Saudi Arabia is one of the largest and most lucrative fashion markets in the Middle East, with annual sales of over $50 billion. The kingdom has a young, wealthy, and tech-savvy population that is eager to express their identity and style through fashion. However, most of the fashion products consumed in Saudi Arabia are imported from abroad, creating a gap in the local value chain and a dependency on foreign suppliers.
That is about to change. In its first "State of Fashion in Saudi Arabia" report, the Saudi Fashion Commission has laid out a vision to develop a full fashion ecosystem in the next 10 years, with a shift toward more local product development and manufacturing as a key pillar for the sector's growth. The commission, led by Burak Cakmak, former dean of fashion at Parsons School of Design in New York, is tasked with enabling the development of the industry as part of the kingdom's ambitious Vision 2030 plan aimed at diversifying the economy away from petroleum.
The commission estimates that Saudi Arabia imports more than $7 billion of fashion products annually. Manufacturing even just a small fraction of this amount locally would open significant opportunities for the local value chain, from material sourcing to design, production, logistics, and retail. The commission is courting foreign direct investors to support this growing consumer demand and to bring expertise, technology, and innovation to the sector.
One of the main advantages of developing a domestic fashion manufacturing sector is that it would allow Saudi Arabia to create products that are tailored to the local market's needs, preferences, and cultures. For example, Saudi Arabia has a strong demand for modest fashion, which is not always met by international brands. Local designers and manufacturing could fill this gap by creating products that are respectful of Islamic values and traditions, while also being fashionable and contemporary.
Another benefit of local manufacturing is that it would enable Saudi Arabia to adopt more sustainable and circular practices in the fashion industry. The commission is investing in innovation in a big way in the kingdom, with a focus on sustainable material solutions, from recycled materials to other alternative products. The lack of any large-savvy designers is the ideal environment for advanced technology adoption.
While the vision of creating a domestic fashion manufacturing sector is appealing, it also comes with significant challenges. One of them is the lack of skilled talent and infrastructure in the country. Saudi Arabia does not have a long history or tradition of fashion design or production, unlike other countries such as Italy or France. Therefore, it will need to invest heavily in education, training, and development programs to build human capital and capabilities in the sector.
Another challenge is the competition from other established fashion hubs in the region and globally. Saudi Arabia will need to differentiate itself from other markets by offering unique value propositions and competitive advantages. For example, it could leverage its cultural heritage, natural resources, and geographic location to create distinctive products and services.
Saudi Arabia's plan to develop a domestic fashion manufacturing sector is an ambitious and exciting vision that could transform the country's economy and culture. It could also create new opportunities for international brands, investors, and consumers who are looking for innovative, sustainable, and locally relevant products. However, it also faces significant challenges that will require strategic planning, investment, and collaboration from all stakeholders involved.
Saudi Arabia aims to create a full fashion ecosystem in the next 10 years, with local product development and manufacturing as a key pilar for the sector's growth. Learn more about the opportunities and challenges of this ambitious vision.