Arab Fashion and its global impact
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The global impact of Arab fashion

The global impact of Arab fashion

Mohammed Aqra, chief strategy officer at Arab Fashion Council, tells Gulf Business how the council has reinvented the world’s perception of Arab fashion

The global imprint of Arab fashion

Tell us about your role at the Arab Fashion Council.

I am Jordanian-American, and grew up in the US. However, I was always intrigued by my roots; and dreamed of building something meaningful in the Middle East.

The American fashion industry has been a great source of inspiration and I wanted to create something similar in the Middle East, but of course, driven by the vision of what I knew to be the future of fashion.

I was invited by the board of the Arab Fashion Council for a consulting project following which I was invited to join the board full time. In 2018, I joined the Arab Fashion Council, overseeing strategic partnerships.

In 2019, at the age of 25, I was appointed as the chief strategy officer, making me one of the youngest to occupy this position in an international authority of this nature.

My role at the Arab Fashion Council includes implementing short-term and long-term strategies to meet the execution of the council’s mission. In addition, I ensure that the Arab Fashion Council remains a pioneer in the industry, innovating the way forward for our members.

What is the key mission of the council?

The Arab Fashion Council supports the region’s fashion industry by nurturing its creative resources through the entire value chain. Many see the council’s main activity to be limited to coordinating the Arab
Fashion Week, which is one of the main initiatives of the council.

Beyond that, the council tackles every single aspect of the chain, from sourcing fabric and evaluating business models to production support, export and marketing for emerging and established brands within its network.

The Arab Fashion Week is a celebration of the region’s design talent. It enables fashion designers to showcase their creativity to a global audience of buyers, the press and ultra-high-net-worth individuals. I am proud to say that Arab Fashion Week has been recognised globally as one of the five big fashion weeks through the organisation’s work.

Give us your insights on the Arab fashion industry.

In today’s world, where social media has become a central part of our lives, the fashion scene has definitely been affected by it. This trend has compelled consumers to change their purchase habits in favour of shopping for more “looks” to post on their platforms. However, their budgets have more or less stayed the same.

This trend has translated into shopping for “more” at lower prices. From here, ready couture has come to replace traditional haute couture, enabling the client to purchase a piece produced in limited quantity while allowing alteration and customisation from designers.

Besides, the region is starting to shift from following fashion trends mainly from the West to becoming a nascent trendsetter and exporter.

The Arab consumer today shops for more emerging and less famous brands, which has democratised the market and motivated new local and regional designers to start their businesses.

In addition to that, sustainability is becoming a priority. Consumers are happy to select a sustainable brand if the price point is right for them. Organisations and fashion houses are increasingly growing their interest in becoming more sustainable.

However, there is a need to enhance the formula of supporting these brands in a way that subsidises the high cost of sustainable materials so this can overcome the competitive prices offered by fast fashion.

How has AFC been supporting Arab designers over the years?

Over the last seven years, Arab Fashion Week has showcased hundreds of Arab designers coming from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Lebanon, Libya, Iraq, Jordan, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt and Palestine.

We work on giving designers the proper media exposure and help them innovate and commercialise their creativity with fashion businesses via partnerships and collaborations, particularly with big brands.

Examples of these include Jean Louis Sabaji and Barbie, Zaid Farouki and BIC, and Yara Bin Shakar and Godaddy.

Tell us about the latest edition of the Arab Fashion Week held in Dubai, in October last year. What were the highlights?

The last edition of the Arab Fashion Week in October, featuring the women’s AW 2022/23 and ready-to-wear SS 2023 collections, garnered more than 32,500 RSVP registrations, the highest in the history of
the event, as well as a selection of 35 runway shows, one “history-making” collaboration between Barbie, the 2021 recipient of the Fashion Icon Award, and Lebanese couturier Jean-Louis Sabaji.

We also had unique events such as #SheCreates by META event, envisaged to highlight the work of local female entrepreneurs, leaders, and advocates, all of whom are shaping the region’s future. In what was
an occasion of firsts, The Giving Movement reinvented sustainable athleisure with the debut of the FiftyMade line.

A strong presence of buyers from Asia, Europe, the Americas, and the Middle East was also in attendance. In addition, a growth in international media was also noted as worldwide fashion leaders converged in Dubai for fashion week.

Tell us about AFC’s support of sustainable fashion brands.

Considering the fashion industry is one of the biggest contributors to global warming, the Arab Fashion Council has founded the AFC Green Label, an initiative launched during the Arab Fashion Week’s 6th edition in Dubai in May 2018.

The objective of the AFC Green Label is to promote a responsible approach to the environment by selecting ethical materials and following the guidelines of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Furthermore, aiming for a better tomorrow, AFC always supports sustainable fashion brands/designers to showcase their collections to a big audience during Arab Fashion Week.

Also read: How the Middle East is shaping the future of luxury fashion retail

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