When blogging first started in 1994, it remained something of a niche pocket of the Internet – more of a hobby, or a diary, than the massive self-marketing tool it has become today. As blogging rose in popularity over the past few decades, it has been transformational to many industries, but its prominent effects are seen most clearly in the fashion industry. Today, fashion and style bloggers are as influential as magazine editors. They too sit front row at major runway shows, interview designers, and feed back their opinions to an eager, loyal fanbase. For the millennial generation, the personal journey of a blogger has deeper influence and more relevance to their lives, and bloggers have become trusted voices when it comes to where to shop, what to wear, and how to style your look.
The real phenomenon of blogging is that entrepreneurial people have been able to forge full-time careers from the practice of sharing their personal experiences. Fashion blogging has increased significance in the Middle East, a diverse region of the world that – broadly speaking – tends to prefer tradition and customs. Blogging is nothing if not a non-traditional career path, but the fact of the matter is hundreds of enterprising, intelligent, and supremely talented young men and women in the Middle East have overcome the barriers of traditionalism to speak their perspectives to the world. And they have been massively successful. Not only are their insights invaluable in elevating the profile of the region, but they also represent a new generation of creatives who are forging their own career paths in the world, on their own terms, according to their unique respective outlooks.
In this exclusive profile of Mahmoud Sidani of Mr. Moudz, Tala Samman of MyFashDiary, Lana El Sahely of L’Armoire de Lana, and Nadya Hasan of The Fierce Diaries, Savoir Flair peels back the layers on the rise of the Middle Eastern fashion blogger.
Right Place, Right Time
The Middle East has clearly experienced a fashion blogger explosion in the past few years, but which factors in particular have led to this phenomenon? Nadya Hasan of The Fierce Diaries supplies her perspective on the matter, stating, “We are more liberated now than we have ever been and are exposed to so many things and people. We are capable of traveling to places we have never been to before, and I think that’s one of the biggest reasons we have grown in the fashion industry.”
Mahmoud Sidani, the dazzling and dashing lifestyle guru behind the wildly popular blog, Mr. Moudz, admits, “My following began to grow even before I became a blogger. My colleagues at the time used to joke around with me, saying ‘you are on your way to becoming a blogger’, but I would laugh it off and say no. I didn’t truly believe at the time that it could be a career for me; I didn’t see the potential of it.” However, through years of experience in the retail world, working for Level Shoe District – which took him around the globe to Fashion Week and brought about amazing collaborative opportunities with brands – Sidani discovered that the Middle East provided a rare backstory that intrigued the reading public, as well as the labels that wanted to snag a slice of his star power. When discussing the conditions that gave rise to the Middle East’s fashion blogging phenomenon, Sidani reasons, “We are lucky because I believe our followers in the region are much more active and engaged than any other market. It is always a comment I hear when meeting with brands from outside the region. Also, as a Middle Eastern fashion blogger, we are treated so well by the fashion houses and brands. To be given the opportunity to attend Fashion Week and be at the shows of some of the biggest brands is absolutely amazing.”
Yet, there are caveats that come with blogging in a region that values traditionalism. Lana El Sahely of L’Armoire de Lana points out, “We have different constraints to deal with; we need to always be careful to draw the line between being fashionable whilst remaining conservative and respectful of the traditions. Also, the Middle East is a huge region, and every country’s audience is completely different from the other, so it’s tricky to find a balance that would make a blog appealing to the entire region.”
Breaking the Barrier
For the elite Middle Eastern fashion blogger, it was only a matter of time before their pioneering efforts turned into legitimate dream jobs. However, blogging is a relatively new profession, and for some, breaking the barrier between part-time hobby and full-fledged career is still a work in progress. “I have a career outside of blogging and it’s not by choice or lack of income, but being an Arab girl, I had to make my Mom happy and get a day job,” Hasan confesses. However, it is important to note that if she chose, Hasan could break ties with her more traditional career, because her blog is self-sustaining and generates passive income via advertising partnerships. Hasan has also been one of the few regional bloggers to further capitalize on her status by launching a shoe line, a move which originated in a passion for footwear and a desire to make a larger impact on the fashion world.
Sidani has similarly tied his popularity and success as a blogger to a more ambitious project with the launch of Mr. Moudz Consultancy. Between the two full-time jobs, he stays incredibly busy, but it rarely feels like work when his main job is in conveying his well-honed personal style to the masses. “I stand out from the crowd with my personality, beliefs, and views on life,” he shares. “I wanted to – in my own way – share this message with people. I would do so through different ways, showing them that you can dress different, go to places that not everyone goes to, and most importantly by speaking to them directly and sharing with them the lessons I’ve learnt in life. The messages I get on a daily basis from people telling me how much they have learnt from my messages and what an impact my words have had on their lives — this makes it all worth it.”
His lightning strike moment erased any previous skepticism he may have had about the viability of blogging as a career. “I knew that I had broken that barrier when I started getting contacted by the big names in the industry,” he says. “I still remember one of my first big projects with a respected name in the industry. I had never been offered money for an appearance at an event, in addition to hosting. That was a pivotal moment in my life because it opened my eyes to the realization that I could do this as a full-time job!”
