The challenges facing Lebanon's fashion ecosystem

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Christina Chehade is the managing director at Endeavor Lebanon

Lebanese designers have been rising in the ranks, dominating international Fashion Weeks, red carpets and catwalks for decades. In addition, many successful fashion businesses have been established in recent years, positioning Lebanon as a creative hub.

However, rising through these ranks is much more challenging for these designers than it seems. The brands that have made headlines are considered an exception and many local aspiring talents are struggling to succeed. Investigating this further, we found that it is primarily due to weaknesses in the local fashion ecosystem that have not received the attention they deserve. The main challenges voiced by various designers and industry professionals that are pertinent throughout the journey of the designer include branding, supply chain, financing and tech advancements.

To expand on this issue, Endeavor Lebanon, together with the Beirut Digital District, gathered industry professionals to understand the changing fashion landscape, and to propose solutions for the challenges that exist.

The Brand at the Core

Of course, behind every successful fashion label is a visionary designer, backed by a team of skilled professionals who together, can realise the vision. The experts first emphasised the importance of developing the designers’ creativity, mentoring them to develop a unique brand that would ultimately help them build their story and grow. While the industry requires the right support to help designers scale on numerous fronts, the core challenge is inspiring creativity.

Experts who gathered at the roundtable discussion pointed to the importance of authenticity and the unique story told by each designer as pillars of the business, which could determine its scalability as a result.

Strengthening the Supply Chain

In addition, there is a need to encourage more industrialists to enter the fashion sector and build factories as a means to attract the right talent needed for the designers to successfully produce that brand. This ultimately creates more jobs and contributes to growing the Lebanese economy.

To date, only a handful of Lebanese designers have managed to penetrate international markets and gain access to specialised production facilities in these markets, such as France and Italy.

During the roundtable discussion, Rabih Kayrouz, founder of Maison Rabih Kayrouz emphasised the need to build factories that cater to fashion production needs as a first step. He mentioned that one of the reasons for which Italy and France are leading in this field is because they have the industrial know-how. However, it is up to the country to encourage fashion industrialists by financing and building factories. He suggested that the Lebanese should work towards opening factories and bringing experienced people from abroad to train the local talent. He believes this could become sustainable within a couple of years.

“There is a certain conflict today when the designer goes to a small factory and has a limited production choice…it affects the final product,” said Kayrouz.

Technological Disruptions

With the rapid advancements in technology, many have been unable to adapt fast enough, especially compared to the international scene. There are many technological tools that are disrupting the fashion and luxury industry globally, representing a great opportunity for fashion designers on the one hand as they need to leverage this technology to grow; and technology players on the other hand to develop this technology.

According to Edward Sabbagh, managing director at Farfetch Middle East, the online and offline worlds should not be disconnected, they need to co-exist. In reference to a Bain & Company Luxury Goods Worldwide Market Study 2018, Sabbagh said, “The two worlds need to merge seamlessly and the traditional retail world needs to develop. Online luxury e-commerce represented 10 per cent of the luxury market but is expected to grow to 25 per cent by 2025. This means that the growth in the industry will predominantly come from the online channels, but it also means that brick and mortar is here to stay”.

Financing the Ecosystem

Another weakness in the ecosystem is the lack of financial support for the industry.

Once designers are poised for growth, they need more support from investors, banks and other private and public institutions to develop incentives to grow this sector in Lebanon.

We will only see the growth and success of Lebanese designers once we begin to address the main challenges that they face starting with the brand itself, the supply chain, financing opportunities, and finally, tech advancements.

All participants of this discussion included: Christian Daccache, Founder of Bureau Des Créateurs (BDC), Christina Chehade, Managing Director of Endeavor Lebanon, Delphine Eddé, Co-Founder of Diwanee, Edward Sabbagh, Managing Director of Farfetch for the Middle East, Gonçalo Cruz, Co-founder of Platforme, Stephanie Abi Abdallah, Programs Director of Beirut Digital District, Nadim Chammas, Founder of Fashion Next Door and Rabih Kayrouz, Founder of Maison Rabih Kayrouz.

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