Saudi fashion industry seen as a catalyst for economic diversification as it eyes global recognition

Special Saudi fashion industry seen as a catalyst for economic diversification as it eyes global recognition
Brimming with diversity, Saudi Arabia’s topography offers picture-perfect backdrops for local and international fashion designers. (Photo: Saudi Style Council/NEOM)
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Updated 12 September 2023
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Saudi fashion industry seen as a catalyst for economic diversification as it eyes global recognition

Saudi fashion industry seen as a catalyst for economic diversification as it eyes global recognition
  • Vision 2030 reforms have laid the ground for talented young Saudi designers to flourish in the industry
  • Acclaimed Saudi designer Yousef Akbar says the Kingdom recognizes fashion is a “serious business”

DUBAI: Move over, Milan. Not today, New York. It’s Riyadh’s turn to shine on the global catwalk as social reforms and economic diversification across the gamut of sectors propel Saudi Arabia toward the ranks of international capitals of the fashion industry.

In July, Mohammed Ashi became the first Saudi designer to show at Paris Haute Couture Week — a leading event in the global fashion calendar — by invitation of the Federation de la Haute Couture et de la Mode.




Models present creations by Ashi Studio during the Women's Haute-Couture Fall/Winter 2023/2024 Fashion Week in Paris n July 6, 2023. (AFP)

This September, a hundred Saudi brands will head to Italy’s style capital Milan to present their designs in WHITE Milano, one of the most anticipated events during Milan Fashion Week. 

The rise of Saudi fashion designers is a relatively recent development, owing in part to a host of government-sponsored initiatives, including the Ministry of Culture’s Fashion Commission, established in 2020 to lead the sector’s expansion.

Saudi fashion emerged as an important catalyst for economic growth and diversification in line with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 reform agenda, launched in 2016 to help the Kingdom branch out beyond hydrocarbons.




The Since 2087 gallery in Jeddah. Since 2087 is a brand founded by Saudi creative director Abduljalil Abduljawad. (Supplied)

The Fashion Commission recently published a report, “The State of Fashion in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 2023,” to help local and international stakeholders understand the scale of the opportunity offered by the country’s emerging fashion industry.

“It holds the largest projected growth rate of any other large, high-income market,” Burak Cakmak, CEO of the Fashion Commission, told Arab News.

“Fashion is now very much a key economic driver of Saudi Arabia’s growth with the report showing retail demand for fashion products in the Kingdom is forecast to increase by 48 percent to $32 billion in 2025, with luxury retail set to enjoy 19 percent growth.

“We’re taking Saudi fashion from a predominantly domestic-focused market to the international stage and our home-grown brands, some established and some emerging, attend major fashion weeks and are building customer bases around the world.”




Burak Cakmak, CEO of the Saudi Fashion Commission. (Supplied)

Among the initiatives spearheaded by the Ministry of Culture through the Fashion Commission is the first-ever Riyadh Fashion Week, scheduled to take place from Oct. 20-23. The aim is “to sit among the most popular fashion weeks in the world,” Cakmak said. 

“We look forward to giving a warm welcome to visitors from across the globe and showcasing what Saudi fashion and luxury has to offer.”

While fashion shows have been held in private settings in Saudi Arabia for many years, it is only since the social reforms implemented after 2016, including the suspension of laws requiring women to wear head coverings, that such events moved into the public domain.

Dolce & Gabbana staged its first fashion show in the historic desert region of AlUla in 2022, while other prominent fashion and jewelry brands such as Chaumet and Van Cleef & Arpels, among others, have also staged events in the Kingdom. 

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Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Culture established the Fashion Commission in 2020 to lead the sector’s expansion.

Demand for fashion products in the Kingdom is forecast to increase by 48 percent to $32 billion in 2025.

Above all, the Vision 2030 reforms have cleared the way for talented young Saudi designers to flourish in the industry, establishing their careers and showcasing their work on the domestic, regional and global stage.

“The world has its eye on Saudi Arabia — whether it’s through our participation in global sports, promoting the Kingdom as a new tourism destination, or a global player in the start-up economy,” Marriam Mossalli, a Saudi lifestyle editor, journalist and founder of communications agency Niche Arabia, told Arab News.

