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Meet the Kuwaiti Luxury Consumer: Savvy, Sophisticated and Hyper-Local

This week, Oud Fashion Talks returns to Kuwait to spotlight the opportunity for luxury brands in one of the Middle East’s small but mighty markets. Here’s what retailers need to know.


Photo: Shutterstock

The Gulf region’s luxury market keeps growing, drawing international industry attention. However, Kuwait, despite punching well above its weight, is typically overlooked. That’s starting to shift as Oud Fashion Talks kicks off its second edition in Kuwait this week, bringing together the fashion industry to shed light on opportunity in the country.

The 6,880-square-mile country has a luxury market worth more than $1.3 billion, making it a prime spot for luxury investment. Consultancy Bain and Co estimates that Kuwait accounts for 14 per cent of the Gulf region’s AED 36 billion luxury goods market. According to 2022 data from market research firm Euromonitor, 1.6 per cent of Kuwaitis are millionaires, compared to 0.9 per cent in UAE and 0.5 per cent in Saudi Arabia. Qatar leads the region with 2 per cent. Euromonitor also estimates Kuwait to be the third largest luxury market in the GCC region.

Zainab Al Abdulrazzaq, the founder of the leading local fashion and luxury lifestyle website, launched Oud Fashion Talks (OFT) in Kuwait last year to address what she saw as a gap in the local market. While there already are annual fashion industry networking events in Dubai, Riyadh, and Doha, OFT is the first of its kind in Kuwait.

OFT’s second edition is due to take place this week, and speakers will include Moon Baz, Meta’s creator partnerships lead for the Middle East, Africa and Turkey; Rachad Tabiat, CEO of luxury marketplace Alothman; and Duha Al Ramadan, founder and CEO of Aubade Jewelry.

The event will cover topics including Gen Z’s aesthetic and environmental interests and opportunities in the retail landscape. Representatives from Tamdeen Group, which works with brands like Gucci in Kuwait, and Middle Eastern retail conglomerate Chalhoub Group attended a gala dinner. “It has really helped local creators, retailers and other stakeholders in the industry understand the business aspects,” says Kuwaiti designer Bazza Alzouman.

Designs by Bazza Alzouman. Photo: Courtesy of Bazza Alzouman

Meet the Kuwaiti luxury customer

Kuwait first appeared on the international luxury map when Chanel opened its first Middle Eastern store there in 1983. Since then, Dior, Gucci and other major luxury players have opened stores, making it a “fashion hub”, says Al Abdulrazzaq. The luxury boutiques are all located in one of the region’s most prestigious malls, The Avenues in Kuwait City.

While The Avenues is prime real estate for international luxury brands, local concept stores have started to set up shop to capture the attention of shoppers seeking out those global names. Luxury jewellery designer Maria Tash set up shop at The Avenues last year. At Al Hamra mall, concept store Boutique N opened in 2020, carrying designers such as Rachel Comey, Jonathan Cohen and Nafsika Skourti. “I think we have all the major brands here now,” says designer Alzouman.

However, it takes more than a beautiful store to win over Kuwaiti luxury consumers. “I think luxury brands need to invest in activations and events, even if it’s something like a small private dinner for VIP clients. For some reason if you look at luxury marketing initiatives, Kuwait has taken a back seat,” says Alzouman.

Kuwait’s luxury consumer — highly brand-conscious and sophisticated, according to Euromonitor senior consultant Hind Ali — typically shops abroad, looking for the biggest selection and newest collections. That means they have discerning tastes, says Jasmina Banda, chief strategy officer at The Chalhoub Group. “Kuwait’s luxury buyers are fashion-forward customers who are willing to experiment with new brands. We see it also as a market where most trends start first, before we start noticing them in the rest of the Middle East.”

Duha Al Ramadan opened Aubade, a curated luxury jewellery multi-brand store in Kuwait City, which retails brands such as Anita Ko and Repossi, in order to tap into this customer’s penchant for new and experimental brands.

“Kuwait has always been a fashion pioneer in the GCC region,” she says. “I believe this makes us extremely crucial to the Gulf luxury market as we’re willing to buy into the latest collections and follow the newest trends.” Aubade recently opened a flagship store in Dubai, and Al Ramadan notes that the difference is that the majority of customers in Kuwait are local, not international. “As Kuwait isn’t a very touristic country, I would say that our client-base in Kuwait is 99 per cent Arab, with a vast majority being Kuwait,” she says.

Make it hyper-local

While the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have a heavy expatriate population, Kuwait is all about the local consumer, which means modern wear needs to be balanced with modest dressing traditions. Alzouman feels that there is space for more Arabs to be included in the teams of luxury brands operating in the region. This will help them connect better to the Kuwaiti client.

“We do keep modesty in mind and ensure that our edits are well rounded and always include pieces with good coverage and length,” says Georgina Gainza, head buyer at Al Tayer Group, which oversees department stores such as Bloomingdale’s in Kuwait. “Of course, we always have a strong eye on the trends but are mindful of too many cut-outs or high hemlines. As our clients are experts at layering though, they find a way to make most pieces work for them if it is something they like.”

Kuwaitis have also started looking towards regional brands for their luxury buys. “It’s a country with strong local traditions and it’s our job to service the unique needs of our clients. Local designers are getting stronger in Kuwait, especially during special occasions such as Ramadan and Eid,” says Ginza. Being hyper-local is important for international brands operating in Arab countries, but even more so in Kuwait. “There are many hugely influential local influencers with a strong and loyal following. Kuwaiti customers are a reference for each other and trust each other in trends.”

Zainab Al Abdulrazzaq

Zainab Al Abdulrazzaq. Photo: Courstest Oud Fashion Talks

OFT is hoping these discussions will encourage more international players to look at local collaborations. “We saw a need to bring together experts, designers and enthusiasts to discuss and showcase traditional Kuwaiti fashion and how it can be incorporated into modern styles and improve the industry here,” says Al Abdulrazzaq. They hope the local point of view will encourage Kuwaitis to shop for international brands at home rather than abroad.

Gainza believes that with the right mix of service and marketing strategies, this a market with huge potential for brands that operate within the country, “The pandemic gave us the chance to really reconnect with the captive local audience and to work hard to ensure that our service and offer are as good as, if not better, than what they are able to find abroad. This has given us positive results.”

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