Threads of transformation: How Saudi fashion industry is weaving economic growth

Saudi Arabia’s fashion industry is experiencing a renaissance, weaving economic growth into the fabric of the country’s future.

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Saudi Arabia’s fashion industry is experiencing a renaissance, weaving economic growth into the fabric of the country’s future.

The transformation of this industry reflects a broader narrative of change. Once dominated by traditional attire and conservative trends, the Saudi fashion sector is now a dynamic field showcasing the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit of its people.

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From Riyadh to Jeddah, local designers are setting new standards, garnering international recognition and acclaim. The growth highlights the talents of designers and the strategic efforts of the Saudi government to diversify its economy and promote cultural exchange.

Saudi Princess Safia Hussain walks with Saudi models during a fashion show of her latest collection of abayas (Arabic female dresses), in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, January 23, 2021. (Reuters)
Saudi Princess Safia Hussain walks with Saudi models during a fashion show of her latest collection of abayas (Arabic female dresses), in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, January 23, 2021. (Reuters)


A booming industry

The Saudi fashion industry’s growth is set to post a cumulative annual expansion of 48 percent from 2021 to 2025, according to a recent report by the Small and Medium Enterprises General Authority.
In its quarterly release, the authority, also known as Monsha’at, highlighted the importance of the fashion sector in the Kingdom and the investment opportunities available to entrepreneurs.

The report revealed that the fashion industry contributed 1.4 percent of the Kingdom’s gross domestic product in 2022.

It added that the total value of the fashion sector, including international brands, stood at $24.6 billion in 2022, with the domestic industry worth $12.5 billion.

“Over the years, Saudi Arabia has embarked on a profound transformation across multiple industries, ushering in a new era for the rich local culture. This renaissance spans architecture, music, film, art, food and more,” Burak Cakmak, CEO of the Fashion Commission, said in the report’s opening remarks. “At the Fashion Commission, we are revolutionizing the fashion sector and elevating our talents to global stages while adhering to the core pillars that drive growth and sustainability.”

Cakmak mentioned that several factors and initiatives contributed to the development.

“Highlights include the launch of groundbreaking programs and spaces aimed at nurturing local talent, the establishment of strategic partnerships with global fashion leaders and the successful execution of high-profile events such as the inaugural Riyadh Fashion Week in 2023 and the Red Sea Fashion Week in 2024,” he remarked.

This expansion has also spurred job creation, with the industry employing 230,000 people in 2022, over half of whom (52 percent) are women, according to the report.


Strategic vision and economic impact

The growth of Saudi Arabia’s fashion industry aligns with the goals outlined in Vision 2030, the Kingdom’s ambitious roadmap for reducing its dependence on oil, diversifying its economy and developing various public service sectors.

“Eight years into Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia’s efforts toward economic diversification are starting to yield results,” Hazar Caracalla, economic expert and senior policy advisor at SRMG Think Research and Advisory, told Al Arabiya English. “The progress is evident in the emergence of new economic sectors, including tourism, entertainment and culture, media, mining and metals, digital technologies and renewable energy. Recent statistics also show progress in export and revenue diversification.”

As Saudi Arabia heads toward economic shifts, non-oil companies anticipate a sustained surge in demand, signaling heightened business activity. The optimistic outlook for the upcoming year underscores a favorable trajectory for growth within the non-oil landscape. Notably, amidst the array of non-oil industries experiencing expansion in the country, the fashion sector shows encouraging signs of growth.

“The fashion industry in Saudi Arabia has recently begun to gain momentum, and the sector’s potential is driven by several key factors,” Caracalla noted. “Firstly, combining the Kingdom’s cultural history and social traditions with modernity can result in a unique Saudi brand equity. Secondly, the domestic market offers substantial growth opportunities. Currently, around $7 billion is spent annually on imported brands, which could be replaced by local alternatives. Thirdly, there is significant export potential, particularly within the region. Finally, the Fashion Commission is fostering a conducive environment for the development of local brands through education, training, mentoring initiatives and incubation programs.”

Caracalla went on to explain how the advancement of the fashion industry aligns with the objectives of Vision 2030 on several fronts.

“First, it supports the promotion of entrepreneurship and innovation among Saudi youth, boosts female labor force participation, enhances SMEs contribution to GDP and reinforces private sector employment,” she pointed out. “With the emergence and growing establishment of designers and entrepreneurs, local craftsmanship and artisans will also benefit.”

“Moreover, as local brands flourish within a supportive regulatory environment, the sector will be primed to draw in private investments, both domestic and foreign, thereby increasing the private sector’s contribution to the GDP – a pivotal objective of Vision 2030. And as synergies are created, growth in the fashion industry will have a mutually reinforcing trickle-down effect on tourism and entertainment, further bolstering activity in non-oil sectors,” Caracalla highlighted.


A cultural renaissance

Beyond economics, the fashion sector is driving a cultural renaissance. Saudi designers are blending traditional elements with modern aesthetics, redefining the global perception of Saudi fashion. This cultural dynamism is fostering a new sense of national pride and identity.

“I always aim to incorporate traditional Saudi elements into my design work, integrating them into a broader story that speaks to both visual appeal and meaning,” Fashion designer Mohammed Khoja, founder of the ready-to-wear luxury label Hindamme, told Al Arabiya English. “Since the very start of my journey, I felt an urge to reshape Saudi design, drawing inspiration from our diverse heritage and embracing its multifaceted beauty. Each creation reflects this ethos, paying homage to our legacy while presenting it in a forward-thinking way that captivates audiences both locally and globally.”