“There are so many sectors that utilize fashion, whether it’s the staff uniforms of a new resort by the Red Sea Development Company, or costumes for a new play produced by the General Entertainment Authority. There are so many opportunities for young Saudi talent to get involved and have their homegrown aesthetic celebrated.” 




Princess Noura bint Faisal Al-Saud, top left, wearing designs by Mona Alshebil. Alshebil, Niche Arabia founder Marriam Mossalli (top, right) and Mohammed Ashi (above, left) are among the Saudi creative talents who have entered the international fashion scene. (Photos: Mona Alshebil/Lina Qummosani/Saudi Fashion Commission/AFP)

 


In 2021, the Fashion Commission launched the “100 Saudi Brands” initiative, aimed at supporting and empowering Saudi designers by providing them with mentorship, guidance and resources to help them achieve international success in the fashion industry. 

The initiative has demonstrated the Saudi government’s commitment to promoting and developing the country’s fashion industry while supporting its designers to reach their full potential. 

“Being part of the 100 Saudi Brands for the last two years, I have greatly benefited from all the experts we worked with,” Saudi designer Mona Alshebil told Arab News. 

“Moreover, we participated in Milan Fashion Week, New York Fashion Week and Paris Fashion Week, with the support of the Fashion Commission.”

Others, such as the acclaimed designer Yousef Akbar, whose designs were featured on the cover of Vogue Arabia’s June edition celebrating new Saudi talent, say that until a few years ago there was no fashion industry to speak of in the Kingdom. Now that has all changed.




Saudi fashion designer Yousef Akbar. (Instagram)

“The fashion industry is now recognized as serious business for the government,” Akbar told Arab News. “Whereas before nothing was done about it. There was no fashion industry. Now there is the recognition that fashion is important, and it plays a key cultural and economic role. 

“Secondly, the Saudi government’s investment in establishing the industry is crucial and thirdly, which in my opinion is the most important, are the designers themselves, because there is a lot of talent in the Kingdom and without the designers, there is no industry.”

Now, people around the world “can finally see that there are talented designers in the region and they’re just as good as anyone international.”

At the end of 2023, the Fashion Commission will also launch a first-of-its-kind product development studio in Riyadh. The production space will enable designers to create prototypes and samples to hasten market entry.




Brimming with diversity, Saudi Arabia’s topography offers picture-perfect backdrops for local and international fashion designers. (Photo: Saudi Style Council/NEOM)

The studio will be outfitted with cutting-edge technology, including 3D knitting and laser-cutting machines, with a view to being on par with the best factories in the world. Still, there is a lot of work to be done to forge a prosperous future for the fashion sector.

“We need to lay the foundation for an authentic fashion ecosystem that can evolve with the country, as well as complement the global fashion industry,” Mossalli said. 

“From manufacturing and sales to marketing and media, Saudi Arabia can adopt best practices and find its niche among its international counterparts.”

This will involve continued investment in human talent.

“We will continue to be guided by the data as we build the foundations for an internationally networked value chain and invest in Saudi Arabia’s talent pipeline through educational programs to produce world-class designers, ensuring the Kingdom continues to grow as an integral part of the global fashion scene,” said Fashion Commission CEO Cakmak.




Mona Alshebil designs. Mona Alshebil is a Saudi fashion designer and part of the 100 Saudi Brands Organization. (Photo Courtesy of Mona Alshebil)

Many of the Kingdom’s up-and-coming designers are striving not only to grow their own brands but also showcase their country’s heritage and identity on the regional and international stage. 

Fashion, therefore, has the potential to contribute both economic growth and enhance a sense of national pride. 

“As an emerging designer in Saudi Arabia, my goal is to contribute to the growth and development of the fashion industry in the Kingdom,” said Saudi designer Alshebil. 

“I am passionate about showcasing the unique beauty and creativity of Saudi fashion to the world, while also creating opportunities for local talent and celebrating the cultural diversity of Saudi Arabia.”

