In the past few years, Saudi Arabia has evolved into a country with so much promise, excitement, and opportunity. A country built on its oil and gas production, this multi-million dollar industry has been the nation’s driving force for decades. But that’s all about to change.
As the country opens up to tourists and develops significantly in all sectors, it opens a huge window for the fashion industry. Saudi Arabia is a minefield of creative talent, much of it untouched, with immense room for development and growth from a primarily overlooked nation when it comes to the fashion industry to a potential global leader.
The Saudi Arabian Government has created The Saudi Fashion Commission to oversee and guide this development. The Commission has set out to evolve The Kingdom’s fashion industry through culture, amplifying Saudi heritage and identity while responding to global needs and impacting the national economy. It will support and develop talented Saudi designers and creatives and promote a sustainable approach to fashion.
Leading the Commission’s key objectives is CEO Burak Çakmak. Çakmak has decades of experience in the global fashion industry, working with some of the world’s biggest brands in key positions. Since joining the Fashion Commission, Burak has spearheaded the implementation of Saudi 100 Brands, selecting some of the country’s most promising designers, showcasing their work on global platforms such as Paris and Milan Fashion Week, and allowing them to develop their talent further. With the recent announcement of the first Saudi Fashion Week taking place this October, we talked to Çakmak to learn more about this industry of opportunity.
Tell us about the concept and vision of the Saudi Fashion Commission.
The Fashion Commission, established in 2020, plays a vital role in promoting Saudi Arabia’s fashion industry. It attracts investments, establishes regulations, and provides essential resources to support aspiring Saudi fashion talents. The Commission also prioritises the preservation of Saudi Arabia’s fashion heritage and empowers local designers. Operating under the Ministry of Culture, the Commission fosters a vibrant cultural sector, safeguarding traditions that contribute to the Kingdom’s unique identity.
Our vision is dedicated to building a forward-thinking fashion industry that amplifies Saudi heritage and identity while addressing global demands, ultimately benefiting the national economy.|
You have extensive experience in the industry on a global scale; how are you using that to help elevate the work that is now being done with the Saudi Fashion Commission?
I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with many prestigious international organisations, and my previous roles have prepared me to help lay the foundations of the fashion sector in Saudi Arabia. There are abundant untapped opportunities for creative individuals in the Kingdom, which further motivates me to elevate the work of Saudi designers. The Commission is implementing multiple initiatives aimed at increasing the capacity and potential of local talents, creating a thriving environment that fosters creativity, innovation, and collaboration within fashion communities across the world.
How would you assess the fashion industry in Saudi Arabia currently?
Since its inception, the fashion sector in Saudi Arabia has witnessed remarkable growth. Predictions indicate that by 2025, the demand for fashion products in Saudi Arabia will surge by an impressive 48%, with the fashion industry forecast to reach US$32 billion. Moreover, the industry is expected to demonstrate the highest growth rates among all large, high-income markets over the next three years. Our exceptionally skilled designers have achieved remarkable milestones throughout this period of rapid expansion, showcasing their exceptional success and talent on the global stage at events, including Paris and Milan fashion weeks.
We recently saw the events hosted by the Commission in Paris – tell us about this and what the feedback has been like so far.
Over the last few weeks, we have successfully organised various events in Paris, including launching the “State of Fashion in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 2023” report. We also hosted multiple showrooms and fashion shows to showcase the talent of our S100 Brands — designers and individuals who are part of an intensive year-long mentorship program curated and led by experts from the fashion industry.
We aimed to showcase Saudi Arabia’s offerings to the world, and we proudly delivered these events to a high standard, validating our aspiration to become industry leaders on the global fashion stage.
Mohammed Ashi just presented his collection for ASHI Studio at Paris Haute Couture Week – how are moments like this helping to raise the profile of the talent arising from Saudi Arabia?
We celebrate the successes of all our designers as they continue to excel and demonstrate the value of investing in the fashion sector. Mohammed Ashi’s collection presentation and his appointment as the first Gulf couturier to join the prestigious Fédération De La Haute Couture pave the way for future entrants and provide an opportunity for the Commission to celebrate the collective achievements of emerging talent in Saudi Arabia while showcasing the culture and heritage inherent to the Kingdom.
Tell us about Saudi 100 Brands and how the platform has developed so far.
The Saudi 100 Brands program is a comprehensive mentorship initiative specifically tailored for Saudi fashion designers and brands aiming to elevate their businesses. Led by experts from the international fashion industry, the year-long program offers various benefits. Participants have access to masterclasses, personalised mentorship sessions, and engaging workshops covering elements such as design and innovation, sales strategies, and exhibitions. These valuable learning experiences equip the designers with the knowledge and skills necessary to gain a competitive edge in the industry.
We know you have the first Saudi Fashion Week coming up shortly – what can we expect from this?
Saudi Fashion Week, which is due to take place from October 20 to 23 this year, will invite the world to discover what Saudi fashion has to offer. We look forward to showcasing the unique and diverse collections from designers in the Saudi 100 Brands program. As the first fashion week held in Riyadh, we extend an invitation to the fashion community, welcoming fashion professionals and enthusiasts alike to witness Saudi’s journey to becoming the next international fashion destination.
What more can the Commission do to further raise awareness of design talent in Saudi Arabia?
The Fashion Commission is dedicated to empowering Saudi fashion designers, preserving heritage, and nurturing industry growth. Initiatives like the Saudi 100 Brands program provide valuable support, mentorship, and resources to help designers excel. ‘Elevate’ is another initiative that focuses on developing female leaders in fashion through mentorship and guidance from renowned CEOs.
