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Burak Cakmak, CEO of the Fashion Commission of Saudi Arabia at Fashion Futures

Burak Cakmak Guides Saudi Arabia’s Emerging Fashion Ecosystem to the Global Stage

The Fashion Commission of Saudi Arabia acts as a vehicle to showcase changemakers putting Saudi Arabian fashion on the world map. 

Burak Cakmak, the CEO of the Fashion Commission of Saudi Arabia

In 2021, Burak Cakmak became the CEO of the Fashion Commission of Saudi Arabia. Upheld by the Ministry of Culture, the institution aims to develop the fashion industry and support designers in the field, as well as focus on an inclusive, sustainable, and forward-thinking curriculum. The Commission acts as a vehicle to showcase changemakers putting Saudi Arabian fashion on the world map. 

Notably, the Commission hosts an array of initiatives and opportunities to foster growth and expertise, including courses at Institut Français de le Mode and its Saudi 100 Brands program, which offers aspiring designers a one-year mentorship from fashion experts. Recently, the organization presented its first iteration of Riyadh Fashion Week, filled with presentations from 29 local designers. 

Whitewall spoke with Cakmak—who previously oversaw social and corporate responsibility, as well as sustainable practices, at Gap Inc., Kering, and Swarovski Group; and supervised fashion degrees at Parsons School of Design—about the Commission.

Fatima Abdulqader at Riyadh Fashion Week

Fatima Abdulqader at Riyadh Fashion Week, courtesy of the Saudi Fashion Commission.

WHITEWALL: Saudi Arabia has expanded in recent years to expand upon tourism, including five-star hospitality destinations and art and music festivals. Where does fashion fit into this picture? 

BURAK CAKMAK: Sixty-three percent of Saudi’s population is under thirty years old. Objectives under Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 involve providing jobs for over 10 million people in the kingdom. This is where fashion, and expansion in other sectors, can make a difference. 

Saudi’s youth is ambitious, and is embracing opportunities offered under Vision 2030, which reflects a drop in unemployment (previously at a high of 11.6 percent, the aim is to lower is to 7 percent). There is also the focus on increasing the participation of women in the workforce. As we work to substantially grow local production, further opportunities are emerging for the participation of Saudi women in the increasingly dynamic domestic labor market. 

The Commission Sets its Sights on a Sustainable Fashion Sector in Saudi Arabia

WW: You’re approaching environmental and social responsibility in Saudi Arabia to consider political and social issues, including feminism and inclusivity. How so?

BC: With a young and engaged population interested in contributing to the creative economy, Saudi offers many opportunities in the fashion sector for the local population. It is one of the first sectors in the country to attract female talent and give them a chance to grow quickly into leadership roles. Through our programs, we are supporting majority female-owned and-led businesses, as well as providing leadership mentorship initiatives in collaboration with international fashion executives. 

Through our ongoing professional development programs, we’re seeing businesses focused on supporting local artisans, ethical business practices, and sustainable design solutions. In addition, we are engaging consumers with public programming on reducing textile landfill through ongoing swap shops that are hosted across several cities. In partnership with nonprofits focused on garment collection and recycling solutions, we are working towards building a more sustainable fashion sector in the country. 

Arwa Al Banawi at Riyadh Fashion Week

Arwa Al Banawi at Riyadh Fashion Week, courtesy of the Saudi Fashion Commission.

Buraka Cakmak on Vision 2030 and Saudi Youth Shaping a New Kingdom

WW: Fashion reflects society and culture in real-time. How are Saudi Arabian designers reflecting that now? What do you think their designs currently say about the country?

BC: Environmental and societal factors influence how people dress—from the designs created to the materials used. Starting 40 to 50 years ago, Saudi Arabia’s citizens witnessed a greater exposure to international fashion. And this allowed for an evolution in domestic fashion. That evolution is now peaking, thanks to Vision 2030, and also thanks to growing young population. 

As Saudi has opened up to visitors, in turn, many of the Saudi youth have studied abroad, and are returning to the kingdom to be part of the ambitious transformation under Vision 2030. With the opportunity to witness international culture and fashions, they are bringing it back, and mixing it with influences from their own upbringings in Saudi. This is one of many aspects that is shaping what fashion—and broader society—looks like in Saudi Arabia today. 

Not Boring at Riyadh Fashion Week

Not Boring at Riyadh Fashion Week, courtesy of the Saudi Fashion Commission.

WW: How would you describe the fashion landscape in the country right now?

BC: The fashion community in Saudi Arabia is hugely talented. Fashion is a burgeoning sector in the kingdom, and the transformation we are experiencing is quite spectacular. Saudi’s fashion talent is diverse, innovative, and inspirational, and the fashion industry has been built completely from scratch, with hardly an ecosystem in Saudi Arabia before 2020. Rooted in unique storytelling and Saudi culture, Saudi designers have strong support from local craftsmanship and artisans. This translates into designs and a brand experience that is not comparable outside of the kingdom. 

Saudi 100 Brands Offers Unique Mentorship to Fashion Designers

WW: The Fashion Commission created the Saudi 100 Brands program, offering aspiring designers one year of mentoring from experts at leading fashion houses. Can you tell us more about this? 

BC: Saudi 100 Brands is a mentorship program aimed at Saudi fashion designers and brands looking to take their businesses to the next level. It offers a one-year course, with masterclasses, one-on-one mentorship and workshops on design and innovation, sales strategies, and exhibitions to build competitive advantage. 

While current applications are in progress, past mentees include the likes of Atelier Hekayat, who designed the physical manifestation of the State of Fashion in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (2023) report, which was unveiled in the form of a book woven into a dress. Then, there’s Not Boring, Yousef Akbar, Dar Al Hanouf and many more. Applicants that join for the next round of the program will be guided to exponential growth and development. Mentorship will include support with brand position, all the way to strategic marketing.  

Honayda at Riyadh Fashion Week

Honayda at Riyadh Fashion Week, courtesy of the Saudi Fashion Commission.

Burak Cakmak on Riyadh Fashion Week Spotlights 29 Pioneering Designers

WW: The Commission recently held its first Riyadh Fashion Week presentation. What was that like? 

BC: It showcased designs from 29 designers, including the likes of Honayda Serafi, who last year became the first female-led Saudi brand to be displayed at Harrods. Abadia, an ethical luxury label that recently received foreign direct investment at our roadshow in New York, was also in attendance. Plus, we had a guest appearance from Ashi, following his appointment as the first Saudi designer to present this year on the haute couture calendar at Paris Fashion Week

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Kelly Wearstler

THE WINTER EXPERIENCE ISSUE
2023

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