The fashion scene in the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is thriving. From the abundance of emerging creatives, to its position as one of the world’s regions with the highest per capita spending, the GCC fashion market continues to show signs of global economic growth and is positioning itself at the top table in the global fashion and luxury markets. In fact, according to a McKinsey &Company study published in 2019, the “annual fashion sales in the GCC markets amount to $50 billion, reflecting the region’s significant financial clout.”

From Qatar, which is undertaking efforts to become the next regional fashion hub with high-profile investments, such as Harrods, Valentino and Balmain to our very own, Fashion Trust Arabia, a non-profit initiative which supports designers across the MENA region, to Saudi Arabia, which is going through dynamic shifts as it continues to invest in its cultural scene through the creation of their very own fashion commission as well as the launching of Saudi 100 Brands, to Kuwait, a growing couture market which has all the makings of a thriving luxury retail market, with its GDP per capita being ranked among the highest in the world, the GCC is making waves. The region is vibrant and this year, we have three finalists from the aforementioned countries. Yasmin Mansour from Qatar and Amna Alsalem from Kuwait, both shortlisted in the Evening Wear category and Lurline, a Ready-to-Wear finalist from Saudi Arabia.

We spoke to each of the three women about their craft, their origins, as well as the future of fashion in each of their respective countries.

Kuwait, “the pioneer”

Imran Amed, editor-in-chief and CEO of The Business of Fashion (BoF), recently described Kuwait as “a blank slate and that is a real opportunity,” referring to the significant fashion opportunities that lay ahead for the country. Amna Alsalem, whose eponymous brand fuses elegance with edge through the old-world craftsmanship of traditional couture agrees, added, “Kuwait has been a pioneer and played a big role in the consuming and retail part of the industry so far, I wish we could see real serious efforts, changes and investments toward the industry as a whole.”

In June of this year, the inaugural Oud Fashion Talks (OFT), a series of networking events, saw fashion professionals from all around the world fly in and the events put Kuwait on the map. Founder of and organizer of OFT, Zainab Abdulaziz ALabdulrazzaq told BoF, ““[Throughout] my ten years working in media, I always [saw] a distance between Kuwait and the rest of the world. Now, with Saudi Arabia and Doha opening up [to international players], we felt like outsiders [from a creative output perspective] — and there is no reason [for that].”

According to a study by Bain & Company, Kuwait currently accounts for 15 percent of the regional luxury sales and Alsalem points to witnessing the gradual change over time, but says that it has been slow as it’s largely expanding through individual efforts. “There was a store [in Kuwait] called Villa Moda. Designers would speak with pride about being stocked in Colette in Paris, Browns in London and Villa Moda. This market was a real pioneer — there’s an advanced level of sophistication, taste and appreciation of fashion here, but over the last 15 years, other markets have raced ahead,” says Imran Amed.

From Villa Moda to AlOthman, Kuwait’s first multi-brand high-end boutique in 1956 and a pioneer in importing European luxury brands into The Middle East, Kuwait’s appeal to luxury has been consistent. AlOthman’s founder, Rachad Tabiat describes the Kuwait customer as “one of the most knowledgeable, savvy customers you can meet.” From our 2021 finalist Haya AbdulKareem to Bazza Alzouman in 2020 and Liudmila and Marzook in 2019, since FTA’s inception in 2019, each year has seen a Kuwaiti designer being shortlisted — a testament to the however small, yet flourishing local creative scene.

As for the future of fashion in Kuwait? Alsalem argues that the industry’s infrastructure is currently “weak [….], with these challenges comes great opportunities, an opportunity to learn from industry mistakes and build a stronger sustained healthy new one.”

Qatar, “promising and futuristic”

Qatar’s budding fashion scene is cresting a wave, with revenues projected to reach US$1.08bn in 2022. In recent years, Qatar has made several steps toward cementing its position and Doha is becoming a fashion destination. With majority stakes in brands such as Valentino and Balmain, as well as the landmark department stores Harrods and Printemps in London and Paris, to the Vendome’s recent launch in Doha to its booming modest wear fashion, the country is regarded as the world’s fastest-growing luxury market, according to Mordor Intelligence. That’s not to forget, of course, rising couture talents such as this year’s Evening Wear finalist, Yasmin Mansour.

Mansour is the founder and creative director of her eponymous evening wear label, which opened its doors in 2014 in Doha. On the fashion industry in Qatar, Mansour says, “There is a lot of new talent, and emerging designers showcasing their pieces. A beautiful and unique fashion scene is nearing. Looking at the present, traditional fashion is very prominent, with designers adding their own twist on traditional clothing. Having something major such as FTA coming out of Qatar showcases the possibilities and the fact that there’s a promising future for the fashion scene here. International designers and fashion houses will be born here.” With the launch of Qatar Creates, more than a million visitors are expected to visit the country to enjoy a range of museum exhibitions, fashion shows and more, cementing its position, not only regionally, but globally.

Considering Qatar’s fast growing and increasingly important creative sector, M7, was established by Qatar Museums under the leadership of Her Excellency Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. M7 empowers designers to explore, collaborate and develop successful businesses by providing all the necessary tools and expertise to help designers take ideas from concept to market through comprehensive incubation programs, co-working and learning spaces, thought-provoking talks, world-class exhibitions and engaging events.

Mansour is optimistic, “The future of Qatar is promising, different, futuristic. There is currently a lot of support coming for local talent as well as [our] many emerging artists. I find that promising in terms of creating a future for the fashion scene here. With new designers and artists joining the field, a change in the local fashion is to be expected. Different and futuristic minds are coming in.” Some of her favorite local brands include 1309 and Wadha, “I love shopping at these places, and I find a piece of myself in their pieces.”

Saudi Arabia, “burgeoning and exciting”

Stepping away from the glitz and glam of traditional design are this years’ finalists, Saudi Arabian sister duo, Sarah and Siham Albinali, founders of Lurline, a luxury ready-to-wear and demi-couture womenswear label. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has seen thrilling cultural developments in recent years. From heavy investment in arts and culture, as well as the establishment of the country’s official fashion commission by the Ministry of Culture, the rise of the fashion industry in Saudi Arabia can also be attributed to the Kingdom’s rising designers and models. Indeed, revenue in the fashion sector is projected to reach US$3.88bn in 2022, according to Statistica.

The Albinali sisters describe the fashion industry as burgeoning, promising and exciting, adding, “bridal and traditional wear are currently very strong sectors in KSA fashion. However, we also see new ready-to-wear sectors starting to expand. We see more and more new brands being so creative and brave and it is such a joy to see everyone evolve.”

From notable names such as Mohammed Ashi, founder of Ashi Studio, to others, such as past FTA winner Yousef Akbar, to Lurline, who are breaking the stereotypes and part of a new generation where individualism is encouraged, the scene is alive, and the Lurline duo claim “there is a feeling in the air and atmosphere that the fashion industry is a positive, growing movement. There is so much history, yet there is a new wave of exploration and discovery that is manifesting in the fashion scene in KSA which is beautiful.”

In a country famed for its abayas, there seems to be enthusiasm among Saudi women to renew the concept of the garment. Following the Crown Prince’s vision for Saudi 2030, there is an eagerness among designers and customers alike to reflect their identity while staying true to value of their Saudi Arabian heritage.