Monocle "Connective threads"


Connective threads

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has inaugurated its first talent-incubator programme for fashion designers, part of a wider regional effort to build a local fashion industry (writes Natalie Theodosi). Behind the project is Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi, who runs menswear label Qasimi, founded by her late brother Khalid in 2015. Dubbed Qasimi Rising, the idea is to handpick two winners every year and provide them with long-term investment, including three years of funding and seven of business mentoring.

Image: Aqib Anwar

The incubator’s first winners, announced this week as part of the Sharjah Biennial, are Lebanese-born Salim Azzam and Sudanese designer Omer Asim. Azzam is best known for elegant cotton shirts and light coats, hand-embroidered by artisans from near his home on Mount Lebanon. Asim, who studied architecture before training on London’s Savile Row, takes a more sculptural approach to design, with intricately draped and pleated garments that also take inspiration from the traditional Sudanese thawb.

There is a growing appetite for local fashion in the Middle East. According to a recent report by The Business of Fashion website, the region’s industry is worth more than €84bn in the Middle East; in the UAE alone, as much as 50 per cent of high-earners spend an average of $1,000 (€940) a month on fashion purchases. Until now the focus has been on European brands coming into the region but a new generation of local designers is casting a modern eye on their own traditional garments and crafts.