Saudi fashion industry seen as a catalyst for economic diversification as it eyes global recognition

Brimming with diversity, Saudi Arabia’s topography offers picture-perfect backdrops for local and international fashion designers. (Photo: Saudi Style Council/NEOM)
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Updated 12 September 2023

Saudi fashion industry seen as a catalyst for economic diversification as it eyes global recognition

  • Vision 2030 reforms have laid the ground for talented young Saudi designers to flourish in the industry
  • Acclaimed Saudi designer Yousef Akbar says the Kingdom recognizes fashion is a “serious business”

DUBAI: Move over, Milan. Not today, New York. It’s Riyadh’s turn to shine on the global catwalk as social reforms and economic diversification across the gamut of sectors propel Saudi Arabia toward the ranks of international capitals of the fashion industry.

In July, Mohammed Ashi became the first Saudi designer to show at Paris Haute Couture Week — a leading event in the global fashion calendar — by invitation of the Federation de la Haute Couture et de la Mode.

Models present creations by Ashi Studio during the Women's Haute-Couture Fall/Winter 2023/2024 Fashion Week in Paris n July 6, 2023. (AFP)

This September, a hundred Saudi brands will head to Italy’s style capital Milan to present their designs in WHITE Milano, one of the most anticipated events during Milan Fashion Week. 

The rise of Saudi fashion designers is a relatively recent development, owing in part to a host of government-sponsored initiatives, including the Ministry of Culture’s Fashion Commission, established in 2020 to lead the sector’s expansion.

Saudi fashion emerged as an important catalyst for economic growth and diversification in line with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 reform agenda, launched in 2016 to help the Kingdom branch out beyond hydrocarbons.

The Since 2087 gallery in Jeddah. Since 2087 is a brand founded by Saudi creative director Abduljalil Abduljawad. (Supplied)

The Fashion Commission recently published a report, “The State of Fashion in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 2023,” to help local and international stakeholders understand the scale of the opportunity offered by the country’s emerging fashion industry.

“It holds the largest projected growth rate of any other large, high-income market,” Burak Cakmak, CEO of the Fashion Commission, told Arab News.

“Fashion is now very much a key economic driver of Saudi Arabia’s growth with the report showing retail demand for fashion products in the Kingdom is forecast to increase by 48 percent to $32 billion in 2025, with luxury retail set to enjoy 19 percent growth.

“We’re taking Saudi fashion from a predominantly domestic-focused market to the international stage and our home-grown brands, some established and some emerging, attend major fashion weeks and are building customer bases around the world.”

Burak Cakmak, CEO of the Saudi Fashion Commission. (Supplied)

Among the initiatives spearheaded by the Ministry of Culture through the Fashion Commission is the first-ever Riyadh Fashion Week, scheduled to take place from Oct. 20-23. The aim is “to sit among the most popular fashion weeks in the world,” Cakmak said. 

“We look forward to giving a warm welcome to visitors from across the globe and showcasing what Saudi fashion and luxury has to offer.”

While fashion shows have been held in private settings in Saudi Arabia for many years, it is only since the social reforms implemented after 2016, including the suspension of laws requiring women to wear head coverings, that such events moved into the public domain.

Dolce & Gabbana staged its first fashion show in the historic desert region of AlUla in 2022, while other prominent fashion and jewelry brands such as Chaumet and Van Cleef & Arpels, among others, have also staged events in the Kingdom. 


Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Culture established the Fashion Commission in 2020 to lead the sector’s expansion.

Demand for fashion products in the Kingdom is forecast to increase by 48 percent to $32 billion in 2025.

Above all, the Vision 2030 reforms have cleared the way for talented young Saudi designers to flourish in the industry, establishing their careers and showcasing their work on the domestic, regional and global stage.

“The world has its eye on Saudi Arabia — whether it’s through our participation in global sports, promoting the Kingdom as a new tourism destination, or a global player in the start-up economy,” Marriam Mossalli, a Saudi lifestyle editor, journalist and founder of communications agency Niche Arabia, told Arab News.