 


‘Those About to Die’ stars talk new swords-and-sandals series set in Ancient Rome

‘Those About to Die’ stars talk new swords-and-sandals series set in Ancient Rome
Updated 22 July 2024
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‘Those About to Die’ stars talk new swords-and-sandals series set in Ancient Rome

‘Those About to Die’ stars talk new swords-and-sandals series set in Ancient Rome

DUBAI: British-Yemeni actor Moe Hashim (“Ted Lasso”) and Iceland’s Johannes Haukur Johannesson (“Succession”) spoke to Arab News recently about playing gladiator frenemies in new swords-and-sandal series “Those About to Die,” streaming in the Middle East on Starzplay.

The action-packed series set in Rome in 79 A.D., stars the legendary Anthony Hopkins as Emperor Vespasian, the founder of the Flavian dynasty, and is inspired by Daniel Mannix’s classic non-fiction book of the same name.

Johannes Haukur Johannesson and Moe Hashim star in ‘Those About to Die.’ (Courtesy of Starzplay)

Hashim, known for his minor role as footballer Moe Bumbercatch in hit Apple TV + series “Ted Lasso,” plays Kwame, a lion tracker, who has been taken to train as a gladiator and now faces an existence that means fighting for his life every day.

When asked what drew him to the series, Hashim said: “For me, (it was) Kwame where he was from and what he represents. And I was very excited because I was like: ‘This is a character that is not really spoken about or has been documented too much in the Roman Empire.’

“And when I did the research on North Africans and the influence they had in the Roman Empire, I was like: ‘Oh, I definitely want to be part of this for sure.’”

Johannesson, in turn, plays an imposing Norse gladiator who befriends Kwame in arena training. His main draw to the show was the grittiness of daily gladiator life. “I thought it was really beautiful to see how the gladiators, who were essentially prisoners made to fight till their death, fought for their lives daily, the way they found humanity and friendship, I thought that was really, really beautiful. That really stood out to me,” said Johannesson.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by STARZPLAY (@starzplayarabia)

The show also marks the television directorial debut of blockbuster director Roland Emmerich (“Moonfall”, “The Day After Tomorrow,” “Independence Day”).

Said Johannesson: “Roland is a whirlwind to work with. He sweeps you along. He’s very intense, which is enjoyable. You sort of step on set and you just jump on the Roland Emmerich train. It’s an express train.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by STARZPLAY (@starzplayarabia)

Added Hashim: “It was also fun getting to know him on a personal level. We practically did a tour of every restaurant in Rome, we had all types of pasta and, you know, during those dinners, you kind of get to see who Roland really is.

“A man at that point of his career still making time to listen to my stupid questions about ‘Independence Day’ and him being so happy to tell me about all the stories and willing to answer my questions.”


Mona Tougaard stars in new Marc Jacobs campaign

Mona Tougaard stars in new Marc Jacobs campaign
Updated 22 July 2024
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Mona Tougaard stars in new Marc Jacobs campaign

Mona Tougaard stars in new Marc Jacobs campaign

DUBAI: Model Mona Tougaard is the face of Marc Jacobs’ Fall 2024 eyewear collection “The Sunglasses.”

The catwalk star, who has Danish, Turkish, Somali and Ethiopian ancestry, took to Instagram to announce the campaign, posting a photo along with a simple heart emoji.

Last month, Berlin-based magazine-turned-fashion label 032c presented its menswear spring/summer 2025 collection at Paris Fashion Week, where Tougaard featured.

She strutted down the runway in a form-fitting suit with a cropped blazer and a blue buttoned-shirt layered underneath. The look was complemented with dark shades and her hair was slicked back in a low bun.

She was not the only regional model on the runway; Tougaard was joined by British-Moroccan model Nora Attal, who wore a sheer, reflective fishnet-like black dress.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Marc Jacobs (@marcjacobs)

The collection, designed by Maria Koch, is titled “Everything Counts” and included outerwear, feminine suiting and versatile denim co-ords suitable for day and night wear.

