Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Karama Karma

Take Me to Your Heart (Bananarama song)Image via WikipediaHaving visitors over for the festive season meant an inevitable trip to Dubai's Karama district which, together with Satwa, remains one of the few wholly 'organic' communities in this city of zones and gated developments. It's a fantastic place to wander around, two long buildings either side of the road packed with shops selling, in the main, clothes, bags and watches. You'll never see so many shifty looking geezers in your life, a constant wash of voices jabbering:

"Here! Here! Genuine fakes!"

"Come and see! We have a secret room!"

"Gucci bags! Gucci bags!"

"Watches? You want watches? Rolex?"

"This way, please, this way. We have Dolce and Gabbana, Versace, all good price."

Karama has long been the home of the fake trade, the place to go if you want to wear big name brands for knock-down prices. I was amazed that, clampdown after crackdown, it's still not only there, but thriving in the open. There are phases to IP protection campaigns that recognise the trade starts in the open, reverts to being 'under the counter' and then, as the crackdowns really bite, in a third place. Karama's out there in the open, under the counter AND in a third place, which is pretty comprehensive!

My other surprise was that the goods on sale represented knockoffs of brands that are very much available in the malls - big players in Karama right now include Ed Hardy, Mulberry, Louboutin and Bulgari. I had always thought that Karama post-crackdown only dealt in brands that had no recourse to local authority because they're not represented in the region. Think again, then...

My third surprise was the quality of the fakes. I 'm not even sure they are 'fakes' in the true sense of the word, because the factories making these things across China are, these days, likely the self-same factories making the real thing.
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Sarah Walton said...

I love Karama! Not just for the handbags - the whole vibe of the place is nothing like what I get back in OZ. I also love all the cheap lebanese and Pakistani food there.

I blogged about it a couple of weeks ago - come and have a look from the female perspective...

Dave said...

Agreed - Karama is one of the greatest parts of Dubai and has a "real" feel about it.

The quality of the goods is so good because in Thailand and Vietnam (where the majority originate) they will pay reasonable sums of money to ex-employees from the genuine factories.

As for Dubai Authorities trying to stamp out the fake empire??? .... my guess is that they don't really want to. They purely make a token gesture to try and convinve the rest of the world that they give a damn. But in reality they couldn't care less, with the exception of the geographical area in which it coccurs. Hence the reason it continues week after week, month after month, year after year.......

Wildflower said...

aww u need to visit the naif souq in deira then! Moreso coz the new purpose built building for the shops, makes browsing in the heat an enjoyable affair.

alexander... said...

Sorry, chaps, forgot to explain that the album cover is a tribute to the Greatest Headline Ever Written, the now sadly deceased Dubai Enquirer's brilliant "Dalai Lama in Bananarama Karama Shawarma Drama"...

James O'Hearn said...

From 2006 to just a few months ago, I prided myself on being known as "the only white man in Karama." I don't know if that was true or not, but it darned near seemed that any restaurant I ordered from quickly told me that they didn't need directions, they already knew where I lived.

I only mention the above because, day after day, it wasn't hard to find American or European tourists walking through the shopping district, or getting a bit lost and wandering about with a confused expression until they stumble across Lulu's and ask someone for directions.

As I said, you could find those tourists aplenty, but you'd be hard pressed to find any Americans or Europeans who actually lived there.

Except for myself. (Though I am probably totally wrong, and managed not to see a massive Canadian contingent, or somesuch).

Unlike those who pass through on a flyby slumming/shopping tour, I got to learn a few things about the neighbourhood.

Usually the only thing written about that little corner of Dubai is the crappy "Shopping District." I honestly don't know the attraction for most, because I couldn't stand the place myself. If it's not the Iranian shop keepers fighting with the Malyalis, then it's someone trying to rip me off by quoting me prices three times higher than what they'd quote my wife. And the few things we ever bought there turned out to be garbage. I'm not saying that you can't find quality, and I am sure many people do, but with Burjuman, Deira City Center, and Festival City all within a ten minute drive, what's the point?

Residents of Karama don't set foot in the place unless it's to go to Modern Bakery or Thompsun's Supermarket.

You want brands? Then there is no point buying a knock off when you can walk five minutes up the road, and straight into Burjuman, where you can hit Saks Fifth Avenue, or whatever trendy designer store your heart desires (and probably pay not altogether that much more than you would have spent in the KSD).
It's not like you save much money at the Shopping District.

No, the true attraction of Karama is something any Indian or South Asian in Dubai can tell you in a heartbeat - Food, Gold, and Textiles.

Ever try to hit Karama on a Thursday evening? Not advisable, unless you like absolute gridlock traffic. The reason the place is jam packed is because Karama has the highest concentration of good South Asian restaurants in the city.

Also, outside of the Gold and Diamond Park, Karama probably has more gold/diamond/jewelry stores per square kilometre than anywhere else in Dubai. In the area just around Lulu Centre, there are several dozen stores focused exclusively on jewelry.

As for textiles, the place is awash with fabric vendors and tailors. Personally, I always loved the fact that I could get a hand tailored suit there, choice of fabric included, for about a fifth of what I would have paid back in Canada.

As for crackdowns, the only crackdown I've ever seen was on parking, when about two years ago just about every inch of curb in the area was fitted with parking meter and friendly parking enforcement officer.

Which was a good thing, because for the first time in a long time, you could find parking!

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