“There are so many sectors that utilize fashion, whether it’s the staff uniforms of a new resort by the Red Sea Development Company, or costumes for a new play produced by the General Entertainment Authority. There are so many opportunities for young Saudi talent to get involved and have their homegrown aesthetic celebrated.” 

Princess Noura bint Faisal Al-Saud, top left, wearing designs by Mona Alshebil. Alshebil, Niche Arabia founder Marriam Mossalli (top, right) and Mohammed Ashi (above, left) are among the Saudi creative talents who have entered the international fashion scene. (Photos: Mona Alshebil/Lina Qummosani/Saudi Fashion Commission/AFP)


In 2021, the Fashion Commission launched the “100 Saudi Brands” initiative, aimed at supporting and empowering Saudi designers by providing them with mentorship, guidance and resources to help them achieve international success in the fashion industry. 

The initiative has demonstrated the Saudi government’s commitment to promoting and developing the country’s fashion industry while supporting its designers to reach their full potential. 

“Being part of the 100 Saudi Brands for the last two years, I have greatly benefited from all the experts we worked with,” Saudi designer Mona Alshebil told Arab News. 

“Moreover, we participated in Milan Fashion Week, New York Fashion Week and Paris Fashion Week, with the support of the Fashion Commission.”

Others, such as the acclaimed designer Yousef Akbar, whose designs were featured on the cover of Vogue Arabia’s June edition celebrating new Saudi talent, say that until a few years ago there was no fashion industry to speak of in the Kingdom. Now that has all changed.

Saudi fashion designer Yousef Akbar. (Instagram)

“The fashion industry is now recognized as serious business for the government,” Akbar told Arab News. “Whereas before nothing was done about it. There was no fashion industry. Now there is the recognition that fashion is important, and it plays a key cultural and economic role. 

“Secondly, the Saudi government’s investment in establishing the industry is crucial and thirdly, which in my opinion is the most important, are the designers themselves, because there is a lot of talent in the Kingdom and without the designers, there is no industry.”

Now, people around the world “can finally see that there are talented designers in the region and they’re just as good as anyone international.”

At the end of 2023, the Fashion Commission will also launch a first-of-its-kind product development studio in Riyadh. The production space will enable designers to create prototypes and samples to hasten market entry.

Brimming with diversity, Saudi Arabia’s topography offers picture-perfect backdrops for local and international fashion designers. (Photo: Saudi Style Council/NEOM)

The studio will be outfitted with cutting-edge technology, including 3D knitting and laser-cutting machines, with a view to being on par with the best factories in the world. Still, there is a lot of work to be done to forge a prosperous future for the fashion sector.

“We need to lay the foundation for an authentic fashion ecosystem that can evolve with the country, as well as complement the global fashion industry,” Mossalli said. 

“From manufacturing and sales to marketing and media, Saudi Arabia can adopt best practices and find its niche among its international counterparts.”

This will involve continued investment in human talent.

“We will continue to be guided by the data as we build the foundations for an internationally networked value chain and invest in Saudi Arabia’s talent pipeline through educational programs to produce world-class designers, ensuring the Kingdom continues to grow as an integral part of the global fashion scene,” said Fashion Commission CEO Cakmak.

Mona Alshebil designs. Mona Alshebil is a Saudi fashion designer and part of the 100 Saudi Brands Organization. (Photo Courtesy of Mona Alshebil)

Many of the Kingdom’s up-and-coming designers are striving not only to grow their own brands but also showcase their country’s heritage and identity on the regional and international stage. 

Fashion, therefore, has the potential to contribute both economic growth and enhance a sense of national pride. 

“As an emerging designer in Saudi Arabia, my goal is to contribute to the growth and development of the fashion industry in the Kingdom,” said Saudi designer Alshebil. 

“I am passionate about showcasing the unique beauty and creativity of Saudi fashion to the world, while also creating opportunities for local talent and celebrating the cultural diversity of Saudi Arabia.”


