HERE FOR THE FASHION

Lebanon 2013 | TOURISM & RETAIL | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Izzat Traboulsi, Managing Director of Fashion Trading Company (Hugo Boss), on international operations, trends in the industry, and local brands.

Izzat Traboulsi
BIOGRAPHY
Izzat Traboulsi joined Fashion Trading Company (Hugo Boss), in 2002 as the Sales Manager for Boss Orange and Boss Black Menswear. He later moved up to Head of Sales in 2004 before becoming the Business Development Manager in addition to his previous position in 2005. Since 2007, Traboulsi has been the Managing Director of FTC.

Fashion Trading Company (Hugo Boss) is present in 12 countries. What does Lebanon mean for the company?

FTC is a family-owned business. We are the agent of Hugo Boss for the entire Middle East, so we carry out operations for the brand across 12 countries. We have franchise stores in 10 countries and the rest are multi-brand channels. Lebanon represents almost 10% of the entire Middle East market when it comes to the fashion industry. Nevertheless, Lebanon means a lot to FTC since the company was born in Beirut and currently is still based here.

How has the fashion industry in Lebanon developed over the years, and how is it perceived externally?

Lebanon has always been the most advanced country in terms of fashion. The fashion industry has developed quite a lot over past years. More and more brands from all categories have opened in Lebanon. Luxury brands have expanded in downtown Beirut, whereas the other segments have in malls or highstreet destinations like Hamra and Kaslik. Externally, Lebanon is perceived as a niche market. Lebanon doesn't have the biggest windows, but definitely it has a niche one since the offer is much smaller. Saying that, they concentrate on niche products to seduce clientéle. It is more homogenous and they have to make sure to choose a nice collection since they don't just sell to expatriates or tourists, but mostly to local people. Lebanon is considered the window of the Middle East because of its large diaspora, which gives it an edge in fashion. If you attend an event or walk around during the day, you will find people dressed up fashionably; and this for me is a true indicator of the country's fashion culture. Lebanese women are trendsetters. Other GCC countries may have the stores, but the locals haven't embraced it. Dubai, however, is a larger market and leads the industry.

What trends can you identify in consumer habits?

The trend is changing in Lebanon. Shopping used to be only about high street destinations, like Hamra, Verdun, Kaslik, and other high-end streets in the downtown area. However, in the past five years, we have seen more and more malls opening up, and so the industry is shifting from a street destination to a mall one. Malls offer convenience—everything is under one roof. Hugo Boss, however, is a street destination brand. I do not like the shift into malls in Lebanon. We can have commercial stores in malls, but Downtown Beirut is currently the best destination for luxury, and that is where all the premium brands are.

How are the premium brands performing in Lebanon?

We are doing well. In 2012, we maintained the same numbers as in 2011, which is good because many others suffered. For 2013, we are expecting to sustain the 2012 figures. I am not expecting any growth. Unfortunately, we have not grown for a couple of years due to the poor political situation. Lebanon was much healthier in 2009 and 2010. The premium brands could perform much better if the situation calmed down. They should do much better since the stores are not big enough. If you compare the stores in Lebanon to the ones in the GCC, they are much smaller—and that is an indication in itself.

How would you assess the importance of local brands versus international ones?

Local brands are very poor for men and brilliant for women. However, there are many upcoming stars for the future. We are extremely famous in haute couture, and its importance is really big compared to the international names. Brands like Elie Saab, Rabih Keyrouz, Mahfouz, and Hobeika are competing fiercely with international brands, such as Vera Wang. We have some other good emerging designers too, for example Sandra Mansour and Rani Zkhem. There are many smaller brands too that sell accessories in the mid- to high-price range. Lebanese designers are very talented with regard to women's haute couture and accessories, but not so talented when it comes to men's fashion. I would like to see more local brands in that segment as well as in the women's prêt-á-porter.