Arab Fashion Week comes to Riyadh

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A model presents a creation by MUA MUA Dolls' designer Ludovica Virga during Arab Fashion Week in Dubai on November 17, 2017. (AFP)
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Models walk down the catwalk wearing designs by Marchesa during 2017’s Arab Fashion Week in Dubai. (AFP)
Updated 10 April 2018
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Arab Fashion Week comes to Riyadh

LONDON: The stage is set for the first major fashion week in the Kingdom and as designers from across the region frantically sew on the final sequin and trim those pesky hemlines, Arab News shares exclusive insights from Princess Noura bint Faisal Al-Saud, honorary president of the event organizers, Arab Fashion Council (AFC), who shed light on the importance of this seminal sartorial event in Saudi Arabia.
With the market for luxury brands well established in the Kingdom, some of the biggest names in international fashion are attending the event, which kicked off last night with a glittering opening ceremony. Italian fashion house Roberto Cavalli, French couturier Jean-Paul Gaultier and Russian designer Yulia Yanina will all be in attendance, as will British luxury department store Harvey Nichols, which is hosting a series of trunk shows with the AFC.
Attendees can expect an eclectic array of designs reflecting the cosmopolitan character of Arab style and will get a front row seat as the fashion industry’s who’s who from across the Middle East showcase their latest innovations. 
“A lot of things have been changing in Saudi Arabia…. now we can invite everyone to come here and be a part of this change. We have so many talented designers in this country and such a love for fashion. Now we can show that to the world,” Princess Noura told Arab News. 
“What we’re doing is a fashion event, but it’s beyond that: We’re opening doors to so many other things as well,” she added. The hope it that the inaugural Arab Fashion Week in Riyadh will set a precedent, bringing the country’s burgeoning style sector to the world’s attention while raising the profile of other industries in the Kingdom.
By inviting people from every part of the world to see Saudi Arabia, the event seeks to promote tourism, attract foreign investment and create employment opportunities, all of which are “pillars of Vision 2030,” Princess Noura said. 
“It’s not just about women buying clothes. It’s about the knowledge they can gain by being creative, challenging people to think outside the box and bolstering creative industries across the board.”
Last December, the country stepped into the style spotlight when the AFC announced plans to open offices in Riyadh, claiming a spot on the Middle East’s fashion map amid bold statements that Saudi Arabia was to be a new hub for the region. 
But it was news that the next Arab Fashion Week would be hosted in Riyadh that went global earlier this year, catching the international fashion community off guard as they rushed to secure a seat for the set of shows. 
Demand for the event exceeded expectations, promoting organizers to postpone so they could increase capacity. Interest from the international community has been “really optimistic” and bodes well for an event that will “mark history,” Princess Noura said.

The first Arab Fashion Week in Riyadh is set to run from April 10-14 and is taking place in the city’s Ritz-Carlton hotel. With more than 13 fashion designers taking part — including renowned Lebanese-Italian talent Tony Ward and brands from Kazakhstan, Egypt and the UAE — it is the ideal opportunity to introduce the region’s brightest fashion stars to the Saudi market. 
This will no doubt go a long way in supporting plans to develop a fashion city in Riyadh, creating a destination “with all the fashion brands in one place” as part of a push to encourage more global fashion houses to establish a presence in the Kingdom, according to Princess Noura. 
“A lot of Arabs travel to Europe and the US to buy clothes. The idea is that they will be able to do this in their own country,” she said. “It’s a really exciting market for brands… Arab people care about wearing stylish clothes every day. We love to dress up, to show our sense of fashion, and that is really appealing for designers.” 
By attracting foreign brands to establish a presence in the Kingdom, she hopes to “bring something new to the country” while building on a wealth of homegrown talent that lays the foundation for a flourishing fashion industry that could reach across the region. 
“I’d like to see brands here that don’t exist in many other parts of the world and (I would like) to have manufacturing done in Saudi Arabia, creating more jobs for women,” Princess Noura said. 
She isn’t the only one with high hopes for the country. Jacob Abrian, the 26-year-old CEO of the AFC, has similar dreams for the Kingdom.
 “I’m so proud of Vision 2030. Not only does it support Saudi Arabia, but it will make it the hub of the Arab world… I’m proud to say that (the country) is going to surprise everyone around the world in a top-notch manner,” he told Arab News.

