Burak Cakmak says Saudi Arabia's Fashion Futures will help build an 'innovative' and 'culturally relevant' ecosystem

The chief executive of the kingdom's Fashion Commission talks about the country's future in the global fashion landscape

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 21: Parsons Dean of Fashion Burak Cakmak speks onstage during the 70th Annual Parsons Benefit on May 21, 2018 in New York City.   Andrew Toth/Getty Images for The New School/AFP (Photo by Andrew Toth / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)
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Saudi Arabia's fashion industry is on track to become a pioneering and innovative ecosystem, according to Burak Cakmak, chief executive of the country's Fashion Commission.

The kingdom's flagship fashion event, Fashion Futures, made its debut as a re-engineered digital platform on Thursday, with an online conference titled Fashion Futures Live: Moving Towards Sustainability, Diversity and Innovation.

Broadcast simultaneously from Riyadh and New York, the event featured Saudi, regional and international designers and industry experts in a series of keynote addresses, speeches and panel discussions.

"The Fashion Futures Live event marked a pivotal moment for the fashion industry, whose key message for a sustainable future for the sector globally is to create collectives of collaboration," Cakmak told The National.

The commission’s mission is to drive investment and build regulatory frameworks in order to help Saudi Arabia’s designers to reach their full potential. The event, which originally launched in Riyadh in 2019, falls under this umbrella.

Content was divided into four key pillars: entrepreneurship and experimentation; diversity, inclusion and the importance of empowering women, particularly not just as consumers but also as fashion producers; investment in new business models; and furthering the sustainable development goals.

“I’m very proud that Saudi Arabia is stepping into this space and providing a platform for meaningful discourse about critical topics,” said Cakmak, who was formerly the dean of fashion at Parsons School of Design in New York City, from 2015 to 2020.

"Throughout the day [of the event] we learned how the industry must look forward and embrace new technology in material production, as well as back, examining heritage manufacturing techniques.”

This is just the start, Cakmak added, as Fashion Futures will continue to engage an audience throughout the year, with a schedule of regular broadcasts, talks, workshops, masterclasses and training opportunities, with some being held in-person, while others go online.

Its ultimate aim is to drive development of a more sustainable and “connected fashion industry”, but also to support the development of Saudi Arabia’s ecosystem, positioning it as a leader globally.

The kingdom can be a stellar example of how to build an innovative, sustainable, locally and culturally relevant fashion ecosystem in a country

“So I’d like to encourage everyone to sign up, join in and start collaborating.”

This week’s event kicked off with a keynote address from Noura bint Faisal Al Saud, sector development director of the Fashion Commission at Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Culture, who highlighted the importance of collaboration, a recurring theme throughout the day.

International speakers were involved, including sustainability experts, conservationists and entrepreneurs. This included Susan Rockefeller, chair and trustee of Oceana, a nonprofit ocean conservation organisation; designer and author Rebecca Minkoff; Oskar Metsavaht, an environmental activist, Amazon guardian and founder of Osklen; Helen Aboah, chief executive of Urban Zen; and Abrima Erwiah, co-founder of Studio 189.

“The kingdom can be a stellar example of how to build an innovative, sustainable, locally and culturally relevant fashion ecosystem in a country,” said Cakmak.

"Through engaging with innovators across the value chain and partnering to bring education, business development, entrepreneurship and retail experiences, Saudi Arabia will be able to transform local businesses to achieve the highest standard in their operations and branding that can be celebrated globally.”

Razan Alharithy, a Riyadh resident, told The National it was easy to sign up to the event. "I just went on their website and registered for the live-stream. It was interesting and eye-opening to learn about sustainability and to see the kingdom's focus is largely on that aspect in fashion now."

Emaan Aamer, who lives in Jeddah, said she particularly enjoyed hearing Rockefeller’s viewpoint on conservation. “It was a learning curve for me. I had heard of the event through my designer friend and decided to join.”

Fashion Futures will host a physical event in December in Riyadh.