Beyonce champions Georges Hobeika on tour for third time 

Updated 22 September 2023

Beyonce champions Georges Hobeika on tour for third time 

DUBAI: US pop superstar Beyonce championed Lebanese designer Georges Hobeika during her Renaissance World Tour stop in Dallas this week — the third time she has sported a Hobeika design during her current tour. 

The multi-award-winning singer selected a glitzy turquoise gown embellished with silver Swarovski crystals from the couturier’s Fall 2023 collection.

The first time Beyonce wore one of Hobeika’s designs was in June when she performed in Cologne, Germany. On that occasion, she wore a custom-made catsuit embellished with nude-illusion panels, pearls and silver sequins. The 41-year-old singer paired the ensemble with black velvet gloves, thick-heeled pumps and custom Tiffany & Co. jewelry.

In July, at her New Jersey show, Beyonce wore a fully embroidered dress — crafted from pink tulle — featuring shimmering crystals and completed the look with tulle gloves and a beaded headpiece made entirely of 3D embroidered flowers. 


A post shared by JAD HOBEIKA (@jadhobeika)

Hobeika is not the only Arab designer whose outfits Beyonce has selected for her tour. She also showed off a gown from Omani label Atelier Zuhra in Las Vegas and one from Lebanese designer Nicolas Jebran in St. Louis, Missouri. 

Georgina Rodriguez wears green abaya for Saudi National Day

Updated 22 September 2023

Georgina Rodriguez wears green abaya for Saudi National Day

DUBAI: Georgina Rodriguez, the Argentine model and long-term partner of footballer Cristiano Ronaldo, was spotted this week shopping at the Saudi fragrance brand Laverne in Riyadh wearing a green abaya just in time for Saudi National Day.

The “I am Georgina” star also held the Kingdom’s flag in honor of the country’s 93rd national day.

Georgina Rodriguez was spotted shopping at Laverne. (Twitter)

Rodriguez has previously collaborated with the Saudi perfume label on a campaign in March that promoted the scent, Blue Laverne. In the clip, she answered candid questions about her time in the Kingdom.

Riyadh-based Rodriguez said: “I feel very safe in this country and really appreciate its family values.

“I felt very happy to be able to connect with this heaven on Earth. The power and magic that is in the Saudi desert is incredible,” she said when asked her thoughts on visiting the country’s desert region earlier this year.

Saudi models show off high-street fashion in Milan

Updated 22 September 2023

Saudi models show off high-street fashion in Milan

  • Hala Abdallah and Lama Al-Akeel joined by Iraqi fashion influencer Deema Al-Asadi at events in Italy

DUBAI: Saudi fashionistas Hala Abdallah and Lama Al-Akeel jetted to Milan this week to attend the city’s much-awaited fashion week.

Abdallah and Al-Akeel, who were joined by Dubai-based Iraqi fashion influencer Deema Al-Asadi, attended the Max Mara show.

Abdallah wore a burnt orange, flowy dress with cut outs around the chest and added a large leather belt around her waist.

Al-Akeel stepped out in a beige Max Mara suit with a maroon undershirt. Al-Asadi also opted for a full look by the Italian brand, wearing a printed green skirt and blazer set.

The three regional style stars met with Lebanese bloggers and entrepreneurs Karen Wazen and Nathalie Fanj at the show.

The renowned brand tapped part-Arab models Nora Attal and Imaan Hammam to walk the runway.


A post shared by Max Mara (@maxmara)

Hammam turned heads in a camel-colored velvet set that featured hot shorts and short-sleeved blazer.

Attal walked the runway in a pinkish-purple jumper with a matching shirt layered underneath and pink hot shorts.

Hammam and Attal were joined by Danish model Mona Tougaard — who is of Turkish, Somali and Ethiopian descent. She wore a pink coat dress that was also paired with a pink shirt.

Abdallah and Al-Asadi then hopped on to the Moschino show. Abdallah donned a sequined mini dress that read “In love we trust,” while Al-Asadi wore a white t-shirt dress with a gold sequined blazer, black boots and a red clutch.

British-Moroccan model Nora Attal walked the Moschino show. She graced the runway in off-white tailored pants, a white t-shirt, a black blazer, a white heart-shaped clutch, and had her hair wrapped in a turban. 


