#ShopLocal: Why Now Is The Time To Support The Middle Eastern Fashion Industry

Words by Lucy Wildman

5 min read

In this series highlighting home-grown fashion, MOJEH talks to three influential women in Middle Eastern fashion to discuss how the regional industry can survive post-crisis. Here, Fashion Trust Arabia’s Nez Gebreel kicks-starts the conversion

Along with numerous things that make the UAE an exceptional country, the diversity of its fashion landscape is a glittering jewel in its crown. But as Covid-19 continues to ravage economies in every sector of industry, the global pandemic could mean some of the UAE’s most cherished home-grown fashion labels face an uncertain future. 

During lockdown, the region’s malls — the beating shopping heart of the Middle East — came to a standstill with fashion businesses also forced to suspend operations and shut their stores. And while larger fashion brands counted the cost of this unprecedented move on their multi-billion dollar companies, the impact on smaller brands and independent labels could see them faced with no choice but to close their doors permanently.

With no economic defibrillator in sight, how do we ensure the UAE’s independent fashion businesses survive post-pandemic, and what can be done to jump-start the retail industry’s pulse? 

Ashi Studio | Photographed by Luis Monteiro for MOJEH 75

“The single biggest thing regional fashion businesses need right now is for consumers to think locally, buy locally and support locally, in any capacity they can,” says Dubai- based fashion consultant and advisory board member of Fashion Trust Arabia, Nez Gebreel.

“The Covid-19 crisis has impacted significantly upon every layer of our fashion industry, with locally-based designers and retailers arguably taking the biggest hit. It’s up to regional consumers to support our industry to ensure its survival.” 

Nez Gebreel argues that what is unquestionably central to the industry living on and moving forward in the months ahead, is regional consumers continuing their love affair with fashion – just conducting their relationship in a different way.

Kristina Fidelskaya | Photographed by Greg Adamski for MOJEH 75

Lockdown circumstances demanded that fashion businesses focus purely upon their online presence, reacting to immediate change, strengthening their methods of selling through social media, developing customer engagement through targeted conversation, and perfecting systems and delivery processes – all whilst implementing a strategy to enhance in-store experiences post-quarantine.

“Direct-to-consumer is no just transactional. It’s about having a conversation with the consumer,” explains Nez. “I think a brand can adopt these new technologies but do it in its own way – you have to be where the consumer is. You can’t control channels, but you can get involved and engaged with them. It’s worth while finding a new way to be close with the customer and change the tone of your communication to suit.”

But fashion brands are not the only ones who have changed the tone of communication during the pandemic. Instrumental in supporting fashion talent across MENA, in light of the coronavirus crisis, Fashion Trust Arabia launched the #StandWithCreatives campaign, designed to unite the region’s fashion industry by shedding light on locally-based designers, entrepreneurs and creatives.

Serrb | Photographed by Vaughan Treyvellan for MOJEH 73

Offering online exposure for their brand through the FTA’s social media accounts, the movement’s aim was to spread awareness and promote local businesses, as well as offering designers affected by the economic impact of Covid-19 the chance to apply for financial assistance from Fashion Trust Arabia.

Attracting more than 2,000 posts and 1,500 Insta stories within the first week of the campaign’s launch, participants raising awareness about emerging designer talents and small independent labels ranged from MENA regional celebrities and influencers to industry heavyweights including Elie Saab, Nancy Ajram, Elissa, Farida Khelfa, Halima, Nadine Nassib Njeim, Shanina Shaik, Georges Chakra, Rabih Kayrouz, Rami Kadi and Nicolas Jebran. 

With the crisis also highlighting the industry’s incessant production schedule, questions are now being raised as to how seasonal collections will be change in the future. With recent collection shows cancelled and manufacturing halted,  slowing the entire machine by combining or skipping seasonal collections is a hotly-discussed topic across the industry.

Nez Gebreel

Bazza Alzouman | Photographed by Mila Namida for MOJEH 77

“It’s about survival right now, so you should do whatever works for you and your business,” says Nez Gebreel. “For fashion brands, the option of amalgamating their seasonal collections makes a lot of financial sense. I know some larger independent designers have skipped production entirely this season.”

“One of those in the UK is Teatum Jones, who have renamed their collection 2020 Part 1, and is all based on sustainable fashion and recycling fabric from previous collections, which I thought was a genius move.”

With all aspects of the industry undergoing unprecedented change, what will this period of turbulence mean for the future of fashion? And how will it rebuild and reinvent itself post-crisis? Funneling our focus to shopping online, supporting the businesses grown in our own backyards and observing the ways in which megabrands adapt to consumer spending is of paramount importance to re-igniting the regional fashion economy.

Nez Gebreel

Bouguessa | Photographed by Greg Adamski for MOJEH 76

Experts suggest businesses, both large and small, use this time as an opportunity to reset and rethink their strategies, and understand that the most central concept to successful retail is always putting the customer rst and listening to what they want.

“This pause allows us to rethink and focus,” says Nez. “No-one can predict the future, but crises like these are catalysts to accelerate certain trends we were already seeing. While we talked about sustainability previously, this will now be at the forefront of everyone’s mind, as we move away from fast fashion towards a more manageable and considered approach, with a consumer-led focus on buying better and smarter than before.”

“People will gravitate towards businesses and companies that have ethical standards and a considered purpose. There was already a shift towards this way of thinking, and consumers have the power to make change happen – which can only be a good thing for the future of environment and industry creatives.” 

Main image: Ashi Studio | Photographed by Vivienne Balla for MOJEH 67

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