Saudi Arabia is not exactly a bastion of progressive feminism. In fact, it is one of most opaque, conservative countries in the world, but its new king is proving to be far more liberal that his House of Saud predecessors. When I heard that the country was hosting its first-ever "Arab Fashion Week", the Project Runway fan in me took notice. This event, open to both men and women (which is a very big deal), will surely test a culture that, among other restrictions, requires women to wear long, black robes called "abayas". But women are now allowed to drive (just in time for driver-less cars) and cinemas are opening for the first time in many decades. So things appear to be loosening up a bit in the Arabian desert.
Indeed what is now being called the "modest market" is expanding rapidly around the globe, and the event in Saudi Arabia drew a number of major Western fashion brands eager to establish market share in what might be a massive opportunity for fashion marketers. The country doesn't have a fashion industry of its own yet, but if things go well, it will have one very soon, albeit perhaps not quite like the one we have over here.
There were rules. No cleavage. No see-through fabrics. No showing of the knees. And none of the models were Saudi. There is talk that the abaya rule in the country might be altered soon (women at the show were not required to wear them), and so marketers in fashion and other industries are beginning to take a hard look at the Middle East for market expansion. The opening up of markets that have been closed off to the majority of us marketers reminds me of when The Berlin Wall fell almost 30 years ago, revealing hundreds of millions of new customers for Western marketers to reach. Indeed "modest" women everywhere will have vastly increased options for fashion if attitudes are relaxed somewhat. Perhaps the scale in this instance won't be as great as it was when the Soviet Union fell and lost most of its "client states" to Western influence, but if Saudi Arabia leads the way, other countries will surely follow. It looks like marketers across many industries will have a whole bunch of new consumers to serve.
Discussion: Before reading this post were you aware of the Modest Market? Besides Saudi Arabia, what other nations might be targeted by fashion marketers in the near future?
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