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MENA fashion industry could create jobs for 20 million women

Model Bella Hadid, front, leads other models as they wear creations as part of the Roberto Cavalli women’s Fall/Winter 2018-2019 collection, presented during the Milan Fashion Week. Saudi Arabia is investing heavily in its own nascent industry. (AP)
LONDON: A fashion industry is taking shape in the MENA region that could create jobs for up to 20 million women, the Arab Fashion Council has said.
The organization, which aims to unite 22 Arab countries under one umbrella, is laying the framework for a style sector stretching from North Africa to the Gulf.
Countries will be divided into three clusters to harness the strengths of local economies and create a sustainable fashion infrastructure that reaches across the region, said Jacob Abrian, founder and chief executive of the Arab Fashion Council. “This way we are connected in terms of creative economy — every country will be pioneering its own expertise.”
North Africa will provide the raw materials and textiles, building on an established manufacturing industry, while the factories of the Levant will be used for finishing and assembling the products. Retail will be concentrated in the Gulf, where cities such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi attract shoppers from all over the world. “By doing this we estimate having 20 million women as part of the system from all over the Arab world,” Abrian said.
This is an opportunity to “create a completely new economy,” he said.
On Monday, Princess Noura Bint Faisal Al-Saud, honorary president of the Arab Fashion Council, which recently announced plans to open a regional office in the Kingdom, said Saudi Arabia would host its first Arab Fashion Week in Riyadh this March.
Reading a letter from the General Entertainment Authority in Saudi Arabia, she said: “Saudi Arabia’s artistic community has been growing in size and in confidence for a number of years and the General Entertainment Authority believes that such an event will allow a proper platform to showcase their fashion and arts talents as the vehicle for a comprehensive range of entertainment options in Saudi Arabia.
“The General Entertainment Authority is proud to support an event that seeks to bring people together in a mutual appreciation of the power of fashion and art.”
Arwa Al-Banawi, a Saudi designer who regularly exhibits at Paris Fashion Week, said the Kingdom has been a regional fashion hub “for years but never on a global level.”
“There’s so much talent and so many buyers and beautiful boutiques in Saudi — we have the right people that can actually make this happen and make it a hub,” Al-Banawi said.
Saudi designers are an established presence on the runways of London, Paris and Milan but this is the first time the catwalks will come to the Kingdom for Arab Fashion Week.
The inaugural Saudi Arab Fashion week will take place in Riyadh next month, but preparations have been underway for some time to get major brands on board and secure a high-profile guest list.
Princess Noura told Arab News that before the news was announced, organizers had already struck a deal with Harvey Nichols Riyadh to support the trunk shows and begun compiling a star-studded guest list, featuring established names from the Arab fashion community and international heavyweights such as Roberto Cavalli.
“We’re opening doors for all international markets to come to Saudi Arabia … welcoming any brand, whether it’s high-end couture, ready-to-wear ... local or international,” she said, describing the emergence of “a more diversified market.”
“This event is just the beginning; it’s a marketing tool to say this is Saudi Arabia, we’re open, you’re welcome to come.”
The Arab Fashion Council recently announced a new partnership with the British Fashion Council to support its regional growth strategy while providing a gateway for UK fashion brands to the region. British brands, including Burberry, Erdem and Ralph & Russo, are popular among style-savvy Saudis but the alliance will also help fast-track some of the emerging talent that London is famous for.
Caroline Rush, chief executive of the British Fashion Council, said in a statement: “We are delighted to be working with AFC who represent an incredibly important market for British fashion designers. We are looking forward to developing a strategy for brands and businesses looking to expand into the Arabic countries through this collaboration with AFC, who are experts in this field. The British Fashion Council’s role in this partnership is to share their expertise in setting up infrastructure to nurture and discover Arabic design talent of the future.”
MENA countries are keen to tap into a global fashion industry worth an estimated $3 trillion, said Layla Issa Abuzaid, Saudi Arabia country director at the Arab Fashion Council, adding that the BFC’s support would help strengthen the fashion sector in Saudi Arabia, which is among the fastest-growing in the world: “As an economy, our fashion sector in Saudi Arabia is growing at a rate of 73 percent a year.”
She emphasized the scope of the Saudi fashion industry to support other sectors such as tourism, hospitality, travel and trade. “For all international brands it is a great market to explore.”
“Fashion has always been important to Arabs and our designers are definitely benefiting from the beginning of a proper fashion infrastructure,” said Marriam Mossalli, a well-known Saudi fashion editor and founder of luxury consulting firm Niche Arabia
In a previous interview with Arab News, she said: “We are seeing the creative sector in Saudi grow exponentially.”
“With a population that has 70 percent under the age of 30, we are about to see an influx of of new careers, and most importantly new creative industries.”
“There is an ever-growing appreciation in Saudi society for fashion,” said Mohammed Khoja, a Saudi designer. “Fashion, as an art form, is very far reaching and due to current efforts and investments in the industry and in manufacturing in the Kingdom, I believe that we’ll begin to see the fashion infrastructure grow in 2018.”
Alia Khan, chairwoman of the Islamic Fashion and Design Council, which is also planning to open an office in the Kingdom, believes the Saudi fashion industry will become a key driver for the local economy. “Saudi Arabia is a very important market and I don’t think we’ve even begun to understand the level of talent that comes from the Kingdom.”
Discussing the opportunities created by recent reforms, she said: “I think now we’re going to start seeing a little bit more of the vast talent and range of skill they have.”
“Saudi Arabia will be a big driver in style … there’s going to be a strong demand for Saudi-based fashion.
“A lot of people will be watching
this space.”

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