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Here’s What the Reunion of the GCC Means for the Arab Fashion Industry

Creatives in the Arab world are rejoicing over the reunion of the GCC. The restoration of diplomatic ties will allow for more collaboration and “cross-pollination.”

gcc, Qatar

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, Emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, Omani Deputy Prime Minister Fahd Bin Mahmud, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa and Nayef al-Hajraf, secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) posing for a commemorative picture in Al Ula. Photo: SPA

“A collective sigh of relief” is how Anum Bashir and her family reacted when hearing that countries in the GCC would be restoring diplomatic relations with Qatar. The Dubai-based consultant, creative director of N-Duo and blogger behind Desert Mannequin first launched her platform from Doha, where her parents still reside, and says that the creative industries of both nations have much to gain from this long-awaited reconciliation. “Economically, culturally, socially and even from a community point of view, I think it’s so great that things have subsided, and relationships are resuming. Obviously given the current climate with this global pandemic, we really need to be as responsibly collective as possible,” she says.

Anum Bashir. Photo: Supplied

The GCC was formed in 1981, but due to a political rift beginning in 2017, Qataris faced restrictions in entering other Gulf nations. Earlier this month, the diplomatic crisis was resolved, reopening borders and trade routes across the Gulf – a diverse region that’s ripe with creative talent, craftsmanship and unique aesthetics from various Arab tribes and traditions.

“There is always strength in unity and this unity will re-enforce our position in the global fashion and luxury markets,” says Marcela Danielova, a founding member of Fashion Forward Dubai, who recently launched her own consultancy, M DNA, for emerging brands.

HH Sheikha Moza bint Nasser. Photo: HHOPL

Not only does it hold numerous high-profile retail investments (such as Harrods, Valentino and Balmain), Qatar has also been projected to become a regional hub for luxury fashion, and its efforts to bolster the regional fashion scene haven’t gone unnoticed. “Qatar has invested a great deal into expanding its fashion and luxury portfolio and developing regional talent through platforms such as Fashion Trust Arabia – that deserves much praise,” says Danielova. Under the patronage of Qatar’s Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, Fashion Trust Arabia (FTA) launched in 2019 as a non-profit organisation supporting designers across the MENA region. “They launched this incredible initiative during the blockade, which obviously hindered a lot of very capable candidates from applying and attending,” explains Bashir. “Moving forward, it stands to have a larger applicant pool.”

Qatari luxury pret-a-couture label Yasmin Mansour. Photo: Ämr Ezzeldinn

While national pride may be a quality innate within Arabs of varying states, the cultivation of a communal Arab spirit is what will fuel the future of fashion in the GCC and beyond. Doha-based luxury pret-a-couture designer Yasmin Mansour was a finalist in the inaugural edition of FTA, and believes that having diverse talents come together once again will reinforce the region’s influence on the international fashion map. “With the variety of cultures in the Middle East, it is nice to share our journeys together through design and creativity,” she says. “The region is flourishing with creative designers – today, we have one of the biggest fashion industries in the world – Arab fashion production is growing every day and taking over the international market.” Mansour adds that over the past three years, the blockade encouraged many to turn their eyes inward to the creative resources within their own borders: “it made me appreciate local Qatari craftsmanship and production,” she says.

Standard Chartered has predicted that Qatar’s economy will grow 3% with the blockade being lifted, and Oxford Business Group’s Qatar Economic Report attributed the nation’s retail growth to consumer confidence and local brands, stating that “in the years since the 2017 blockade retail in Qatar has bounced back, with local brands leading the charge.”

“Qatar learned to invest the energy back into the country’s sustainability and growth – its fashion scene has become more invested in manufacturing locally, and more advanced in terms of design and innovation,” says Dila, founder of BTF, a branding and design consultancy based between Qatar and London. “I worked with start-ups who were targeting gaps in the market which may have previously been occupied by other GCC brands – this is bound to bring new energy and some fresh competition to the mix,” she says, noting that major fashion exhibitions in Qatar, such as Heya and Merwad, will likely now be attended by neighbouring Arab designers and consumers – though it remains to be seen whether these events will take place this year amid the pandemic.

Abdulla Al-Abdulla. Photo: Supplied

Abdulla Al-Abdulla, Qatar’s popular lifestyle blogger with eponymous skincare and fragrance brands to his name, says that these developments will help him gain more exposure in the rest of the GCC. “With both my skincare and fragrance brands, previously I was unable to be present in these countries, however now I have access to the exciting opportunity for further growth and to reach a whole new audience.” He adds that it will now become possible to import and export, store inventory and secure stockists and projects across the border.

Travel to and from Qatar – from shipping goods to embarking on getaways, should become seamless and straightforward with flights and courier companies resuming their services. Bashir says that many designers in the UAE are thrilled to have a clear accessway once again to their Qatari clients: “It’s a dual carriageway – as much as local brands based out of Doha can now stand to benefit from shipping to Saudi and the UAE again, there are so many brands stationed out of Dubai that had a pretty sizeable clientele in Qatar,” she says. “We’ll be able to collaborate and cross-pollinate just like we used to, pre-blockade. I’m really hoping Qatari brands will be spreading their wingspan to Saudi, a market that everyone has their eye on.”

Having been previously accustomed to jet-setting across Gulf states regularly for events, exhibitions, meetings, shoots and collaborative projects, Khaleejis in the arts and fashion industries are clearly looking forward to forging creative kinships once again. “I strongly believe that the GCC reunion will ignite many collaborations and cross-border benefits, particularly within the creative industries, allowing us to reach different markets, collaborate with amazing talented designers and strengthen relationships as a whole,” says Al-Abdulla. “It is an exciting time ahead for us all.”

Read Next: February 2021 Cover: Ruling Families of GCC Member States Convey a Powerful Message of Togetherness

Promo image photography: Txema Yeste

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