There is no market where influencers have more influence than the Middle East. According to a recent Mckinsey report, the power of Internet penetration in the UAE and Saudi Arabia stands at 99% and 89% respectively. That is higher than both America and China. Influencers in this region have celebrity status, and they understood that they had a responsibility to support the local Arab fashion industry during these unpresented times.
Dubai-based Saudi-Lebanese fashion influencer and designer Alanoud Badr (aka Lady Fozaza) has over a million followers. “I think COVID-19 changed us all, individually and the rest of the world,” she says. “Business models changed, the way we used to live, think, eat, socialize and even dress. It was a massive reset button on all our priorities, including mine. My Instagram became a lot of personal and approachable. Allowing people to reach out in these times and not feel alone was my priority.”
When it came to outfits, local labels became the priority for many regional influencers. Badr has always been known to support local talent. “I know international influencers do not usually support unpaid collaborations, which is all fair in business, but a lot of upcoming designers need a small push and a platform for a chance for them to prove themselves. And during the pandemic, it was only natural for us to come together in support. It’s basically a domino effect, a paying it forward kind of energy.”
Dubai-based Rosemin Madhavji has worked with brands from Bulgari to Gucci. But “during the height of Covid, I made a point to do a shout-out to local businesses, that is what community spirit is about,” Madhavji says. She was seen staying at home wearing Arab labels such as Dima Ayad and Bambah, often mixing them with accessories from international labels. “I think that was true personal style,” she says, “mixing high-end designers with affordable labels, and international labels with regional fashion.”
Beirut-based Lana El Sahely, a strong voice in being “vocal for local” for many years, launched collaboration collections with many designers during her 11 years in the business, including the likes of Rami Al Kadi. “Influencers should add pieces from regional designers into their closets and style them with international pieces,” she says. “For example, wear a Hussein Bazaza shirt with Valentino jeans and Zara shoes. It just should feel all very natural.” El Sahely’s spotlighting of the need to support homegrown was apparent from the start of the lockdown, when she hosted a live discussion with Lebanese financial advisor Danielle Hatim, so that local businesses could avail of her advice.
The proactive influencer says that regional designers also need to drive the conversation and should appoint regional influencers as brand ambassadors. “For example I would love to be an official ambassador representing a set of designers,” says El Sahely, “and that would give me the position to create opportunities for them.”
The pandemic may have accelerated a feeling of regional community spirit in the fashion industry. It also has hopefully set the ball rolling for even more impactful collaborations and special projects, between social media content providers and creative designers in the region.