The Arab Fashion Council is responsible for successfully growing the region’s fashion industry, championing new designers and positioning Dubai as one of the world’s most creative capitals.
Emirates Man speaks to Mohammed Aqra, the group’s chief strategy officer, about what it takes to know the business of fashion and spearhead Arab Fashion Week.
What do the first 30 minutes of your day look like?
Wake up, wash my face, make a small snack, and have it with my energy drink. Then I head to the gym and check my emails and calendar for the day
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Can you tell us more about your role as (CSO) Chief Strategy Officer of Arab Fashion Council?
As a Chief Strategy Officer, I play a role that includes strategizing with the board and stakeholders of the organization the short-term and long-term agenda to meet the execution of the Council’s mission and overseeing the strategy to achieve all the Council’s vision. I am committed to advancing and promoting the creative industry globally, in alliance with multinational partners and brands. While focusing on building strategies with international and regional partners structured to support the Council’s mission of fostering the growth of the creative industry. In addition, I ensure that the Arab Fashion Council remains a pioneer in the industry, innovating the way forward for our members.
How does Arab Fashion Week differ from other global fashion weeks?
While it remains similar to its counterparts in New York, Milan, and Paris The Arab Fashion Week, throughout the years, has established a remarkable position as a prestigious platform within the international fashion calendar. It is the only platform that offers a five-star service for the designers, which is inspired by the positioning of Dubai as a luxury and five-star destination. Through our offerings and holistic approach to handling the production of the fashion shows, designers have to worry not about logistics and the process that usually consumes their time, resources, and energy.
You most recently launched Arab Men’s Fashion Week. What has been the public reaction and feedback to this?
The Arab Fashion Council is at the forefront of the menswear industry in the region. The first Men’s Arab Fashion Week took place in January 2021 and received massive success in press and buyers’ interest in upgrading the menswear offering on the shop floors. With the introduction of the menswear edition, we have started to witness a growing interest in gender-neutral offerings. The menswear calendar is not only watched by men but also by women who are transitioning into this trend recently surging in the region. This also translated into more daring Middle Eastern men who started to demand more adventurous wardrobes.
How do you maintain clarity in life and work practice?
Well, I always think on the go, or even between personal conversations with friends, and I somehow bounce back to work. How I maintain clarity with what I stated is by putting myself first. Having a clear mind, a healthy diet, and a good gym workout makes me feel good for the whole day.
What advice can you give to someone looking to enter the industry in a similar role?
Be yourself. You must think outside the box, be active and do all the research necessary before moving forward with an idea. Most importantly, find an environment with like-minded people that would motivate and advise you; working in a team is key. Most importantly, follow your gut feelings and when you find your route and best idea considering that many other people might think the same way.
How have you seen the Middle East fashion landscape change since being in the role, which area have you seen grow fastest?
In today’s world, where social media has become the central part of our lives, the fashion scene has been affected, especially since this trend interestingly forced consumers to change their purchase habits. Tending to favour shopping more looks to post on their platforms for the same budget of their spending on one purchase before the rise of social media. This trend is translated into prioritising shopping more quantities at lower prices. From here, the Ready Couture came to replace the traditional Haute Couture, enabling the client to purchase a piece produced in limited quantity while allowing alteration and customization from the designers.
Besides, the region is starting to shift from following fashion trends, coming mainly from the west to becoming a nascent trendsetter/exporter. The Arab consumer today shops for more emerging and less famous brands, which has democratized the market and motivated new local and regional designers to start their businesses. In addition, sustainability is becoming the designers’ and press priority nowadays, and the consumers too are happy to select a sustainable choice if the price point is right for them. Organizations, media, and fashion houses are increasingly growing their interest in becoming more sustainable. However, there is a need to enhance the formula of supporting those brands in a way that subsidizes the high cost of sustainable materials so this can overcome the competitive prices offered by fast fashion.
Have you had any mentors along the way and if so, what knowledge did they impart?
I have had a few mentors in my life other than my parents, who taught me between right and wrong in my childhood/teenage days. I was mentored through my devotion to doing more than what my surroundings had to offer and breaking boundaries from the circle I was put in whether it be culture, religion, or rules. I did not just want to stay put or follow family trends. My mentor was and still is an inspiration Michelle Riley, Chief Executive Officer of the Dayton, Ohio Food Bank. I was the first male apprentice she took on. Michelle told me this because she believed me. I was taken to city meetings, and volunteer programs, I aided in initiatives within the city, and it’s because of her where I am today.
You were born and raised in New York with Jordanian roots. Can you tell us more about your earlier roles?
I come from a family of nine and a house of 11. My earlier roles were education and helping my dad in the family business until graduation from High School. I got a job as a part-time teller at Fifth Third Bank, which helped me get my way through college.
How do you ensure Dubai is staying ahead of the curve when it comes to fashion?
The Arab Fashion Council and The Dubai Design Design District (d3) lead Dubai as the region’s fashion capital on an international level by creating opportunities to attract creators to scale up their businesses, benefiting from the infrastructure and favourable business environment Dubai offers. Strategically, we aim to keep attracting foreign brands on our calendar and to the Dubai Design District that will strongly benefit from offerings to move their business as a headquarters to Dubai. This simple and clear approach not only maintains Dubai ahead of the curve but also nurtures the economy’s growth through the entire value chain.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
No advice to dreamer days; keep dreaming, think out of the box, and fear nothing.
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