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Substantial economic activity as well as cultural and regulatory shifts in the Middle East have accelerated the growth of the region’s $89 billion fashion industry. Middle Eastern governments are fostering this expansion as they increasingly encourage creative work from designers, social media influencers and stylists, and a more unified culture emerges across borders, said Rawan Maki, BoF Insights’ associate director of research and analysis.
“All of this [cultural change] influences some sort of shared overall cultural identity developing, and that really does have its impact on fashion and on all of the creative sectors that are continuing to grow [in the Middle East],” said Maki.
This week on The BoF Podcast, Maki and Marriam Mossalli, founder and chief executive of Niche Arabia, a Saudi Arabia-based luxury communications and marketing agency, join BoF editor-in-chief Imran Amed to discuss BoF Insights’ latest report, “Fashion in the Middle East: Optimism and Transformation” and what’s happening in the region’s fashion scene.
- According to Mossali, Saudi women’s lives have changed: Women now make up 33 percent of the local workforce, women-owned businesses have increased 60 percent in the past two years, and their involvement in leadership roles has grown. “The biggest change is that it’s not just coming from someone in an office saying ‘Look, we’re going to open the doors for women,” said Mossali. “Women drive, women can get behind the wheel, making sure that they’re directing this change.”
- With the integration of women into the labour force, fashion in the region has evolved to suit working women’s lives, and trends like “modest wear” have grown. “What we’re seeing is its [garments] changing… Light fabrics, shorter, so that it doesn’t get caught inside our car door or the wheels of our office chair. It’s made now for us with that lifestyle in mind,” said Mossali.
- Due to increased digital transparency and connectivity, Saudi women are now looking to brands to provide more than accessories to go with their Abayas — a full-length garment some Muslim women wear in public as outerwear, like a coat. “They [customers] want more ready-to-wear, more beauty, they want more shoes,” said Maki.
- Mossali believes while more flexible government regulations allow brands to create a growing fashion industry in the region, cultivating the business ultimately lies with the private sector. “When it comes to manufacturing, to education, a lot of those initiatives are coming with the support from the government, but they are led by the private sector and private institutions. [The government] is enabling us and empowering us to do those things,” said Mossali.
- During the discussion, Amed asked Mossali if Saudi Arabia can truly grow a thriving fashion ecosystem, given the criticism the country has received in the past for its stance on LGBTQ issues and the fact that the fashion industry’s workforce historically has high levels of LGBTQ representation. Mossali pointed to the Saudi Tourism Authority website, which says the country now welcomes LGBTQ visitors, and suggested that people wishing to better understand the country to visit in person.