British fashion retailer Laura Ashley has returned to the United Arab Emirates following a two-year absence, after signing a master franchise agreement with the Dubai-based Al Aqili Group LLC.

The deal with the regional business conglomerate is also seen as an opportunity to expand the British brand into the Middle East market.

"The partnership with Laura Ashley is the first step for us in the development of a significant regional retail business for the Aqili Group," explained Mr Abhay Nadkarni, executive director, marketing and commercial, Al Aqili Retail.

The first Laura Ashley Fashion store opened up at Mercato and a second store opened earlier this month at the Dubai Festival City.

The retailer, which last month posted an 8.4% rise in sales for the 17 weeks to 30 May, recently said it was looking to Asia and the Middle East for growth to offset a slowdown in demand at its UK stores.