural women to showcase their fashion designs in big cities. This trip was followed by a long drive to Ajman where the delegates visited a garment factory. Al Buraag Garments and Embroidery factory took the students for a tour of their factory units, providing them with a first-hand experience of the inner workings of a garment factory.

On the third day, two speakers from the industry, Kazi Gulshan Ara owner of Aydin Boutique and Ben Eavis, Vice President of CSR at PVH Off-shore (one of the largest apparel manufacturers in the world with an iconic portfolio of brands which include CALVIN KLEIN, TOMMY HILFIGER, Van Heusen, IZOD, ARROW and Speedo) held hour long seminars. Kazi painted a picture of determination and foresight showing how her company progressed from being just a supplier to becoming a manufacturer and then a designer, taking control over the entire supply chain from start to delivery to clients while Ben presented facts and figures that highlighted the impact of positive initiatives in the fashion industry that can truly sustain any business in the industry.

The tour concluded with an engaging panel discussion (majlis) moderated by Dr Khan that included the five MGNT351 students from UOW, Professors Fernando and Brown, Modupe Omonze and the speakers of the four winning teams from UOWD. The panel, called ReBitVlogs Majlis, was a mixture of discussions and debates by both groups of students who went outside the box to debate from various stakeholder viewpoints. From government roles to multinational corporations’ responsibilities to third-party manufacturing factories’ obligations, the hour-and-a-half long session ping-ponged from students to experts and academics. It brought great insights into the importance of responsible leadership and how personal morals can develop a collective shared-responsibility from all stakeholders to ensure an ethical fashion industry.

The five MGNT351 students also enjoyed a cultural tour with a trip to the Old Spice Souq in Deira, riding an Abra, visiting the Dubai Museum, catching the breath-taking Dubai Fountains set against the Burj Khalifa, an exciting Arab Culture exhibition by the UOWD Arab Clubs where the delegates got the chance to try out different fashion accessories. They were amazed by the Grand Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi.

“The tour has been an amazing experience for us,” said Grace Bannister (MGNT351 student, Bachelor of Commerce, UOW). “We learned so much not only about fashion ethics but also about the culture of Dubai and UAE. The depth of understanding and tolerance among the people living in the country was simply awe-inspiring.”

In addition to the Council for Australian-Arab Relations grant, the program was supported by Dubai Tourism (Destination Partner), Sustainable Mindz (Consultants), Runway Dubai (Media Partner), DIDI, DDFC, AL Buraag Garments, PVH and Aydin Boutique (Program Partners).