MILAN — Following the success of the exhibition of 100 Saudi Arabian designers in Riyadh and most recently in New York, the country’s Fashion Commission will cut the ribbon for its first-ever wholesale commercial event here at White Milano.
The show, which runs Thursday through Sunday, will host the Saudi 100 Brands program, 85 percent of which are women. As part of the first edition of its ExpoWhite format, White Milano has created a showcase for foreign talent to connect with the international market. Delegations from Brazil, the Netherlands and South Africa will also be present.
“White is a great platform for Saudi designers to connect with the international wholesale market. With his focus on introducing new fashion perspectives for international buyers, White is a great partner for the Saudi 100 Brands program,” Burak Cakmak, Chief Executive Officer of the Saudi Arabian Fashion Commission, told WWD, adding that the commission wants more local and international wholesale exhibitions and retail activations in the near future.
The government has no public data on the size of its local fashion industry, although Saudi Arabia, the Arab region’s largest economy, is expected to remain the largest retail market in the GCC. The Saudi Arabia Fashion Commission said the number will grow more than 8 percent annually, driven by e-commerce platforms like Ounass and the success of luxury in brick-and-mortar spaces at Al Faisaliah Mall and Kingdom Center in Riyadh.
According to a report released by the Chalhoub Group in collaboration with the Fashion Commission, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s luxury market grew by 19 percent in 2021 compared to 2019, with the fashion segment growing the fastest.
Cakmak said that according to a study by Euromonitor, the size of the KSA apparel and footwear market is expected to grow from SAR 59 billion (US$15.7 billion) in 2021 to SAR 63 billion (US$16.8 billion) a year will increase in 2022.
Saudi women make up more than a third of the national labor force and contribute to higher spending on luxury goods. Today, 300,000 people are employed in the fashion value chain in KSA, the Fashion Commission estimates.
Saudi designers and brands are mainly based in Riyadh, Mecca, Jeddah and the eastern cities of Dammam and Khobar. Artisans are spread across all regions of the country, including important centers for handicrafts such as Jazan, Asir, Qassim and Tabuk.
“We are planning programs over the next year to connect artisans with local and international brands in the near future,” adds Cakmak.
Initiatives like these are part of the government’s larger plan called Vision 2030, which aims to diversify the oil-dependent country’s economy and encourage new industries. Since the first fashion week in Saudi Arabia’s history took place in Riyadh in 2018, important steps have been taken to boost the country’s fashion arena, which aims to rival Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
Launched in March 2021, Harper’s Bazaar Saudi Edition is the only fashion magazine to date permitted to be published in the KSA.
Published quarterly in Saudi Arabia by ITP Media Saudi, the print magazine celebrates the Kingdom’s talent, heritage and culture while opening a new chapter for the luxury fashion and creative industries.
“The Government of Saudi Arabia is pulling out all the stops to highlight the amazing talent in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The craftsmanship is amazing and now the whole world has a chance to discover it, thanks to initiatives like the one in New York and now Milan,” said Harper’s Bazaar Arabia Deputy Editor-in-Chief Jessica Michault, who will lead Saudi Expo this week Milan at the city’s Magna Pars Hotel.
Saudi designer Yousef Akbar is also traveling to Milan to capitalize on the potential for personal retail collections with “bigger impact”. Based in Sydney and with major customers in the UK, US, Australia and the Gulf, Akbar once produced its line in Italy but now has partners in Australia.
“The infrastructure in Saudi Arabia is currently not at the level that we need. But of course I hope to produce in Saudi Arabia one day and I know that the Saudi government and the fashion commission are working on it,” Akbar commented.
The Saudi 100 Brands exhibition, which debuted in Riyadh late last year, is divided into eight different categories: ready-to-wear, modest, concept, premiere, demi-couture, bridal, handbags and jewellery.
Each designer, chosen from a field of 1,400, was challenged to create pieces that reflect Saudi heritage and culture, which industry watchers say is changing rapidly. According to the country’s General Bureau of Statistics, efforts are beginning to bear fruit. The labor force participation rate of the total female working-age population increased to 33.6 percent in the first quarter of 2021, compared to 32.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2020.
Cakmak said the commission has also worked hard to introduce professional development programs and review regulations that support the growth of the sector, and evaluated the local ecosystem to offer better supply chain solutions to encourage local product and studio development. The Commission has already provided full scholarship funding for local design candidates accepted into top design schools such as Central Saint Martins and Parsons School of Design. “We also launched our women’s mentoring program, Elevate, to provide leadership mentoring to future Saudi women leaders. Our mentors include industry experts such as Marigay McKee, Valerie Hermann, Glenda Bailey and Frederic Fekkai, among others,” he added.
The Fashion Commission also recently announced a partnership with Kaust to explore the development of a new research center focused on material innovation with the potential to drive sustainable initiatives.
With a strong focus on advancing the fashion week experience and showcasing environmental solutions, White’s new experience model aims to support the Italian fashion sector through collaborations with other key global players. The exhibition operator, which has just celebrated its 20th anniversary since its inception, has recently streamlined its event by hosting just two exhibitions per year (up from the previous four) to coincide with women’s fashion weeks in February and September.
White Milano organizers said they tapped into Joor, the wholesale digital platform, this season to digitize the Milan event, which will be held in the Tortona Design District. By scanning a QR code corresponding to the selected brand, shoppers access the designer’s individual profile and product lines, and can interact with the collections and shop from anywhere in the world. The event comprises eight categories: Concept, Evening, Ready-to-Wear, Casual, Resort, Bags, Menswear and Jewelry.
“Aware of the need for our companies to explore new marketplaces, White is consolidating its vigorous and concrete commitment to bring the format to the major international marketplaces,” said Massimiliano Bizzi, President and Founder of White, in a statement.
After White, Saudi Arabia’s fashion commission will focus on the Fashion Futures Summit, which will be held in Riyadh at the end of November, Cakmak added. The event includes lectures, courses for Saudi creatives and retail activations with industry partners.