Head East. Such has been the adage of the world’s most successful fashion brands, both in times of trouble and during prosperous periods. Whether it’s Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Hermès, or Burberry, Dolce & Gabbana and Gucci, the top Western brands understood early on that the Arab world constituted a lucrative market, one in which consumers spent vertiginous amounts of money to get a hold of the latest designer bag, trendy spiked heels and stylish eyewear.
While the Arab obsession with designer labels continues unabated, there are indications that shoppers in the MENA region are becoming more interested in homegrown fashion labels. From Morocco to UAE, encompassing Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, local designers are growing in numbers, launching labels that capture and celebrate local culture. AlGhalia Nabeel Ali Bin Ali, head of strategy and operations at Galeries Lafayette and ABA Fashion in Qatar, says that shoppers in the region still love foreign clothing labels. “However,” she adds, “over the past few years we have seen many MENA region brands grow and gain recognition, both regionally and on an international level.” She also credits targeted marketing campaigns with raising the profile of regional labels. “Local brands are becoming more popular because of concept stores, pop ups and collaborations with influencers and celebrities.”
Referring specifically to his customers, Rachad Tabiat, owner of AlOthman, the multi-brand high-end boutique in Kuwait and Bahrain, explains that local brands are becoming increasingly popular. “We have stocked brands by some of our region’s most renowned names, like Elie Saab, Ashi Studio, Amna Al Salem, Rabih Kayrouz, FTA winner Roni Helou and more, and they flew off the racks.” Tabiat adds that his customers generally have a positive view of local brands. “The brands understand what [local] women look for and understand the values of their communities. This has helped local brands gain huge popularity and recognition from consumers.”
Natalie Kingham, fashion and buying director of online boutique MatchesFashion, says that clothes by MENA designers have become favorites among Arab shoppers. “Interestingly, a lot of the designs [by FTA Prize winners] have been bought by our Middle Eastern customers, a region which continues to grow for us.”
But there are some concerns with regards to pricing when it comes to newer labels, as explained by Ali Bin Ali. “I have seen some local brands that are just starting, yet they position themselves as really high-end brands, and their prices can be compared to luxury foreign brands that have been established for over 50 years. The problem with this is that in this specific case, clients will actually look at the brand name. They would rather buy from the foreign well-established brand, since it is the same price as a local brand. This is because they are also paying for the name and for the ‘image’ they get from owning the specific piece. This is how some local brands are actually losing opportunities. I think it’s important to slowly tap the market and prove yourself among your clients, and then gradually position the brand with the highest top luxury brands.”