Saudi Arabia’s Fashion Commission announced on Monday the finalists of its Saudi 100 Brands programme launched in June, which aims to support the business development plans of the kingdom's designers and luxury brands.
The finalists of the inaugural programme will commence a year-long mentorship with support from some of the world’s leading fashion experts, including those with experience from LVMH, Kering, Chanel, Valentino and Bulgari. The mentors will provide group and individual consultancy and advisory sessions, including international partnerships with Vogue Arabia and regional retailers.
The Fashion Commission's chief executive Burak Cakmak tells The National the programme will support the global ambitions of domestic fashion brands over 12 months, covering branding and conceptualisation, innovation and technology, sales performance and marketing strategy, and imparting key leadership skills.
Four hundred candidates were shortlisted from more than 1,300 applications. Those living in the kingdom were interviewed at hubs in Riyadh and Jeddah, and meetings were held virtually with those living abroad.
“There is currently no single, well-known international Saudi brand, so this programme is positioned as a chance to identify and grow local talent and nurture them to the stage where they can get global recognition,” says Cakmak. He says it is time for Saudi Arabia to have some fashion brands that amplify the national narrative on an international stage.
In the next five to 10 years, he hopes Saudi Arabia will have a robust local fashion ecosystem that has regional and global connections, and for the country to be seen as “an internationally relevant example of how to build a fashion sector, as a best-in-class reference for sustainability, diversity, cultural amplification and innovation”.
Cakmak had already joined the Board of the Fashion Commission while in his previous role as dean of fashion at Parsons School of Design in New York, and was involved in the creation of its strategy from the moment it was established in February 2020. He said his perception of Saudi Arabia's fashion world changed when he saw “how many individuals there are in the country who are already established in terms of designing” and its range of fashion entrepreneurs.
The Fashion Commission believes without a mature existing system that requires dismantling, the kingdom offers the fashion sector a clean slate upon which to create a sustainable industry set to become a global best-in-class example.
The body will formally represent all of those chosen for Saudi 100 Brands, and will be the provider of data for fashion businesses and their output throughout the country.
What needs to change in Saudi Arabia's fashion Industry
Saudi Arabia has a substantial population under the age of 30, individuals who are connected and engaged through social media.
“This means that in terms of awareness about the global fashion trends, they have the same interests as individuals everywhere in the world and this is reflected in retail throughout the kingdom, too,” Cakmak says, adding that most of the existing international brands and products in the kingdom show that the global fashion narrative is “driving the conversation”.
Even though Saudi Arabia is up to date with the latest global trends, what’s missing “is a more prominent Saudi voice”, he says. This is because of the lack of sector infrastructure, which has not facilitated and nurtured local fashion talent or its growth.
The Fashion Commission at the Ministry of Culture was established to enable this community, to “ensure they have a sustainable business environment, which will allow their voice to be heard” and encourage them to participate in global fashion conversations.
The future of fashion in Saudi Arabia
The future of the fashion industry is building sustainable business models for the environment and the manufacturing process, according to Cakmak, who says the issue isn’t specific to Saudi Arabia, but applies to the global industry.
“But Saudi Arabia is in the advantageous position of being able to create business models from scratch,” he says. It will be challenging to build a new ecosystem, “but the benefit here is we are not trying to change what is broken”.
The Fashion Commission’s nationwide survey identified gaps in the fashion value chain, to help identify elements that need more investment. Saudi Arabia is home to some flourishing crafts businesses, and “their manufacturing processes are yet to be leveraged in building an industry, so it’s very exciting to be part of that”, Cakmak says.
Finalists and judges on the creative process
Fabien Hirose, lead mentor of the Saudi 100 Brands programme, tells The National he was most excited by Saudi Arabia’s “pluricultural heritage being naturally embedded in the designer's products” and looks forward to “stories of Saudi’s unique identity reaching a wider audience through fashion”.
Fawzia Alnafea, of Foz Couture, recalls the struggles faced by the industry in the 1980s when she started designing commercially. She said the year-long programme will create huge opportunities for the younger generation. “The process of training and mentorship will open up a lot of doors for us all, and the range of Saudi talent and experiences on our side means that we are not starting from zero,” Alnafea tells The National.
Manuel Arnaut, editor-in-chief of Vogue Arabia, says he is “extremely impressed with the range” of the participant designers, proving that fashion in Saudi Arabia is “diverse" and “ready to answer any demand”.
Aljohara Alsulaiteen, 43, owner of fashion brand Jino, is one of the finalists. “We Saudis have big dreams of achieving greatness by becoming a leading influential fashion culture.”