Layla Issa Abuzaid

LONDON — The Arab Fashion Council is opening a new regional office in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in a bid to develop a sustainable fashion infrastructure in the country, WWD has learned.

An announcement is expected today.

The nonprofit organization, which represents 22 Arab countries, is spearheading a long-term strategy that aims to fuel the growth of the fashion industry across the Arab world and cement the region’s position as a major market.

The council’s initiatives range from design to manufacturing, retail, education and commerce. Its agenda in Saudi Arabia is focused on supporting local talent and acting as a partner for international designers wishing to enter the market.

While most leading luxury brands have tapped into the Arab market, offering local customers the most high-end versions of their products, the council believes there is a lot of room for emerging designers to build their Middle Eastern businesses.

“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has always been recognized as one of the world’s powerhouses of investment in talent. With a wealth of resources far beyond oil, the kingdom is rich in its people and their ambitions for the future,” said Jacob Abrian, founder and chief executive officer of the Arab Fashion Council.

Abrian also pointed to Saudi Arabia’s strategic geographic position linking Asia, Europe and Africa.

Leading the council’s activities in the market will be Princess Noura Bint Faisal Al Saud and Layla Issa Abuzaid who have been named honorary president and country director, respectively.

Al Saud, a member of the Saudi royal family, said she will focus on putting her country “on the international fashion map,” as well as on sourcing the best talent.

Princess Noura Bint Faisal Al Saud

Princess Noura Bint Faisal Al Saud  Courtesy Photo

“Our aim is…to incubate the wealth of regional fashion talents in design, retail and business, to promote these talents internationally through building a sustainable, responsible and future-fit infrastructure for the Arab world.”

Abrian also highlighted Al Saud and Abuzaid’s appointments as a recognition “of the leadership of Arab women in the region.”

In the last year the country has been looking to improve the rights of women. Most notably, the government said it will allow women to drive as of June 2018. It also opened its doors to the late Vogue Italia editor in chief Franca Sozzani, who hosted a three-day fashion event there last year, which spotlighted local female designers.

However, challenges remain. Earlier this month, a fashion show held by a beauty academy in Riyadh faced significant backlash and government official Ghassan al-Sulaiman was fired from his position for praising the event.

As part of an anticorruption crackdown in Saudi, more than 200 members of the country’s richest and most powerful families were detained, which has led to a significant freeze in spending from Saudi families locally and abroad.

As reported, the arrests are being viewed as a sharp move meant to show the Saudi people the country’s rulers are serious about eliminating corruption and nepotism in the Saudi royal family and among the elite.

Many also see it as part of a larger plan by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to liberalize Saudi Arabia and return it to a more moderate form of Islam. He has also said he wants to show the country’s youth that there is a path forward for everyone, regardless of their family name.

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