The COVID-19 pandemic was a stress test for many economies and productive sectors around the world. The pandemic has taken its toll on the global GDP, which has recorded a 3.8% annual dip according to a World trade organization (WTO). In details, both Middle East and Africa witnessed their GDPs decreasing by respectively 2.9% and 6.0% at market change rate. In the Middle East, the decrease was even sharper due to “reduced export revenues as oil prices fell around 35%”.

Now that the storm seems to be passing, the global economy is already on a path to recovery. In March, the WTO stated that they expected a global GDP increase of a solid 5.1% in 2021. Last August, Fitch Solutions confirmed that the MENA region will follow the same trend and record 3.6% GDP growth before the end of the year, after having fallen by 4% during the pandemic. 

According to various experts and corporate reports, the MENA region’s fashion industry – which includes every type of garment and textile product – will also benefit from this new momentum. Before the pandemic, this market was growing at a steady pace of 6% on average per year, reaching a peak of 55 billion USD in 2019, according to the Dubai Design and Fashion Council. The global apparel market, which was estimated at 1.5 trillion USD in 2020, is expected to record 75% growth in the next 5 years, according to an early 2021 report by Statista.

In the MENA region, the fashion industry’s growth was sustained by a solid textile industry driven by a handful of countries, but also by the high purchasing power of the GCC countries, especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE. This regional growth could have been higher if some of the countries that are traditionally famous for their influence in the textile industry hadn’t experienced major turmoil. In Syria, for example, before the war that started in 2011, the textile industry contributed to almost a third of the country’s net non-oil industrial production and close to half of their non-oil exports, according to statistics collected by local business associations.

It is thus safe to say that the MENA region’s fashion industry hasn’t reached its full potential yet, according to Fida Baddour, an expert in the luxury sector; Baddour went on to say that the market “has been changing a lot recently”. “During the pandemic, some normally successful markets, like the Emirates, showed the limits of their resilience when tourism was severely affected. Others, like Egypt or Saudi Arabia, resisted better than expected because they have bigger local markets to rely on,” he says. This suggests that the way that these markets reacted will most probably change how the fashion industry will do business in the long run, according to Baddour.

For example, if the fashion industry in Egypt was hit hard in 2020, it took also the chance, alike other MENA countries, to “attract some of the relocating sourcing business as well as some of the investments fleeing the traditional markets in the Far East and South East Asia,” says a report published in late 2020 by the International Trade Center, the joint agency of the World Trade Organization and the United Nations.

Part of the major changes coming to the industry will include the development of online channels, especially in wholesale and retail. This will represent a significant impact as apparel and clothes are the bestselling categories worldwide and in the MENA region when it comes to e-commerce. Another major change could come from the geopolitical arena as gaining access to normalized Iraqi and Iranian markets doesn’t seem unlikely anymore, said Baddour. The MENA region’s market might also benefit from its workforce growing in expertise thanks to the international brands that have established themselves in the region over recent decades. “Brands are becoming increasingly responsible as they try to produce or outsource more in the region,” says Baddour. Finally, one of the strongest assets of the MENA region’s fashion industry will remain their domestic market, where buyers can show strong interest in local styles as well as western trends.