A post shared by HALA (@thehala)

For the Moschino show, fashion designer Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele created a high-low, mix-match collection that can go anywhere and suit any woman. Gabriella Karefa-Johnson tapped a rap vein with high-energy hip looks featuring ruffled, tiered skirts, denim and granny squares that were size-inclusive.

“What a show,” wrote Al-Asadi on Instagram after the event.

Abdallah attened the Prada show in Milan. (Getty Images)

Abdallah could not miss Italian luxury brand Prada’s show. On Instagram she wrote that she enjoyed the “cape and shoulder pads,” the fringe details, the “angelic flow fabrics” and the unique sleeve designs. 

Music stars have fans rocking at Azimuth festival in AlUla

Updated 22 September 2023

Music stars have fans rocking at Azimuth festival in AlUla

  • Third edition of the event part of Saudi Arabia’s 93rd National Day celebrations which falls on Saturday

ALULA: The third edition of Saudi Arabia’s Azimuth festival in AlUla began with a bang on Thursday with performances by several top international musicians.

Australian singer and songwriter RY X was the opening act for the festival which forms part of Saudi Arabia’s 93rd National Day celebrations.

“I have never been to this place in my whole life. I would love to come back and spend more time. It is truly an incredible place,” said RY X of AlUla on stage.

US electronic music duo Thievery Corporation, famous for their song “Lebanese Blonde,” were up next, and performed several of their hits.

Fans then welcomed legendary UK rock band The Kooks, comprising Luke Pritchard, Hugh Harris and Alexis Nunez. “We are so happy to be here … Probably the most beautiful place we’ve ever played,” said Pritchard, the band’s lead singer.  

Egyptian band Cairokee also made their presence felt by belting out some fan favorites including songs “Nefsi Ahebek,” “Samurai,” and “El-Seka Shemal Fe Shemal.”

South Korean DJ and record producer Peggy Gou, and DJ Nooriyah — who was born in Bahrain, raised in Saudi, and now based in the UK — ended the eventful night with their upbeat mixes.

AlUla Moments’ collaboration with Spotify allowed fans to check out the lineup on the Azimuth AlUla Official Playlist.

The festival vibes were enhanced with Azilook stations for makeup, hair, nails and henna tattoos. There was also an opportunity to shop for attire from Creative Collection, accessories from Qurmoz, or perfumes from SURGE.

In addition, several food vendors were available including Gun Bun, SALT, Out of Line, Just Chill, Creamery, Baroque and Maui.

White Milano hosts gala event with Saudi 100 Brands initiative

Updated 21 September 2023

White Milano hosts gala event with Saudi 100 Brands initiative

DUBAI: White Milano, the international apparel and accessories trade show which famously takes place alongside Milan Fashion Week, and the Saudi 100 Brands project - an initiative by the Saudi Fashion Commission – hosted a gala event on Wednesday against the backdrop of the historic Palazzo Serbelloni in Milan.

A number of selected pieces from the collections of 40 Saudi fashion talents – ranging from couture, ready-to-wear fashion, handbags and footwear – were showcased at the event using scenography and choreography, and featuring dancers from the renowned La Scala Theatre.

Selected pieces from the collections of 40 Saudi fashion talents were showcased at the event using scenography and choreography, and featuring dancers from the renowned La Scala Theatre. (Supplied)

White Milano this week is welcoming the Saudi 100 Brands project as part of its EXPOWHITE program, taking place from Sept. 22-25.  

In line with its mission to foster a dialogue between the industry and global creative trends, the EXPOWHITE showcase will focus on brands and designers from countries like Saudi Arabia, Armenia, Brazil and South Africa.  

Guests at the event. (Supplied)

The Saudi 100 Brands project is an initiative by the Saudi Fashion Commission that supports established and emerging design talents from Saudi Arabia, who work across the ready-to-wear, modest, concept, premiere, demi-couture, bridal, bags and jewelry categories. 

The Saudi 100 Brands project showcase will be on display at the Padiglione Visconti.