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Fashion giants in rights drive after Bangladesh factory tragedy

Updated 24 April 2018
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Fashion giants in rights drive after Bangladesh factory tragedy

  • The collapse of the Rana Plaza building housing several garment factories on April 24, 2013 sparked global outrage
  • The Rana Plaza disaster focused global attention on grim working conditions in factories in Bangladesh

PARis: Five years on from the industrial disaster that killed over 1,130 clothing factory workers in Bangladesh, high street fashion giants have invested millions in developing more socially responsible practices.
But experts say the people who produce the T-shirts, dresses and rompers that sell like hotcakes online and on high streets around the world still often face dangerous working conditions and dismally low pay.
The collapse of the Rana Plaza building housing several garment factories in the Dhaka suburb of Savar on April 24, 2013 sparked global outrage and forced a rethink of how fast fashion collections should be produced.
It also triggered a huge drive among activists to encourage shoppers to buy from small, local stores, rather than from large multinationals — while calling the fashion giants to account.
The tragedy, one of the worst industrial accidents in modern history, exposed a key problem of globalization. While workers in Bangladesh earned a pittance for their labor, companies kept prices low and their profits high.
“This global model ... based on keeping production costs low, pitting workers around the world in competition against each other, and ... the short-term search for profit” endures, according to Ethique Pour l’Etiquette, a French group that is part of the global Clean Clothes Campaign.
After years of outrage over images of so-called sweatshops around the world, the Rana Plaza disaster focused global attention on grim working conditions in factories in Bangladesh, the second-biggest garments exporter after China.
According to British charity War on Want, garments exports account for 80 percent of Bangladesh’s total export revenue.
But even today, garments workers’ rights remain far from guaranteed, with many working 14-to 16-hour days at some of Bangladesh’s 4,500 factories, the organization says.
As Western consumers grow more socially and environmentally conscious, the fashion houses that have long relied on factories like those in the Rana Plaza have battled to redeem themselves.
Primark, for one, says it “continues to support those who were affected and ... has contributed a total of over $14 million in aid and compensation.”
It also says it launched a program of building inspections “to assess its suppliers’ factories against international standards” six weeks after the building collapse, and that it “remains committed” to improving the Bangladeshi garment industry as a whole.
Swedish retail giant H&M, which says it never used the Rana Plaza factories to produce garments, is nonetheless committed to ensuring greater “social and environmental progress” in Bangladesh.
On April 19, H&M said in a statement that 450,000 textile workers at 227 factories in Bangladesh that produce garments for its stores worldwide “are now represented by democratically elected representatives.”
The role of these representatives is to “speak on behalf of the workers when discussions are held about for example working hours, working conditions, health and security issues,” the statement said.
More broadly, the International Labour Organization launched a program following the disaster, to “enhance safety in factories so that the country should never again experience a tragedy like the Rana Plaza collapse.”
The ILO program includes training for local producers in chemical safety, inspection of over 1,500 factories for building and fire safety, labor inspection, and an improved culture of safety in the workplace.
Celine Choain, a garment industry specialist at the Paris-based Kea Partners consultancy, said that while there has definitely been progress, much remains to be done.
“The incident definitely acted as a catalyst for brands” to put in place changes in the way they produce their garments, Choain said.
She noted that two thirds of the 1,700 Bangladeshi factories inspected following an ILO-sponsored safety agreement successfully corrected 75 percent of the breaches that were identified.
However, wages remain dismally low, according to War on Want, which last week described working conditions for the vast majority of Bangladesh’s garment factory workers as “appalling.”
Many garment workers earn little more than the minimum wage of 5,300 taka ($65) per month.