Saudi Fashion Commission Aims to Build a Value Chain, Beauty Industry and Textiles

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MILAN — Full speed ahead.

Not even a year has passed after the first official Riyadh Fashion Week was held under the bright lights of the city’s brand new King Abdullah Financial District, and Saudi Arabia’s Fashion Commission is forging ahead with its goals to develop a complete local value chain and build more categories around its fashion industry.

Expanding its beauty industry starting with fragrances and building a modern textile heartland from the ground up are top of this list, according to the Saudi Ministry of Culture’s Fashion Commission.

“We are not just ready-to-wear and couture…we’re doing jewelry, bags, leather goods and shoes. We also now have beauty and fragrances. And there are some brands that have been already doing quite well, especially with fragrance and a couple of beauty brands. So we want to continue expanding the categories that are part of the universe of the fashion world,” Burak Cakmak, chief executive officer the Saudi Ministry of Culture’s Fashion Commission, told WWD.

Burak Cakmak

Another major aim is to bolster and grow local design talent to fuel growth within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

“There are many job opportunities, but we still don’t have enough talent on top of it. Over the past three years, the Fashion Commission has made an ardent effort to recruit mentorship that has been focused on everything from couture design to supporting business plans, strategy, product development, retail and wholesale,” Cakmak explained ahead of the WWD Global Fashion Summit in Riyadh.

The summit will address a variety of topics, including the imminent youthquake, as half of the nation’s population is under age 30. As fashion and luxury brands refine their storytelling to tap into this all-important region, speakers like Saudi Arabian designer Razan Alazzouni will be joined onstage by Fausto Puglisi, creative director of Roberto Cavalli, as well as Marie-Claire Daveu, Kering’s chief sustainability and institutional affairs officer, to examine how to grab the attention of Generations Z and Alpha; the new retail formats being developed to engage consumers, and the growing importance to these generations of sustainability and circularity. 

“We started at a place where there was pretty much mostly custom orders or selling from social media to a place where most emerging brands that we work with are adapting a wholesale format,” Cakmak pointed out, looking back on the commission’s progress.

Eman Joharjy, designer Eman Joharjy

Eman Joharjy

Courtesy of Eman Joharjy

Overall, the Fashion Commission’s efforts are part of the government’s larger plan, dubbed Vision 2030, which is meant to diversify the oil-dependent nation’s economy and nurture new industries. Since the very first fashion week in Saudi Arabia’s history took place in 2018 in Riyadh (the 2018 fashion week was an unofficial one, the commission said), important strides have been taken to boost the nation’s fashion arena. 

In an attempt to propel business on a global stage, two dedicated showrooms aimed at raising the country’s fashion profile on the international stage were opened in Paris in 2023.

The ready-to-wear and couture showrooms are part of Saudi 100 Brands, an initiative backed by the Saudi Fashion Commission, which is working to promote local talent at home and abroad.

A mini fashion show took place during the Saudi 100 Brands showroom in Paris

A mini fashion show took place during the Saudi 100 Brands showroom in Paris in February.

Courtesy/PAUL FOGIEL

These Paris showrooms, which offer a mix of retail and wholesale, are a first for Saudi fashion. Their opening coincided with a debut report about the country’s burgeoning fashion industry, which is projected to grow to more than $32 billion by 2025. The commission expects the appetite for both international luxury goods and local products to be a main driver.

The Fashion Commission also recently cut the ribbon on the “The Lab,” a cutting-edge product development studio that it is hoped will revolutionize the local fashion manufacturing prospects in Saudi Arabia and catalyze local designers, brands and businesses to see their creations come to life under the aegis of the “Made in Riyadh” label. The Lab is located at the nonprofit cultural pulse, called The City Hub in Mohammed bin Salman City, often referred to as Misk City.

The space was envisaged to facilitate and support the advanced manufacturing, prototyping, sampling and product development service and serve as a sourcing hub. It has the capacity to produce 4,000 units a month, which the commission plans to grow in the near term.

“We plan to increase it in the future based on the demand. But we’re basically expecting all local brands to come here to do product development for their new designs. And, obviously, we we put a big sustainability focus. So we have a fabric library that includes a lot of sustainable options,” Cakmak said, explaining that dialogues among suppliers across manufacturing rich nations like Portugal, Spain, Italy and Turkey are underway, particularly in an effort to have these suppliers take part in the sourcing hub and offer prototyping services for categories that aren’t produced in Saudi Arabia. Beyond the Lab, the Fashion Commission has also created the Future Creative Residence, a content creation space. 

A big facet of turning Saudi Arabia into a major fashion hub is building a textile industry, complete with industrial textile mills and a recycling facility that has the potential to manufacture textiles. “Technically we can create new systems around us in the country that can support the local market, which is very hard to replicate anywhere else because of the type of garment that’s traditionally worn in the region. And then clearly, we have a bigger push on circularity,” Cakmak added, citing a growing appetite for business-to-consumer textile business as both men and women in Saudi Arabia still seek fabrics to make their thawbs and abayas.

Similarly, the design industry is also poised to bridge the divide between international trailblazers and Saudi manufacturing (also part of Vision 2030) and create a new industry within the Saudi Arabian economy. During Milan Design Week in April, the nation’s Arts and Creative Industries at the Royal Commission for the ancient city of Alula exhibited prototypes from the inaugural Alula Design Residency to show the global design community what the nation is capable of.

The Alula display during Milan Design Week.

Courtesy Alula Design Residency

Both fashion and design are a significant part of the Saudi government’s strategy to drive the growth and diversification of its economy, working toward several of Vision 2030’s goals, including increasing the private sector’s contribution to GDP to 65 percent and increasing the contribution of non-oil exports from 16 percent to 50 percent, among others.

It’s unclear how much the Saudi government has invested in the design industry. According to the State of Fashion in Saudi Arabia report for 2023, fashion by comparison contributed 1.4 percent of the nation’s GDP and 230,000 jobs in 2022.

The total value of the fashion industry in Saudi Arabia reached SAR 92.3 billion ($24.6 billion) in 2021, with local fashion accounting for SAR 46.9 billion ($12.5 billion) in 2022, according to a quarterly report by the General Authority for Small and Medium Enterprises (Monsha’at). The cumulative growth of the fashion sector is expected to have risen by 48 percent between 2021 and 2025.

The value of spending on imported brands amounted to SAR 27.4 billion ($7.3 billion).

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