Is the Middle East adopting ready-to-wear fashion?

An already well-established fashion market, the Middle East’s fashion sales accounts to almost $50 billion annually. Popular for big time shoppers, clothing spends range from $500 in Saudi Arabia to $1,500 in the UAE, placing the Middle East amongst the highest shopping spenders in the world. However, this movement has slowly started to shift. Shoppers of the region have adopted a taste for more modest, fast fashion labels, and are spending less on garments.


Bong Guerrero, chief executive and co-founder of FFWD, estimates that locally made fashion accounts for around 5 per cent of ready-to-wear fashion retail in the Middle East, and predicts “it could reach up to 30 per cent over the next few years as more regional designers start contemporary and ready-to-wear collections.” This reflects how women who previously shopped for tailored couture, are now looking for everyday clothing, adopting local styles and western trends.


So, let’s take a look at what is causing this shift:


A main reason for this is that today, more women are joining the workforce and need affordable, everyday clothing instead of hot couture. Every year since 2018, the rate of female work participation has been rising at the speed of approximately 20%. (Statista). Alisa Kireeva, fashion buyer at Harvey Nichols in Kuwait has recently stated that they have been searching for more “relatable and personable garments”, demonstrating solid potential for this increase.


Another reason for this shift is the ‘root awareness’ wave that has been eminent in the Middle East market over the last couple of years. Millennials are now searching for garments that remind them of their roots, their heritage and they want to wear something that speaks to them and their history. This increase in root awareness is directly reflected in the increase of global awareness around the Islamic tradition. ‘Most of them have already experienced designer brands and want something different that speaks their language’, says Sharmila Murat, general manager of Saks Middle East and Tryano.


The third reason for this is the challenge that remains in finding quality garment and fabrics in large quantities. A lack of access to capital and resources necessary has been a problem for several years now. Middle East brands have been partnering with external partners in other countries and continents in order to produce high-quality clothing in bulk. Scale has also been a problem as brands also find it difficult to produce large quantities and the warehouse operations cannot accommodate all demanded stock. You can see several solutions to warehouse operations in one of our other blogs.


Lastly, following the COVID-19 pandemic, Middle Eastern shoppers have turned digital, both in retail buying and in shopping, holding an impressive internet penetration rate of 70%. The UAE alone has a smartphone rate of a shocking 97.6%. This means that literally almost all people living in the UAE own a smartphone or a mobile device. This directly impacts the retail industry as apparel and clothing are the bestselling categories in the UAE when it comes to e-commerce. Middle Eastern fashion companies are changing their game as digital platforms and social media trends direct them into adopting more Western styles and fast-fashion clothing. While e-commerce platforms are booming, retail portals like Kingpin that make brand collections visible and available immediately to buy are also thriving.


As retailers have become eager to extend their brands overseas, the Middle East is starting to become a home for many international brands. Regional as well as global fast-fashion brands have seen tremendous presence in the Middle Eastern market and there is still room for growth. As obstacles are starting to diminish due to the adoption of better operation processes, B2B platforms and marketplaces, better investor funds are coming in from around the world and the Middle East is becoming a huge attractor for global, everyday clothing labels. Brands considering expansion in the Middle East market is therefore something that should definitely be taken into consideration.