“The purpose of fashion education isn’t to serve the fashion industry; it’s to lead it,” wrote entrepreneur, author and activist Ben Barry. For a long time, designers from the MENA region, Elie Saab or Rami Al Ali for example, didn’t have access to an education in fashion – they had to teach themselves the intricacies of the trade. But that’s changing, thanks to a newfound appreciation for local artisans and the rise of fashion bloggers and influencers. Aspiring designers in the region are now getting the opportunity to lead.
Prominent schools include the renowned ESMOD, which was established in Paris in 1841 and now boasts an international network in countries like Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates, Tunisia and Syria. The Italian fashion institute, Istituto di Moda Burgo, also boasts schools in Qatar, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. In Dubai, the College of Fashion and Design provides education for fashion design and fashion business management students.
Over in Beirut, Creative Space is unique in that it’s an entirely free school that provides education to students who otherwise couldn’t afford it. In Morocco’s Casablanca, the Casa Moda Academy is part of the Moroccan Association for Textile and Apparel Industries, which aims to support the development of the sector.
There are also a number of fashion departments within universities, including the Saab-sponsored department at the Lebanese American University (LAU) in Beirut and the Higher Institute of Fashion Trades of Monastir in Tunisia.
Prior to the establishment of these schools, fashion design as a field of study had never been taken seriously – young Arabs generally opted for more conventional fields like engineering, medicine, economics or education. It has also been difficult for designers to have access to capital and resources for manufacturing garments and accessories in large quantities, which has hindered them from delving into the field.
But the fashion industry itself has been expanding globally: it now presents unlimited opportunities beyond fashion design, including blogging, vlogging, creative direction and others. Arab youth have jumped on that bandwagon.
With more women entering the workforce in the Middle East, there has also been a high demand for more opportunities, including in the design field, as well as a rising interest in modest wear and hijab fashion. Shoppers are now looking to dress in more traditional garb and accessories that reflect their roots and culture. This in turn has driven the market for Arab designers. It’s a space worth watching.