DHAHRAN: Fashion was the talk of the town as the creativity season at Ithra, Dhahran, continued its celebration of the creative arts. Fashion movers and shakers Rania Masri, Ramy Fares, Philippe Blanchard and Ghizlan Guenez took a look at the future of fashion at “Tanween” on Oct. 25. They took the floor to discuss the hot topic of “Tech Disruption” — how technology is changing the fashion industry.
Rania Masri, the chief transformation officer at Chalhoub group, kicked off by describing how technology works as a catalyst in the retail industry. “Digital has disrupted our industry quickly evolving our consumer in a way that we were not expecting, and we need to react very quickly to it,” Masri said.
Ramy Fares, the director of retail at Microsoft in the Middle East and North Africa agreed that “retail has been fundamentally transformed by effective technology.
“The market player we are all trying to catch up with in retail is Amazon, and at the heart of Amazon is artificial intelligence, learning just from your clicks what you have in your shopping cart (and using that information) to profile the kind of products (the company needs) to have in the warehouses to fulfill your needs.”
Ghizlan Guenez, the founder and CEO of UAE online women’s fashion retailer Themodist.com was asked if she would have been able to conduct her business in the same way without this digital revolution, and she said no. The Modist has built a reputation as a portal offering modest fashion from luxury brands.
“What we wanted to do is to reach all modest dressers globally, regardless of why they do so and smash a little bit of a stereotype around modesty — that it’s about a particular religion or one particular culture or religion.”
Guenez also discussed how technology allowed her business to stretch beyond national boundaries to capture a wider market.
“For us it was very important to be able to reach a large audience — from Indonesia to the Middle East all the way to America — to ensure that this positioning was clear. And so e-commerce was crucial for us in the way we launched the business.”
Philippe Blanchard, founder and CEO of sport technology company Futurous, discussed the relationship between humans and technology.
“We cannot be in a situation where we are setting new sets of rules, policies and tools and we expect that artificial intelligence will substitute human intelligence and responsibility. He elaborated: “It is our collective responsibility to keep our humanity and to make sure we are not becoming dependent or unaccountable.”
Fashion and innovation
Discussions on fashion and innovation continued at “Made in KSA” with Hatem Alakeel, Reem Alkanhal, Cyrille Fabre and Princess Nourah Al-Faisal.
This event focused on how culture, fashion and entrepreneurship need to work together to move society forward and tackle the challenges that Saudi designers face in producing their designs locally.
Princess Norah, the founder of Nuun Jewels, said: “For me ‘Made in KSA’ is about the ability to manufacture in the same place that I work and live, and to have the structures that allow me to do so.
“I am talking about having training, infrastructure, workshops creating essentially an industry that does not exist at this time. I think in terms of design in Saudi Arabia you are talking about creating industries that do not exist and that’s a big job. That’s huge!”
She emphasized the importance of working collectively to achieve this target. “It is not something that one person can do ... it’s down to those of us who are already in the business and the only way we are going to be able to do it is by working together.”
The award-winning designer Reem Al-Kanhal talked about her determination to have pieces manufactured locally.
“I insisted ever since the day I started that I want ‘made in KSA,’ and I did it. I had one of my collections distributed in some Gulf cities and the label said ‘made in KSA.‘ It was really difficult, and I took a longer time to finish the collection, but I found out that it’s like a ripple effect; you see everything in front of you.”
To Al-Kanhal the problem was clear: “We have a lot of local tailors who cannot find jobs because there are no factories, and as a designer I need investors and I need a whole team.”
Hatem Alakeel, the designer and founder of menswear brand “Toby,” shared the concerns of fellow designers: “We are forced to become industrialists.”
“We, as designers, find ourselves wearing too many hats; we have to become entrepreneurs, we have to think of ROI (return on investment), we have to think about all these details,” he said.
Hatem added: “We are having so many fashion weeks in the country but we are not getting solutions. I always have to go out of the country to manufacture when I we would like to be able to manufacture where we are; logistically and cost-wise it makes more sense.”
Cyrille Fabre, Middle East Bain & Co. partner and director, said the problem was the lack of local brands: “In France, Italy or the UK almost everybody would be wearing a brand from their own country. You go to the mall in France or UK and at least 60 percent or more of the mall would be national brands.”
Fabre said the problem is caused by the small number of experts in the region. “There are just a few SMEs, but let’s try to say mostly in the creative industry.”
Reem, Princess Norah and Hatem also talked of the importance of changing consumer perceptions of pieces made in the Kingdom, agreeing it was essential to change the consumer’s mindset and educate designers. The panelists agreed that working as a team, rather in silos, was the only way to rebuild the industry and change perceptions in Saudi Arabia.