Customers in the Middle East feel the benefits as international fashion labels seek inspiration from the Arab world

Western brands are capitalising on the spending power of fashion consumers in the Middle East to increase their revenue streams.

D&G rolled out its second collection of abayas to coincide with Eid 2016. Courtesy Dolce & Gabbana
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

It was in 2014 that the New York-based fashion house DKNY introduced its first Ramadan collection exclusively for the Middle East. Two regional fashion icons – fashion designer Tamara Al Gabbani and Yalda Golsharifi, then the fashion editor of Styles Magazine – styled and modelled for the collection, becoming the faces of the campaign. Since then, there has been a splurge of fashion houses entering the fray. Fashion biggies such as Tommy Hilfiger, Oscar De La Renta, Burberry and Dolce&Gabbana have also tapped the Islamic fashion market with their latest festive collections – D&G showcased a luxurious selection of abayas in its recently opened boutique in The Dubai Mall during Ramadan.

Deep pockets and fashion awareness

Western brands are capitalising on the spending power of fashion consumers in the Middle East to increase their revenue streams. According to the 2014-15 Thomson Reuters State of the Global Islamic Economy Report (GIER), Muslim consumers spent US$266 billion on clothing and footwear in 2013. The figure is predicted to reach US$484 billion by 2019 and account for 14.4 per cent of global expenditure.

“Nearly 62 per cent of the global Muslim population, according to Thomson Reuters State of the GIER, is under 30, and the well-travelled, fashion-forward youth is influencing the output of the fashion industry,” says Alia Khan, founder of the Islamic Fashion & Design Council (IFDC), Dubai. “The youngsters today want to live within modest parameters without compromising on being cool, edgy and fashionable,” adds Khan.

Dubai in particular “enjoys the reputation of a leading fashion destination not only because of the fashion affinity of the consumers but also because it is the gateway to the rest of the GCC countries”, says Dubai-based fashion expert Asil Attar, chief executive of Lead Associates and EST2014 (established 2014), who mentors up-and-coming talented regional designers from the GCC and the Levant.

In tune with the trends

Due to its diverse demographic, “The Middle East doesn’t have a specific fashion identity like we see in Tokyo or France, though it is generally more modest”, says Dubai-based fashion designer Aiisha.

“There’s a huge focus on individuality in this market. Women generally follow what pleases their eye and is appreciated by their peers. That’s what becomes the trend of the season,” says Khan.

“Long dresses, structured jackets and loose, flowing wraps are always in style here,” adds Attar – silhouettes that are rapidly being adopted by western brands.

“Long sleeves and full lengths were difficult to spot in these markets and their introduction has made everyone’s life easier,” Khan says, adding that customers are pleased because global designers are working to produce modest fashion.

Dubai-based Al Gabbani takes it as “a gesture of acknowledgement towards the Muslims’ most precious and holiest time of the year” and appreciates “the east meets west philosophy of exchange, tolerance and respect.”

An expanding international market

Khan explains that Western brands look at occasions such as Eid to promote their lines, and after DKNY’s entry last year, everyone is in a hurry to jump onto the bandwagon.

“There is a lot of “me-too” going on, and not enough thinking and comprehension of what they are trying to achieve,” she says. “If only the brands tried harder to understand the consumer they would be able to tap a very valuable audience and a vast market,” she adds.

But this is only the beginning of the learning curve for the labels. “IFDC is reaching out to them to offer consultation not only on how to enter the market with success but also to stick on by winning the loyalty of the customer,” Khan says.