Dubai's Chalhoub Group eyes burgeoning Saudi fashion design industry

Luxury retailer is using its incubator programme to identify emerging talent in the kingdom for potential investment

Dubai-based luxury retailer Chalhoub Group has launched the flagship edition of its fashion design incubator Fashion Lab in Saudi Arabia as a result of the industry growth the kingdom is nurturing, according to Dina Sidani, the company’s chief innovation officer.

Programmes such as the Fashion Commission’s recently launched Saudi 100 Brands reveal the kingdom’s interest in growing its fashion design industry and investing in local brands, a vision aligned with Chalhoub Group’s outlook.

“We see such a huge opportunity in this market that we chose to launch the first edition of our design Fashion Lab directly in Saudi,” said Sidani.

“The first incubator we launched in the region was the beauty one and then, when we saw the potential in the Saudi market and all the growth that was happening in it, we thought the perfect next step was to launch a programme specifically supporting the Saudi designers,” she continued.

Launched in July as an initiative by Chalhoub Greenhouse, the Fashion Lab integrates expertise with the insights of industry professionals to grow prospective Saudi brands and nurture Saudi fashion talent.

“I believe when you want to shape a market - and I know the group is trying to shape the Saudi market when it comes to fashion from a very early stage - it’s important to set the right role models which create this exponential effect,” said Sidani.

“This means making sure other designers follow through with that and see that there is potential to work with a big group like Chalhoub and that there is market access,” she explained.

Long accustomed to importing international fashion and beauty trends, the Arab region is increasingly developing its own unique creative industries and Chalhoub Group is intent on supporting that.

“One of the things that excites us is that, as the kingdom opens up, people are starting to try to create their personal identities through art and fashion; it's such an amazing time to be in that market,” said Sidani.

“International brands will always have their place in all markets and there's still a significant affinity towards them. But I am starting to see, through the fashion and beauty labs we’ve launched, this affinity towards being proud of our roots and trying to reflect our identities in these local brands,” she continued.

To illustrate this point, Sidani gave examples of brands participating in Fashion Lab, that brought their Saudi culture to their designs, including abayas with modern silhouettes and streetwear that combines Japanese aesthetics with local ones.

“We’re really trying to encourage this because we are seeing that there is this spirit towards supporting local creations instead of always bringing in international trends,” said Sidani.

For the Fashion Lab, Chalhoub Greenhouse is looking into disruptive emerging brands focused on streetwear, sustainable fashion, contemporary design, and accessories with a unique story to tell.

Among the criteria the group is looking for in the selected brands are a unique take on streetwear, a Saudi-based or focused designer, the brand’s story, community engagement, scalability and innovation.

Through Fashion Lab, Chalhoub hopes to plant the seeds for future growth of Saudi Arabia’s Fashion Industry.

“It always starts with showcasing success models and setting these seeds which then exponentially pay it forward,” said Sidani.

“I'm not going to say our programme is going to change the world from day one but we'll continue to have these programs year after year, and hopefully, help support a brand grow. The ultimate goal of one of these programs is that we find brands we think we can invest in further,” she continued.

The first Fashion Lab will conclude in December culminating in a demo day where selected Saudi brands will showcase their projects to retailers, distributors, and investors. They will also get funding support of $15,000 with the potential of equity partnership after the program is concluded.