‘Luxury, Style and Politics: fashion influencers in the MENA region.’
Fashion influencers now play a vital role in the industry: they drive sales, determine trends and forge a connection between a brand and consumers. Support from an influencer can increase engagement and web traffic, with their role now allowing them to become stars in their own right. To be an influencer is to be a voice and push the boundaries of what people are used to seeing. Furthermore, social media has proven to be a way of bridging the gap between the East and the West. In the last few years, we have seen a rise in the number of fashion influencers from the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region and the international spotlight is now on them.
Brands have identified the purchasing power of MENA millennials and understand that using fashion influencers to appeal to this market can prove lucrative. It’s claimed that Muslim consumers spend an estimated $327 billion on clothing a year, more than the UK ($107bn), Germany ($99bn) and India ($96bn) combined. With 60% of the MENA region being under thirty and 10% of the worlds Instagram users residing there, it’s no surprise that there has been a shift from traditional marketing to using influencers, with 49% brands in the region incorporating them within their overall strategy.
Countries in the MENA region lean towards conservativism and, by going against such norms, fashion influencers put themselves at a risk. Governments often still have control over social media and influencer content. In Saudi Arabia there are strict laws over public indecency or going against the state, whereas in Egypt influencers with more than five-thousand followers have their accounts closely monitored as they are classified as media outlets. In the United Arab Emirates, influencers must register for a government issued licence to take on paid promotional work. Living in a society with stern social and moral norms, freedom of speech and having an online voice is especially important. It allows influencers in the MENA region to create their own narrative and image, take back control and gain more freedom than that which is often accessible offline.
An important item of clothing in the MENA region is the hijab. It is an item that brings mixed feelings, heralded by some as a feminist symbol, allowing women to take control over their bodies, and denounced by others as a form of oppression. Yet fashion influencers are changing the perception of modest dressing – one of the most popular styles in the MENA region – showing it is not limiting and that they can still be creative and fun with fashion. They are tearing down stereotypes and prejudices of pre-conceived notions of what a woman from the Middle East should look like. This has captured the attention of the industry, with designers beginning to cater more towards this audience; Net-a-Porter and Kate Spade have made Ramadan collections, with clothes and accessories in mind for the holy month. Similarly, in 2016 the Italian fashion house Dolce & Gabbana came out with a hijab and abaya collection. Rihanna’s makeup line Fenty Beauty featured model Halima Aden in her launch campaign and the singer was praised for showing such diversity and inclusivity in her company. Aden is seen as the pinnacle for modest dressing, making history as the first Muslim model to wear a hijab and burkini on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.
While the influencer market is oversaturated, especially in fashion, these figures have been able stand out from the crowd, so here is a roundup of some of the biggest MENA fashion influencers:
–Safiyah El Houdaigui: Is an American and Moroccan influencer and designer who is making waves as a voice for the fashion conscious, re-branding fashion in the Middle East through her personal Instagram(100k followers) and her Hijab Fashion Instagram page (3M followers) showcasing the versatility in styling a hijab.
–Ascia Al Faraj: a Kuwaiti fashion blogger, with 2.6m followers on Instagram, was one of the first fashion bloggers promoting the image of modest dressing and wearing the hijab internationally in a positive and stylish fashion. She has collaborated with Chanel and Kenzo, in addition to launching her ‘Modest by Ascia’ collection with Riva (the Zara equivalent retailer that dominates in Saudi Arabia) to help make streetwear more accessible. She has also gone on to launch her own skincare company Seoul Kool.
–Hadia Ghaleb: An Egyptian influencer, with 1.9M followers, whose passion for fashion led her to found Ghaleb Production House, a content creation and influencer marketing company, and land a reality show on American television network E! called ‘My Fabulous Me’
To be a fashion influencer, especially in the MENA region, is to push boundaries regarding style and acceptability. They challenge stereotypes and show the world that women of the region are still able to own their individuality and what it means to be a modern woman – something which appeals to brands globally.
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