For all the surface glamour of fashion blogging, the influencers we interviewed for this piece are deeply passionate about the messages they convey. After all: content is key. It is important to them that they put themselves on the (virtual) page, and that they are able to share their real-life experiences in ways they hope inspire others. For instance, Tala Samman is adamant about the accuracy of her reviews, “I am quite picky, so when I feature a salon, a product or a restaurant, I’m actually really raving about it,” she says. El Sahely’s well-rounded approach to blogging includes the language of it as well. She’s not just dishing up cool outfits – she’s attempting to convey a quality experience through her words, “I want them to enjoy my writing style, to be inspired, to travel the world just by sitting behind their laptops/phones,” she confesses. “I want them to be able to experience what I’m experiencing.”
Personal Branding Paves the Way to Success
For this incredible pool of talent, blogging isn’t a part-time hobby, but a career that has afforded each of them incredible opportunities. In order to be successful at the business of blogging, each blogger must have a clearly identifiable personal brand, which is much more difficult to establish than it sounds. For instance, El Sahely’s approach to blogging is considered from every possible angle, “I always push for L’Armoire De Lana and not Lana El Sahely,” she shares. “I don’t want my blog to be about my persona even if the main element is personal style.” Additionally, the Beirut-based blogger posts daily on platforms like Snapchat and Instagram, where fans are encouraged to follow along as she travels to the Hôtel Plaza Athénée in Paris where she drops in on the Dior Institut or visits Dubai for a photoshoot.
Show Me the Money
Sidani, El Sahely, Hasan, and Samman might not have suspected how successful they would become when they first started blogging, but if anyone thinks that their carefully curated posts are nothing more than vanity projects, they would be wrong. Fashion bloggers, with their influential reach in the region, are capable of demonstrating luxury lifestyles in a way that readers respond to and brands benefit from. In fact, blogging has forced these talented young entrepreneurs to develop business acumen, and be able to forge partnerships with luxury brands and retail destinations, thereby legitimately monetizing the practice of blogging. Some, like El Sahely, even have publicists and a small team of translators. Others, like Samman, have personal assistants. Many others are now being represented by talent managers who proactively secure new projects and grow revenue streams.
El Sahely realized that she needed to make changes to transform her blog from hobby to professional personal brand early on, “Following up closely with the international scene, I realized that the only way to make a blog viable and be able to work with more designers and more brands was to actually shape the way the work could function, make it more professional, and standardize the different features to be able to monetize it.”
In the past few years, fashion bloggers from the Middle East have been integral in the marketing of brands like Cadillac, Burberry, and Piaget. They have starred in advertising campaigns, hosted lavish parties, and snagged millions of social media impressions. When speaking to Hasan of her brand partnerships, she is quick to rattle off an astonishing list, “I have worked so well with Chloé, Louis Vuitton, Alice Temperley, Christian Louboutin, Cartier, IWC, Valentino, Lanvin, Gucci, Burberry, and more.” Sidani’s list of brand collaborations is equally impressive, “I’ve collaborated with brands such as Topman, Burberry, Fendi, and Dior to name a few,” he says modestly. “Of course though there are so many I hope to collaborate with, such as Gucci, Off-White, Fear of God, Saint Laurent, and Valentino among others.”
When we asked Hasan what is unique about her position as a Middle Eastern fashion blogger, her answer clarifies the situation, “I think as Middle Eastern bloggers we have the advantage of having Arab women as our audience and they are who the brands are trying to target.”
Hasan is right: Having Arab women as the target audience has been a huge advantage. Brands are in hot pursuit of regional bloggers because the Arab woman possesses tremendous purchasing power, and regional bloggers have their attention. The Middle East is one of the top luxury markets in the world, but what is astonishing about the region in particular is its tremendous growth rate in that sector. Analysts have estimated that, while the annual rate of growth in the global luxury market is five percent, the Middle East slays the global average, increasing by 11 percent annually. That’s more than double the growth of the global luxury market. It’s no wonder brands are so eager to have a presence here, and even more obvious as to why they tap stylish, talented women like El Sahely and Hasan, and Samman to convey their messages. Sidani concludes the power of regional influencers perfectly when he states, “[Bloggers] are now replacing models in editorial shoots, as well as big-budget campaigns. They are shaping the markets and the brands are well aware of this.”
Teach Me Your Ways
If traveling the world, partnering with stylish luxury brands, monetizing your passions, and tapping into a creative vein sounds like the best job in the world… it is. Yet as the rise of the Middle Eastern fashion blogger continues to climb toward the stratosphere, the saturation of the market has made it difficult for newcomers to break through. As you might imagine, the famous bloggers we talked to are constantly asked about the way they reached the top. Sidani is ready to take on the role of guidance counselor, “I always tell anyone that asks me for advice that above all they have to believe in themselves — without that they won’t get anywhere. It is also important to ask yourself, ‘What is your purpose in doing this?’ Once you can answer that, you will be able to stand out from the crowd, and you will be able to better identify who you are as a blogger. It is so important to have your own style, especially in today’s world where there is such a huge and growing number of bloggers. You need to give people a reason to follow you.”
For those considering a future career in fashion blogging, El Sahely leaves us with a word of advice, “Don’t stop your studies just to pursue this path. I personally completed a BA in Economics and an MA in Sociology. Studying will give you insights to better plan your work. Always be true to your style and personal taste and try to find the right moves to establish your blog as something different.”