Let's Talk About Why There are so Few Menswear Designers in the Region

By Sarah Garden
16 September 2018
Behnoode menswear show at Fashion Forward 2017

Behnoode menswear show at Fashion Forward 2017

It looks like things are set to change.

When it comes to fashion, much more space is dedicated to womenswear – both in column inches and runway inches womenswear dominates. It’s no different in the Middle East, and given the smaller market, the disparity between the two is often more obvious.

“It’s a reflection of a global reality,” says Bong Guerrero, CEO and co-founder of Fashion Forward. “The capacity and the demand for diversity of women’s clothing has always been greater.” While this is evidently true, the balance has started to shift recently. A report earlier this year by L2 titled Fashion’s Dark Horse found that the menswear market is likely to grow by five percent over the next two years, outpacing the growth of womenswear.

It’s a change that’s already being reflected in this region. “The men’s space is starting to catch up, in-line with the global trends of growth in the menswear category,” explains Guerrero. “On that note, home-grown brands are a new thing for the region. The fashion industry in the Middle East is still in a developmental phase, and while it evolves with global trends, it does so at a more protracted pace.”

Part of the challenge for menswear designers is that men tend to have different shopping habits. According to Matthew Benjamin and James Siggers of Dubai-based menswear label Benjamin Siggers, men are more accustomed to re-wearing the same clothes often: “It would probably be seen as strange for a woman to wear the same outfit to work once a week for five years, whereas for a man this is perfectly acceptable. A man could literally wear a white shirt every day for his entire career and nobody would bat an eyelid.”

Benjamin Siggers currently focuses on made-to-measure – mainly creating suits and shirts for a global list of high-end clients. “If you look at men’s wardrobes, the two most commonly owned items are shirts and ties, so it made sense to us to start here,” they explain. “Once we have developed our sustainable business case, we plan to offer sustainable RTW collections, which we would consider essential items that can be worn all year round rather than just seasonally.”

Although Guerrero agrees that men tend to dress more conservatively, he points out that “men are becoming braver in the way they express themselves, hence in the way they dress. From accessories to different materials and cuts, men are starting to feel more confident going against the grain.”

This shift in male shopping habits has seen womenswear designers create men’s capsule collections. Guerrero says this is a trend they are seeing at Fashion Forward – Ziad Farouki created a menswear collection, while Tair, Amine Bandriouch and Perverse incorporated unisex pieces.

As regional menswear designers such as Thamanyah and Hatem Alakeel become more popular internationally – and while the local menswear market is still in its infancy – this could be an exciting time for young designers.

“The region is swiftly moving towards a more progressive understanding and approval of creativity in men’s fashion,” says Guerrero. “We have heard retailers calling out for […] regional menswear brands, hence it’s only a matter of time before we see more menswear brands in the region. However for this category to really flourish here, it will require a balance of truly talented designers and the full support of regional retailers.”

Time will tell how quickly more regional menswear designers will emerge, but one thing’s for sure: we can’t wait to see what they do.