The Middle East market is home to many local fashion designers who do not have access to funding, according to Dubai-based designer Rami Al Ali, whose couture and ready-to-wear creations are sold in department stores such as Bloomingdales and Harvey Nichols across the Gulf region.
Speaking to Arabian Business, Ali said the lack of financial support towards local designers has kept many from evolving in the region.
“There are too many designers, too many products and not enough funding… We all produce almost the same product and target almost the same client. But I have five people in my team while the global players have a thousand,” he said.
“It’s getting more difficult by the minute… People see the façade: the fashion shows, models, fashion weeks, beautiful features, but they don’t know what’s happening… It’s not the fashion weeks that will keep the industry alive. It’s the support from banks and investors. That’s the biggest issue facing designers in the region,” he said.
While Ali’s creations sell for as high as $100,000 to a client base including regional and Hollywood celebrities like Helen Mirren, Kerry Washington and Jennifer Lopez, many local designers struggle to grow in the regional market due to the abundance of existing and established international brands.
“Why would people pay $500 for a local product if they can pay $600 for an international brand?” Ali said.
He pointed out that banks are particularly cautious due to the novelty nature of the regional fashion industry and its role as an importer of products.
“This region has been an importer since its existence. We’ve been importing everything including fashion. So it’s very difficult to change the mentality and make them believe in the local product… If you’re a fashion business and you want a bank to back you up, what will they compare your business to? How will they trust the business model if there aren’t many successful ones in the market?” he said.
“Banks look for someone successful to evaluate. But for a person to be successful, they must first be supported. The minute banks smell money, they will come. Show them you’re making money, and they will come,” he added.
Despite success in the region, Ali has not managed to secure a single physical retail spot beyond the Arab world. However, he is currently seeking investors to expand his brand internationally.
According to the MENA Design Outlook 2014-2019 report by the Dubai Design and Fashion Council (DDFC), the region’s fashion industry is expected to total $55 billion dollars by 2019, an average growth rate of 6 percent per year, yet local designers’ share and role in the market remain unclear.