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Saudi fashion has designs on the international stage

Saudi fashion Saudi Fashion Commission
Saudi designers showed in Paris last week: Fashion is part of the ministry of culture's plan to develop the kingdom in line with Vision 2030
  • Saudi Fashion Commission CEO reveals sector’s growth plans
  • Kingdom showcases designers at Paris Fashion Week
  • Riyadh Fashion Week to debut this October

Saudi Arabia has long been a major draw for the world’s fashion houses. Princesses devoted to haute couture, fashionistas with expensive tastes, and plenty of young people make for a winning combination. 

The value of luxury fashion purchases in the GCC hit $9.6 billion in 2021, and Saudi Arabia accounted for more than $7 billion of that, up nearly a fifth on the year before, according to a report by the ministry of culture.

Last month the roles reversed. Saudi fashion designers made a debut showcasing their creations at Paris Fashion Week, alongside powerhouses Dior and Louis Vuitton.

Having previously participated in New York and Milan Fashion Weeks, the spectacle of models on international catwalks adorned in Saudi-designed gear is a marker of the kingdom’s ambitions in the global fashion industry – and an indication that they are being realised.

And in October this year, Saudi will debut its first fashion week in Riyadh, the capital.

“For the first time ever, we now invite the fashion community to our home,” Burak Cakmak, CEO of the Saudi Fashion Commission, tells AGBI.

“Saudi is on its way to becoming the next international fashion destination.”

The Commission runs the Saudi 100 Brands programme – a year-long mentorship initiative which helps 100 selected fashion designers from the kingdom.

Saudi fashionSupplied
Burak Cakmak, CEO of the Saudi Fashion Commission, takes the roadshow to Paris Fashion Week

Cakmak says the kingdom’s “designers have had the privilege of dressing international celebrities and royal families, ranging from Beyonce to Queen Rania”.

Notable Saudi designers who have launched on the global stage include Mohammad Ashi, a veteran Paris-based designer who now works as a mentor with younger creatives in his home country, and US-based Sara Al Saud who is behind Death by Dolls, an edgy street brand.

Others include Awra Al Ammari, who launched ArAm, which seeks to combine the traditional with the modern, and Honayda Serafi, who designed the dress worn by the new crown princess of Jordan at her wedding in May. 

Supporting style with substance

To date, one of the biggest challenges facing the development of the Saudi fashion industry has been the lack of market data.

Without this, it has “proven hard to make informed decisions”, and so the “launch of a new report was another major milestone for us”, Cakmak said. 

Saudi fashion’s growth potential has been set out in an inaugural State of Fashion in the Kingdom 2023 report.

Retail fashion sales in Saudi are expected to surge 48 percent to $32 billion in the four years to 2025, according to the report.

This growth is expected to be fuelled by the kingdom’s economic expansion and growing population. Apparel, accessories, footwear and luxury goods are predicted to make significant gains. 

Fashion is one of 11 projects launched by Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Culture to develop the kingdom’s cultural sector in line with Vision 2030.

Cakmak is confident that his Commission, created in February 2020, can be an engine of economic growth.

Fashion represents a significant opportunity for manufacturers, logistics providers and specialist machinery suppliers over the next decade, he argues.

“Our ecosystem is growing, and we have incredible plans in place to scale up our own logistics and manufacturing within the kingdom,” says Cakmak.

He says that offsetting the $7 billion of imports by just 20 percent would generate local manufacturing sales of $1.4 billion.

“Of course, we are planning to go beyond that,” he adds.

The Saudi fashion industry is estimated to employ 230,000 people already, or 1.8 percent of the domestic workforce, and to have contributed $12.5 billion to the economy in 2022 – equivalent to 1.4 percent of GDP.

The Commission also recognises the importance of integrating sustainability into its fashion ecosystem.

“Our vision is to develop a circular and sustainable industry, with a robust regulatory system,” says Cakmak.

A research centre of excellence for sustainable new materials is under development.

The centre will research sustainable textile solutions which include recycling technologies to reduce landfill, biomass and agricultural waste, algaes, AI-supported process chains for chemical and chemical recycling, and advanced digitised product development, it is claimed.

“The Fashion Commission is playing a catalytic role in shaping the future of the fashion industry in the kingdom,” says Cakmak.