Saudi Arabia building fashion industry from scratch: Burak Cakmak￼
JEDDAH — Saudi Arabia is the only place in the world that opened the doors in the fashion industry to build it from scratch, Burak Cakmak, the CEO of the country’s Fashion Commission, told Saudi Gazette.
The Fashion Commission unveiled its strategy on Wednesday in Riyadh to develop the sector in the Kingdom.
Speaking to Saudi Gazette on sidelines of the event, Cakmak said after 22 years in the fashion sector he is honored to serve as the CEO of the commission to help build the sector in the country.
In 2021, Saudi Arabia announced the appointment of Cakmak as the CEO of the Fashion Commission, one of 11 cultural bodies established by the Ministry of Culture to manage the Saudi cultural sector.
Cakmak pointed out that the main focus is on the infrastructure like establishing a research center and creating sustainable ways to show the rest of the world how the fashion system should go. “The brand building is the easiest part,” he said.
Saudi Fashion Week
When asked about Saudi Fashion Week, Cakmak said the first step was building a fashion association, which is a non-profit body that represents all of the local brands and designers, similar to other places, such as London, Paris and New York. The fashion week will be led by associations of the brands themselves.
“We would love to see the brands decide what is needed in the country and show all of us, including the government, they have the appetite of putting together the fashion week,” Cakmak said.
He added: “We are crossing our fingers and we dare to support the associations based on their decision on how they want to proceed, and we like to see the fashion associations take the lead.”
He announced that they are building a data hub that will start early next year. It will provide information, especially about the size of the market and its evolution.
Abaya comes first
“Everybody in Saudi Arabia is thinking about the Abaya first, no question!” Cakmak said when asked about the most popular piece in fashion that is highly demanded in Saudi Arabia. He also added that jewelry has a very strong place in people’s life, but until now the main set is abaya.
He revealed that the commission has signed a partnership with King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) to create a research center of excellence for materials. This means looking at the best materials that can be used in fashion with less impact on the environment.
Cakmak said this space will take the innovators and startups that are focused on materials research alone, and will help them scale that research all the way to prototyping and turn it into materials that can be used not only in the fashion sector but all other creative sectors.
“We want to see all the elements of a fashion value change to be present in the country,” Cakmak pointed out when asked if there will be fashion runways in the Kingdom with the participation of the Saudi models who are already in the international fashion shows.
He added that this should be led by the private sector, and generally there are agencies that work with fashion houses to create this. “I think we can expect there will be some private sector initiatives that want to build agencies that work in Saudi.”
The Ministry of Culture is providing now a scholarship for both men and women to go to the top schools around the world to study fashion, Cakmak said, adding that both men and women from Saudi Arabia will be able to enroll in several universities and design schools to show the world the Saudi creativity, and also build brands and bring it back to the Kingdom and grow the sector.
Cakmak confirmed that they are not looking at gender in creativity. “It is all about the individual who wants to be in the center, as creativity does not have limits,” he said.
He said that there is already a mix of over 80% female and close to 20% male population in the Saudi 100 brands program, which means that both sexes have a place. He said the new two categories in the second edition of the Saudi 100 brands program will be fragrance and footwear.
“It is impressive to see the majority of women in doing fashion because the reality in the rest of the world is exactly the opposite. So Saudi Arabia is leading with female designers that are creating their own businesses and acting like creative directors,” he said while noting that “this is an example we should be sharing with the rest of the world as well.”