Launched in 2016, Hindamme, which in the old Arabic dialect means “the pursuit of harmony and aesthetic,” is known for fusing Eastern and Western cultures through modern, opulent apparel in innovative designs.

“The intricate patterns, such as ‘Al-Qatt Al-Asiri,’ offer deep autobiographical insights into the daily lives and livelihoods of our people,” Khoja noted. “As a contemporary fashion designer, referencing our heritage is a privilege that allows me to create compelling narratives intertwining the past and present.”

In his latest collection, Khoja wanted to promote Saudi tourism through his designs. Inspired by the theme of “travel” and “Saudi Arabia’s opening of tourism to the world,” the collection brings forth a pop-infused and futuristic range of designs.

Saudi designer Mohammed Khoja. (Supplied)
Saudi designer Mohammed Khoja. (Supplied)



The rich storytelling is resonating on a global scale, drawing international attention to Saudi fashion’s distinctive cultural fusion.

“With more eyes on Saudi fashion, we are witnessing a rapid development of the fashion ecosystem. Although there are areas for improvement, this period truly feels like a cultural renaissance,” Khoja added. “The industry’s growth has attracted numerous individuals and businesses, helping to fill gaps such as creative studios, production houses, and makeup artists, thereby completing our fashion landscape.”

Sustainability and innovation

Sustainability and innovation are becoming cornerstones of Saudi Arabia’s fashion industry, reflecting a global trend toward more responsible practices. From eco-friendly materials to technological advancements in textile production, the industry is setting new benchmarks for green fashion.

Local designers and businesses are increasingly adopting a proactive approach by embracing sustainable production methods to minimize their environmental footprint.

“Sustainability is a non-negotiable principle for any business,” Saudi designer Yousef Akbar told Al Arabiya English.

Acknowledging the inherent contradictions in the fashion industry, where luxury items like evening dresses are not essential for survival, Akbar strives to minimize the environmental impact of his designs.

Yousef Akbar Spring/Summer 2024 collection. (Supplied)
Yousef Akbar Spring/Summer 2024 collection. (Supplied)



Innovation is also pushing the sector forward, with the integration of cutting-edge technology in design and manufacturing processes. The use of digital tools, 3D printing for unique designs and smart textiles are just a few examples of how technology is reshaping the industry.

“Our brand operates entirely paperless, utilizing digital processes for everything from sketching and mood boards to pattern making and fitting on digital avatars. This digital-first approach not only reduces waste by approximately 75 percent but also shortens lead time,” Akbar explained.

The commitment to sustainability extends to the materials used in Akbar’s designs.

“All fabrics are recycled and GRS-certified, ensuring they meet high environmental standards. This choice of materials reflects a prevailing trend in the fashion industry towards using recycled and ethically sourced fabrics,” he said.

Yousef Akbar Spring/Summer 2024 collection. (Supplied)
Yousef Akbar Spring/Summer 2024 collection. (Supplied)



Akbar, who has dressed the likes of Sharon Stone, Alicia Keys, Chrissy Teigen and Nicole Kidman, also designs with longevity in mind, encouraging customers to wear his dresses in multiple ways and pass them on. This approach not only reduces waste, he pointed out, but also fosters a deeper connection between the consumer and the garment.

The shift toward sustainability is also evident in the broader Saudi fashion ecosystem. As the country undergoes a rapid transformation, particularly among Gen Z, there is an increasing demand for environmentally conscious fashion.

“While sustainable fashion is still a relatively new concept in Saudi Arabia, it is gaining traction. Brands that fail to adopt sustainable practices risk falling behind, as consumers expect businesses to be environmentally responsible,” Akbar emphasized.


From Saudi Arabia to the world

The future of the Kingdom’s fashion industry looks promising. Both Khoja and Akbar expressed hope and encouragement for local production and projection of Saudi brands onto the international fashion scene.

Khoja, emphasizing the significance of fostering local talent, envisions exporting new brands from Saudi Arabia to the global stage.

A 100 percent pure silk twill buttoned shirt featuring printed artwork portraying the landmarks of the Aseer region of Saudi Arabia. Featuring black enamel buttons. Unisex Style. Photography by Zaid Allozi and poetry by Saudi contemporary artist, Rashed Alshaishai (2024). (Supplied)
A 100 percent pure silk twill buttoned shirt featuring printed artwork portraying the landmarks of the Aseer region of Saudi Arabia. Featuring black enamel buttons. Unisex Style. Photography by Zaid Allozi and poetry by Saudi contemporary artist, Rashed Alshaishai (2024). (Supplied)



“We’re accustomed to the dominance of Western brands in our retail spaces, but it’s time for our homegrown talents to shine at home and potentially abroad.”

Echoing this sentiment, Akbar underscored the importance of local sourcing in propelling Saudi fashion forward.

“With 60 percent of our supply chain currently rooted in domestic suppliers, we hope for an 80 percent increase in local procurement rate within two years and an eventual attainment of 100 percent of Saudi sourcing within five years,” he stressed.

“The Saudi fashion industry is undergoing a transformative journey. Each step taken today paves the way for an awe-inspiring future, one where our industry stands tall in the global arena,” he added.

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