Collarless 032c jackets featured tonal gothic lettering, while army parkas and deconstructable cargo pants were paired with boxy vinyl tops.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Joerg Koch / 032c (@032c)

Last month, 032c also announced on Instagram that Tougaard had been named the artistic talent director for the collection.

“Tougaard is an inherent member of the 032c universe, who has starred on our magazine covers, our editorials, and our previous FW-24 show. It is an organic progression to involve Tougaard more closely in 032c’s creative processes together with creative director Maria Koch and fashion director Ras Bartram,” the post read.

Tougaard started 2024 with a bang, gracing the runway for Chanel during Paris Haute Couture Week in January. Tougaard wore a black thigh-high coat-style dress with white buttons and a sheer white skirt underneath, teamed with wore white stockings and black heeled sandals.

Tougaard started her modeling career in 2017 after winning the Elite Model Look Denmark competition at the age of 15. Since then, she has become a prominent figure in the fashion industry, known for her work with top designers and luxury brands including Prada, Louis Vuitton, Fendi, Chanel and Valentino.


Actor Noor Xarmina crowned ‘Miss Universe Pakistan 2024’

Actor Noor Xarmina crowned ‘Miss Universe Pakistan 2024’
Updated 21 July 2024
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Actor Noor Xarmina crowned ‘Miss Universe Pakistan 2024’

Actor Noor Xarmina crowned ‘Miss Universe Pakistan 2024’
  • The 29-year-old venture capitalist-turned-actor hails from Islamabad and recently moved back to Pakistan from abroad
  • Xarmina says she wants to represent Pakistan on international forums, bring about a change for women

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani actor Noor Xarmina has been declared ‘Miss Universe Pakistan 2024,’ after which she is poised to represent Pakistan at the 73rd Miss Universe 2024 pageant in November this year.
The announcement of Xarmina’s successful bid was made in a video published on the official YouTube channel of Miss Universe on Saturday.
The 29-year-old venture capitalist-turned-actor, who has studied biology and business, hails from Islamabad and recently moved to Pakistan.
In the video shared on Miss Universe YouTube channel, she said she wanted to bring about a “positive change” in her home country.
“I want to be an agent for positive change in two respects. The first is for our country. Pakistan is scarcely represented internationally across so many industries and I want to enhance our representation on an international stage,” Xarmina said.
“In the second respect, I want to have change for women in our country. Pakistan needs strong female leaders that can mobilize its women and empower them to create positive change in society.”
Asked if Pakistan would support Xarmina’s bid at international beauty pageants, Pakistani Information Minister Ataullah Tarar said if Xarmina has played a role in projecting Pakistan’s soft image, then a discussion can be held on this.
“I do not know about that woman, what background she has and what professional achievements she has before this, they can be looked into. If she has played her role for Pakistan’s image, Pakistan’s soft image, and Pakistan’s development, then discussion can be held on this,” he told reporters in Islamabad on Sunday.
Tarar noted that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif recently invited Naila Kiyani, a UAE-based Pakistani mountaineer, and appreciated her.
“So, we definitely believe that whatever achievement one has, it should be recognized,” he added.
Last year, Erica Rabin became the first Pakistani woman to be crowned Miss Universe Pakistan. Prior to that, no woman from Muslim-majority Pakistan ever participated in the Miss Universe pageant.
Miss Universe Pakistan is a national beauty pageant franchise organized by the Yugen Group of Dubai to select a representative from Pakistan for the Miss Universe pageant.


Squatwolf expands in Saudi Arabia with new warehouse, fitness events

Squatwolf expands in Saudi Arabia with new warehouse, fitness events
Updated 21 July 2024
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Squatwolf expands in Saudi Arabia with new warehouse, fitness events

Squatwolf expands in Saudi Arabia with new warehouse, fitness events
  • UAE brand opens warehouse able to handle 30,000 orders a day
  • Company was founded in 2016 by Anam Khalid and Wajdan Gul

DUBAI: From starting as a passion project to now serving athletes in over 200 countries, Squatwolf, the gym-wear brand co-founded by Anam Khalid and Wajdan Gul, is expanding in Saudi Arabia.

