It's time the Middle East invested in its local talent, who have often looked abroad for support
He’s known for dressing some of the world’s most glamorous women walking the red carpets of Hollywood, but would Lebanese fashion designer Zuhair Murad have become the globally-recognised figure he is today had he not left the Middle East?
He states in our cover story this week that he left Lebanon for Paris at the height of his career because it was “too small” for his “big dreams”.
“There is a lot of financial support [towards fashion designers] in Europe, but there isn’t financial support in the Arab world. They’re not used to investing in fashion, sadly. I got offered a lot of investment but from European investors, not Arab investors,” he says.
Maybe it’s time the world listened to Murad.
While the MENA region’s fashion industry will be valued at an estimated $55bn this year, according to the MENA Design Outlook 2014-2019 report by the Dubai Design and Fashion Council (DDFC), it is unclear whether Arab, local designers are getting a piece of the profit pie.
Maybe it’s time we not only listen to Zuhair Murad, but to our local talent who still believe in their region, and are hoping it believes in them
Murad is not the first to make such claims. In January 2019, Dubai-based fashion designer Rami Al Ali – also designer to the stars – said, “There are too many designers, too many products and not enough funding,” and added that support from banks and investors is the “biggest issue” facing designers in the region.
Fashion Forward Dubai (FFWD), a bi-annual event acting as a platform for local designers to showcase their work, was also halted in 2018 “until further notice”, just a year after co-founder Ramzi Nakad told Arabian Business “funding is the main issue” for designers in Dubai.
Murad claims the lack of funding may be due to the lack of talent, stating that we need “stronger” fashion schools in the Arab world.
“Arab students are very weak in their work and projects. I see a big difference between them and students that intern with me in Paris,” he says.
And how could the Middle East compete with New York’s Parsons School of Design or the London College of Fashion, when the region has but a few smaller institutes?
Education is one part of the problem. But does it even matter? Murad is just one of the many self-taught designers who succeeded largely due to their talent. The legendary Elie Saab left a Paris fashion school when he deemed it a “waste of time”.
“I already knew everything,” he said of the reason he dropped out.
Murad claims the lack of funding may be due to the lack of talent, stating that we need “stronger” fashion schools in the Arab world
But Saab is another designer who made it to the international stage only after being recognised in Paris. And while the city’s decades-old industry cannot be compared with the more nascent Middle East fashion market, the least we could do is invest in our own talent instead of having them look elsewhere for support. Because it’s not only in fashion where investment in local talent is needed.
When renowned entrepreneur Fadi Ghandour set up his logistics firm Aramex, he turned abroad for investment, because the region did not believe in local talent.
“Aramex could not find funding, because they didn’t believe in Aramex. The minute I went public, [regional] investors said, ‘Oh, now you’re eligible for investment,’” Ghandour said in 2016.
Just as Ghandour built an internationally-recognised company, it is the likes of Zuhair Murad and Elie Saab who are competing with the French houses of Dior and Chanel on Hollywood’s red carpets and Paris’ runways. Maybe it’s time we not only listen to Zuhair Murad, but to our local talent who still believe in their region, and are hoping it believes in them.