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Interview: Here’s how Saudi Women are evolving in the country’s luxury market

Following its successful introduction last year, the arab luxury world Global Student Competition, sponsored by Bulgari, made a triumphant return, bringing together regional and global graduate students from Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the USA to share their views on the future of luxury, design and fashion businesses. The competition, once again, attracted a high level of entries, with the winning entry going to Saudi Rabeh Zidan El-Sayed, hailing from the International University of Monaco.

His winning research paper was titled “The new Saudi luxury consumer and how Saudi Women are evolving in the Saudi luxury market.”

AMEinfo interviewed El-Sayed, who was born in the US of Palestinian (father) and Saudi (mother) dparents, and the below interview describes a traveling young man, discovering a new Saudi and looking for a chance to shine in the luxury realm.

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Saudi transformation

ElSayed finished his Bachelor’s degree in Finance in Saudi’s University of Business & Technology, moved to Paris for his MBA, then moved to Monaco, finishing a Masters in science and luxury brand management.

“While living in France, some 3 years ago, I was going back to Saudi every 6 months, and noticing there was so much change taking place,” starts ElSayed.

“I have 8 sisters and I felt the change coming from them and I could see Saudi evolve using labor, cultural, social and political reforms for its transformation, all thanks to (Saudi) Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s vision.”

El-Sayed added that on an infrastructure level, the way King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) was being developed, on the coast of the Red Sea,  but as well Jeddah Economic City, Prince Sultan Cultural City, and King Abdulla Sports City in Jeddah, were all projects happening at a fast pace.

“All my life, I wanted nothing but run away from Saudi, and when I left, I found myself wanting to return to be part of that change,” said El-Sayed.

“Many reforms started from the time of King Abdullah, such as when he introduced women into retail in 2011 but who didn’t start work in shops and as cashiers before 2013.”

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Luxury trends

AlSayed said wealth in Saudi is held between families, and that the only way in the past to accumulate wealth was to marry into wealth or work for these families.

“But now, the middle-class Saudi working women doesn’t need a guardian or chaperone to work, and are becoming more independent,” Al-Sayed said.

The minimum salary in Saudi, he says, is SR4000.

“Because the ban on women driving was lifted, women will now no longer need drivers and will have more disposable income, and that’s the first trend.”

Dr. Majed Bin Abdullah Al Kassab, the Minister of Commerce and Investment of Saudi Arabia, introduced 11 new licenses for female entrepreneurs in Saudi to start their businesses, according to El-Sayed.

“Because of that, Saudi women opened more businesses on Instagram and it became easier for them to open and launch and get capital, and have a disposable income to fund their business and created what I call the Saudi chain reaction,” said El-Sayed.

He describes this chain reaction, another trend, as a sequence starting with cultural, social, and political barriers being removed, allowing women to work, have more disposable income, creating more business opportunities, generating more luxury clients, women joining other women entrepreneurs, creating more disposable income, decreasing unemployment, increasing the country’s GDP, and leading to the removal of more barriers, before the same cycle starts again.

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Luxury on the rise

El-Sayed said that Saudi is a luxury destination on the rise.

“This is helped with the introduction of new tourist visas  April 1, 2018, because Saudi has beautiful heritage with so much arts, history, and culture, and the country has spent the last 10 years preparing  for tourism and the luxury consumer, with 100’s of malls just in Jeddah alone,” he said.

“We have boulevards that mimic Champs Elysees and Avenue Montaigne, a street in the 8th arrondissement of Paris, with streets like Tariq el Malik Abdel Aziz, Tahlia street shopping and fashion district, Boulevard, the new luxury destination in Jeddah, Stars Avenue, Khayyat 1 and 2 luxury retail, not to mention Souq el dehab (gold), fidda (Silver), almaz (diamonds), for tourists and consumers.”

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What’s lacking in Saudi Luxury?

The elite luxury consumer prefers shopping abroad because they seek the service that comes with it.

“Stores are beautiful in Saudi, but lack merchandise variety, size, consistency, and proper staff training,” El-Sayed said.

“Luxury selling is an experience, not a product. It’s about understanding the clients’ needs, and anticipating them.”

For this reason, ElSayed plans to go back to Europe, work in the luxury market there, gain experience and take it back to Saudi, seeking to become a business consultant importing European luxury expertise into the GCC.