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Khadija Al Bastaki has not only shaped the creative community in the region in her role as Executive Director of Dubai Design District, but she is also proud to be part of a wave of Arab women stepping into senior roles to nurture new talent and drive progression.

In just seven years, Dubai Design District has become a key hub for creatives in the region and beyond. Providing a nurturing space for like-minded individuals to bond across all spheres of design – from architecture to art and fashion – d3 has managed to bring the world of innovation to the region that now rivals other major cities.

Around 385 businesses consisting of 9,000 people have found their home in the intricately designed corner of Dubai with fashion and interior designs dominating the community, but it’s not just a space for the thinkers. It also invites a variety of personalities to enjoy its buzzing restaurant scene, beauty outlets, shops, basketball and volleyball courts, a skate park, outdoor gym, climbing wall and an urban beach.


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“Our vision is simple: to maintain and build upon d3’s position as the region’s leading destination for art, design and culture by creating an ecosystem that supports business, entrepreneurship and innovation,” explains Khadija Al Bastaki, Executive Director of Dubai Design District.

Al Bastaki took charge in 2019 and has focused heavily on solidifying the community of creatives and supporting home-grown brands. A software engineer by training, Al Bastaki studied information technology before moving into business, supply and logistics, free zone management, and portfolio management of global accounts, within the purview of the TECOM Group. Now she is in a role that serves both of her core interests: “Fashion and design are two of my passions and it’s truly great to be leading a community that celebrates and thrives on these two creative forces. I am inspired and motivated by the pool of talented designers in our community.”

In a short time, she turned d3 into an even more thriving space, and not just for brands that have made a name for themselves, but also for those just starting: “Startups have always played a crucial role in the social and economic development of Dubai and the UAE, and the importance of creative entrepreneurs has never been so important,” she observes.

Khadija Al Bastaki

“The Middle East has created an enabling environment for startups and entrepreneurs and d3’s infrastructure provides plenty of ways for talent to fine-tune their skills. We are home to in5 Design. It features prototyping labs with state-of-the-art systems and machinery for designers working with metals, wood, plastics, textiles and exciting new materials. We’ll continue to invest in and develop our infrastructure to ensure entrepreneurs and startups have access to everything they need. We also support home-grown designers through the Dubai Institute of Design & Innovation (DIDI), the region’s only university exclusively dedicated to design and innovation. In terms of advice for startups, I will simply say that the world needs innovative entrepreneurs and disrupters now more than ever.”

Part of Dubai Design District’s wider appeal is its variety of events that attract a global audience. From one of the biggest style-driven gatherings in the Middle East, Fashion Forward, that attracts a mixture of established and emerging brands from the region and abroad as well as an urban event that celebrates streetwear and sportswear SOLE DXB, to Dubai Design Week that gets bigger each year, whatever your design-based interest is, you will find an event that further expands your mind. However, like many industries around the world, some of the upcoming events and plans had to be rethought due to the global pandemic.

During this time of uncertainty, Al Bastaki had to stay up to date with the challenges and provide solutions so that all the d3 businesses can be in a strong position to respond quickly when economic activities resumed in Dubai and the UAE.


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“We’re always looking for fresh and exciting ways to empower local creative talent. Earlier this year we teamed up with Apple Music to curate playlists showcasing the region’s most promising musicians. The playlists provide music fans around the world with access to some of the hottest up-and-coming artists in the region with carefully-curated soundtracks.”

And as far as supporting UAE’s efforts in fighting the pandemic, the d3 network stepped up in more ways than one: “Our community of more than 500 creative partners is home to more than 90 Emirati business partners. During the height of the global health crisis, seven of our fashion partners including Michael Cinco and Maison Yeya joined the Arab Fashion Council to produce more than 13,000 medical gowns for UAE healthcare workers. This was just one example of our community coming together to contribute to the UAE’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” she explains.

“Moreover, we established a unified distribution centre to store and deliver surgical masks and gowns produced by d3 designers, as well as other designers based in the UAE, turning the community into a strategic hub for PPE made by luxury brands.”


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Despite the hit many industries took this year, the appetite for design and innovation is not changing, but simply migrating into other spheres, especially digital. From where Al Bastaki is sitting, the future looks bright. In fact, d3 last month announced Dubai’s first architecture festival which will take place from 11-13 November this year in the Dubai Design District. In association with Royal Institute of British Architects Gulf Chapter (RIBA Gulf Chapter), it’s going to be a celebration of architecture and an opportunity to hear from some of the brightest minds in this field.

Curated under the theme ‘Identity, Context and Placemaking in the Gulf’ and overseen by the assistant professor at the College of Architecture, Art & Design at the American University of Sharjah, Juan Roldan, the d3 Architecture Festival will deep dive into regional architecture, urbanism, and sustainable development. “Dubai’s first architecture festival seeks to encourage dialogue on identity, context, placemaking in the GCC region and the three-day event will run alongside Dubai Design Week. Through this festival, we hope to steer the emirate towards a more sustainable future.”

Not only has Al Bastaki successfully pivoted d3 through these challenging few months and created a welcoming home for creatives, but she has also become an inspiration for women.

With more Arab women entering senior positions, Al Bastaki feels encouraged by the progress the country has made, adding: “I am proud to be an Arab woman in a leadership position and feel empowered that the UAE is among the best countries in the region on gender equality. In the UAE, women enjoy the same constitutional rights as men and contribute equally to its development as a sustainable, knowledge-based, innovation-driven economy.”

The inaugural edition of the architecture festival is set to run from 11-13 November 2020 alongside Dubai Design Week.

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Images: Alamy and supplied