The founders have opened a  warehouse in the Kingdom.

The Saudi Arabia warehouse can process up to 30,000 orders a day and ensures same-day delivery in Riyadh and next-day delivery to major cities, including Jeddah, Dammam, Alkhobar and Makkah. (Supplied)

“We take pride in being the first gym-wear brand in the Kingdom that is supporting Vision 2030, fueling the power of the gym as a playground of self-improvement to all,” Khalid told Arab News recently.

“Our Saudi warehouse is a demonstration to our commitment as a UAE brand to support the region and go all in.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by SQUATWOLF (@squatwolf)

The Saudi Arabia warehouse can process up to 30,000 orders a day and ensures same-day delivery in Riyadh and next-day delivery to major cities, including Jeddah, Dammam, Alkhobar and Makkah, Gul said.

The brand plans to collaborate with retail and gym partners, local ambassadors and organize community events to support their expansion goals.

“We’re here to recognize every gym-goer, regardless of their fitness level,” Khalid said.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by SQUATWOLF (@squatwolf)

Gul confirmed that The Squatwolf Games, a prominent fitness event in Dubai, is set to make its debut in Saudi Arabia.

“Yes, Squatwolf Games is coming to Saudi and coming in big. We’re constantly evolving the games to something bigger and better.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by SQUATWOLF (@squatwolf)

The brand will also participate in the KSA Muscle Show, further engaging with the local fitness community.

The company was founded in 2016 by Khalid and Gul. “It all started when Gul and I realized there wasn’t a gym-wear brand in the region that matched our love for the gym, its community, and the impact it has on all aspects of our life,” Khalid said.

Gul believes the fitness and activewear market in the Kingdom is booming. “With the Saudi 2030 Vision in place, more gyms are opening up every day, fitness is becoming a way of life and staying healthy is on everyone’s radar,” he explained.

“Being the first gym-wear brand in the MENA region, including Saudi Arabia, gives us a competitive advantage to stay one step ahead across insight-driven product performance, local communities and gym-goer demands,” Khalid added.


Lebanese actress Cynthia Khalifeh carves out a path in Hollywood with ‘Borderline’

Lebanese actress Cynthia Khalifeh carves out a path in Hollywood with ‘Borderline’
Updated 22 July 2024
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Lebanese actress Cynthia Khalifeh carves out a path in Hollywood with ‘Borderline’

Lebanese actress Cynthia Khalifeh carves out a path in Hollywood with ‘Borderline’

LOS ANGELES: Lebanese actress Cynthia Khalifeh is teaming up with Lucien Laviscount from “Emily in Paris” and Laura Marano of “The Royal Treatment” for the horror-thriller “Borderline.”

The former TV presenter is also eyeing future projects as she aims to achieve her Hollywood dream.

“I’m one step forward on the path to achieving my big dream since I was young, which is to act in international films. So, baby steps and I really feel like I am a bit closer,” Khalifeh told Arab News in an interview.

“It was a lot of risks that I had to take, a lot of just jumping on adventures where I didn’t have anything that was guaranteed.”

“Borderline”, a film shot in a specially constructed studio in Malta, highlights the darkest fears associated with dating apps.

“It talks about online dating and how sometimes you might go to meet someone you don’t know, and there’s a certain danger,” Khalifeh said.

The actress said the show is called “Borderline’ because, “they meet in a place located at the border between two countries, so there is no law applied from this country or the other, so anything can happen in this place.”

“The girl or I find myself stuck over there in one night, contained, in one place, trying to run away from this person but I face him at the end. I learnt a lot of fights,” she added.

About her co-star Laviscount, she said: “Lucien plays a completely different role than that of the handsome sweet guy that all girls fell for in ‘Emily in Paris.’ Here, you will not like him at all.”

Khalifeh’s contributions to the screenplay led to her role as co-writer of the film. Choosing horror to launch her global career, she hopes to dominate this year’s Halloween season.

“I started throwing ideas and then they told me, ‘You know what? Do you want to join in?’ It happened and I joined the writing team,” she said.