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Behind Saudi Arabia's ambitious strategy to promote local fashion

By Julia Garel


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Saudi 100 Brands organised a cocktail party on July 3 at the Ritz Hotel to celebrate the opening of its Haute Couture Showroom. Credits: Mathieu Braumer.

Saudi fashion is determined to expand on the international stage. To this end, the country of Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) recently organised a double event during Men's Fashion Week and Haute Couture Week.

Firstly, the operation took place in a showroom set up at the Cité de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine from 24 to 27 June, right in the middle of Men's Fashion Week. Saudi brands and ready-to-wear women's, men's and unisex collections were on show, many of which were made in Saudi Arabia. Then, from 3 to 5 July, a couture showroom took place at the Hôtel Marcel Dassault, which houses the Artcurial auction house in the heart of Paris's "Golden Triangle".

These two highlights were driven by the Saudi 100 brands programme, launched by the Saudi Fashion Commission, set up in 2020 under the supervision of the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Culture. All of this is part of a wider policy pursued by the Ministry. As stated in a press release, the region is leading a "cultural transformation to develop a rich ecosystem that nurtures creativity, unleashes the sector's economic potential and unleashes inspiring new forms of expression".

Burak Cakmak, CEO of the Fashion Commission said: "By showcasing Saudi fashion at Paris Fashion Week, we are helping our designers to take their rightful place on the world stage. From haute couture to menswear, jewellery and accessories, we invite everyone to discover what Saudi fashion has to offer. I am confident that our guests will leave inspired by the new generation of Saudi designers who are pushing the boundaries with their timeless creations."

The leader also emphasised the desire to extend the reach of Saudi fashion on a global scale and confirmed its development with figures: its growth is expected to exceed 32 billion dollars by 2025 (29 billion euros).

Although this was a first for Paris, the City of Light is not the only fashion capital to have been invested by the Saudi 100 Brands programme. In 2022 and 2023, Saudi fashion was also exhibited in Milan, as part of the White Milano trade fair.

The opening of the Saudi 100 Brands showroom at La Cité de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine. Credits: Mathieu Braumer.

Many of the pieces on show were in the modest fashion segment, covering garments initially designed for Muslim women, but are also worn by people of the Christian and Jewish faiths. The presence of modest fashion in showrooms is due in particular to the influence of the Fashion Commission, one of whom's objectives is to ensure that the fashion industry is committed to Saudi values and traditions.

Fashion, part of the "Vision 2030" plan

The development of Saudi fashion is in line with Saudi Arabia's "Vision 2030" objective. Launched in 2016, this vast economic and social modernisation plan aims to diversify and extend the Kingdom's activity beyond oil, by increasing the share of non-oil gross domestic product (GDP) from 16 to 50 percent, while boosting the private sector's contribution to GDP from 40 to 65 percent. Finally, Vision 2030 also aims to increase the participation of women in the workforce to 30 percent, up from the current 22 percent.

According to a report published in March 2023 by the Fashion Commission, the Saudi fashion sector should, by 2022, "contribute to 1.4 percent of the Kingdom's GDP, representing a contribution of 12.5 billion US dollars in terms of gross added value". The document specifies that this added value is mainly generated by consumption, linked to wholesale and retail activities.

Looking at the human figures, the document informs that by 2022, according to estimates, "the fashion ecosystem is expected to contribute 1.8 percent of the total Saudi workforce, employing 230,000 people". The majority of this workforce is female (52 percent).

In concrete terms, to successfully develop the Saudi fashion sector, the Kingdom needs to invest upstream in the value chain and increase its capacity in the production of clothing and textiles, as well as in product development. At present, the country is heavily dependent on imported raw materials and finished products. Although certain resources already exist in the raw hides, leather and synthetic textiles segment, this area remains largely unexploited and not innovative enough from a technical point of view.

Today, the fashion landscape in Saudi Arabia has a high proportion of imported products (mainly from China). Although clothing exports increased by 11 percent between 2012 and 2021 (mainly to neighbouring countries such as the United Arab Emirates), imports rose by 42 percent over the same period.

Action points other than product and industry development are also being put in place to support development: education and creation, retail, storytelling and event organisation, and sustainability. In 2018, Saudi Arabia organised its very first Fashion Week.

Saudi 100 Brands organised a cocktail party on July 3 at the Ritz Hotel to celebrate the opening of its Haute Couture Showroom. Credits: Mathieu Braumer.

In June 2023, Prince Mohammed bin Salman met with President Emmanuel Macron to support his country's participation in the organisation of the 2030 World Expo. While the Saudi leader was still perceived as a pariah on the chessboard international because of his role in the 2018 assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the man has been granted a pardon. According to our peers from France 24, since the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, MBS has come out of its global isolation to meet and greet leaders.

This article originally appeared on FashionUnited.FR. Translation and edit by: Rachel Douglass.

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