Earlier this year, the Fashion Commission invited emerging Saudi fashion designers to apply for two world-class fashion training courses: the ‘Executive Certificate in Fashion Business Program’ and the ‘Fashion Design Program,’ both delivered by Institut Français de la Mode (IFM). The Executive Program focuses on practical skills and includes online lectures and in-person sessions in Paris and Riyadh, while the Fashion Design Program offers a project-based design course in Paris taught by industry experts.
Such programs equip Saudi designers with skills and opportunities for success in the industry. We are actively committed to identifying opportunities that foster the growth and development of our designers’ talents. We aim to provide them with platforms and resources that enable them to expand their skills and reach new heights in their careers.
Can you share some of the designers we should be looking out for?
We take immense pride in the diverse talent of our designers. Each individual possesses a unique approach an unique perspective to their designs. We recommend keeping an eye on the work of the designers who are part of the Saudi 100 Brand program, which includes established Saudi designers who have already seen success both within and outside the Kingdom and promising young designers and start-ups.
For more information about the program, please visit this link: https://fashion.moc.gov.sa/en/public-engagement/saudi-100-brands
What benefits are there to the country as a whole in raising the profile of the fashion industry?
Elevating the fashion industry has a huge impact on Saudi Arabia’s economy, cultural expression, and creative landscape. It drives economic growth by attracting investment, creating jobs, and boosting local manufacturing while also attracting tourism and fostering international collaboration.
Developing the fashion industry also nurtures local talent, preserves cultural heritage, and inspires future generations, stimulating related sectors such as retail and media and contributing to overall economic and cultural development.
How does the work the Saudi Fashion Commission is doing align with the Saudi Vision 2030?
In line with the Kingdom’s plan to diversify its economy beyond oil, the fashion industry in Saudi Arabia plays a key role in line with the Vision 2030 objectives. It contributes to economic growth, job creation, and the attraction of international investments.
The fashion industry has become a fundamental aspect of the country’s economy, generating many fashion-related jobs and fostering a thriving luxury market. Most importantly, the representation of women in the fashion industry highlights the importance of inclusivity and diversity. The rise of e-commerce holds promising opportunities for maximising expansion and market growth in the sector.
In this issue, we celebrate Saudi National Day – living in Saudi and working for this esteemed organisation. What does this day mean to you?
Saudi National Day is an opportunity to mark the realisation of our nation’s ambitious vision while we work to build the fashion sector in Saudi Arabia and allow talented designers to show the world what they have to offer. It is also a day of great pride and celebration as we witness the remarkable achievements and progress of the domestic fashion industry against the backdrop of our country’s growth.
From a global industry perspective, how far do you believe Saudi Arabia can go in terms of being recognised as an international fashion city?
Saudi Arabia possesses the necessary ingredients to become an internationally recognised fashion hub. Drawing inspiration from the best practices in the fashion sector from around the world, we have acquired valuable knowledge and applied it diligently. Our goal is to ensure a holistic and well-rounded approach as we strive to establish Saudi Arabia as a dynamic and influential player in the global fashion landscape. With a rich cultural heritage and a growing pool of talented designers, we look forward to seeing the sector develop. Saudi Arabia is uniquely positioned to make a mark on the international fashion scene.
Do you think it’s important to celebrate and support traditional craftsmanship from the region and how is the Commission able to do this?
Preserving traditional craftsmanship has evolved into a means of promoting sustainability, safeguarding cultural heritage, and bolstering local economies. It represents a way to reintroduce the human touch to production processes and advocate for a socially responsible lifestyle. The Commission wholeheartedly supports craftsmanship as an integral part of the region’s identity and heritage.
Some of our key activations, such as the Saudi Cup, are intended to encourage Saudi designers to support local craftsmen and highlight the country’s heritage to an international audience. In addition, with our Saudi 100 Brands program, participants build their businesses with the idea of supporting local crafts and integrating them into their products to sell internationally. Abadia brand is a good example of contemporary designs with handcraft elements in the products.
What is the biggest challenge you face in your role?
My role involves striking a balance between tradition and innovation, navigating the delicate boundary that separates the two on the path to success. Saudi Arabia is renowned for its profound cultural heritage and commitment to preserving its traditions and values, and this presents a unique opportunity as the industry continues to evolve rapidly.
What is something you would still like to achieve?
As we reflect on our past achievements, we acknowledge that they are stepping stones to our grander vision. Each milestone encourages us to dream bigger, work harder, and surpass our own boundaries. In the next five years, customers are expected to prioritise a broader array of sustainability options, with a notable rise in demand for product resale, repair services, and products with a lower carbon footprint. With my strong passion for sustainability, I envision a future where eco-friendly designs flourish and become more prevalent.
What is the professional motto that you live by?
Always be ambitious, humble, open-minded, and daring to let life surprise you for the better each day.
What else is in the pipeline for the coming year?
We are filled with anticipation as we prepare to be part of some of the most significant fashion events happening across the globe. Milan Fashion Week and New York Fashion Week, renowned for their grandeur and influence on the fashion industry, present unparalleled opportunities for us to showcase our latest designs and creations to an international audience. However, it’s not just about Milan and New York. We are equally enthusiastic about our very own first Saudi Fashion Week. This event holds particular significance for us as it allows us to showcase the unique blend of Saudi culture and contemporary fashion trends.