Islamic Lifestyle

Traditional fashion weeks ’antiquated’, ’obsolete’ and ripe for disruption - Islamic Fashion & Design Council

Photo: Media launch event of "Pret-A-Cover Buyers Lane" on February 12, 2018 at Le BHV Marais, City Walk, Dubai, UAE. From left to right: Saeed Kharbash, Deputy CEO, Dubai Islamic Economy Development Centre, Hateem Alakeel, fashion designer and founder of Toby by Hatem Alakeel, Vanessa Chinopoulou, director of marketing and communications at Pullman Hotel, and Alia Khan, chairwoman of the Islamic Fashion and Design Council.

DUBAI - The traditional fashion week model is broken and needs to be seriously looked at, Alia Khan, chairwoman of the Islamic Fashion and Design Council (IFDC) told Salaam Gateway at the media launch of a new modest fashion showcase and pop-up event in Dubai.

“The catwalk is an antiquated way to showcase clothes and I don’t think it’s doing a service to the designers,” said Khan.

“There is a way to connect with the designer and the designer’s vision [that] the catwalk doesn’t allow. The catwalk is very impersonal.”

Saudi designer Hatem Alakeel, best known for his contemporary twists to the traditional thobe, agrees, also describing the lack of financial returns as “annoying”: “We’re reaching the stage where fashion shows are becoming obsolete … Year after year, you never actually cover your expenses,” said the founder of Toby by Hatem Alakeel fashion house, who designs for both men and women.

Runway shows at fashion weeks are notorious for their high costs, which vary based on venue, production design, the number of models, styling, makeup and public relations.

Companies rarely reveal how much fashion shows cost but as an indication, Indonesian designer Ali Charisma told Salaam Gateway in May 2016 that they are “not cheap” and cost him “hundreds of millions of rupiah” for each show in Indonesia. 100 million Indonesian rupiah is equivalent to around $7,000. To put that in context, Indonesia’s income per capita in 2016 was just under $3,600 per year, according to World Bank data.

For the United Arab Emirates, where income per capita is around $38,000 per year, the costs are on a different scale. “I’ve actually heard of budgets where they’ve done full-on few days of [runway shows] within a budget of just $150,000, and that’s a really low budget,” IFDC’s Khan told Salaam Gateway.

The Dubai-based body that considers itself an advocate for the modest fashion industry, is focused on how limited budgets and resources can be maximised and optimised, without compromising on quality, said Khan. It believes it may have the answer to better connect fashion designers and their labels to retailers and the end-consumer: “the first-ever augmented ‘technologically advanced’ fashion show”.


From March 28 to April 2, IFDC will hold its “Pret-A-Cover Buyers Lane” at Dubai’s upmarket City Walk retail complex.

Doing away completely with models walking the runway, IFDC has asked each of around 30 designers from different countries to submit their own videos of what they would like to convey of their designs to professional and retail buyers.

“When you allow a designer to do something that they produce themselves, this allows [the buyer or customer] to really connect with them and learn more about their vision. We want [the designer] to show us how they can best connect with their market, their audience and how they can convey who they are through these videos,” said Khan.

Designers are free to show one look or 18 looks, said Khan, adding that IFDC has tried to not give them too many restrictions.

The videos will then be ‘mapped’ onto giant outdoor screens that are already a feature at City Walk, Osama Sorial of XYZ Cultural Technology, IFDC’s tech partner, told Salaam Gateway.

The Montreal, Canada-headquartered company last year worked with multidisciplinary studio Float4 to broadcast video content onto motorised water screens and 30 LED screens that surround the central piazza at City Walk. The project used 34 projectors and 300 lighting features, XYZ Cultural Technology said last year. According to Sorial, IFDC’s show will use similar technology.

City Walk shows video clips in the evenings at the outdoor central fountain and piazza area.

“The show that we’re doing is completely different from what City Walk does currently. City Walk does animations and different entertainment-related type of clips but they haven’t done anything using fashion,” said Khan.

“The shows are going to be in the night-time and in the daytime we’re going to do a lot of activations around pop-up [windows and shops]. We’re going to do different meet-and-greets between retailers and designers, and media meet-and-greets,” said Khan.

Alakeel, who says he will be doing a “return to glamour” show working with ethical fur, says the pop-ups will be the up-close and personal features to support the videos. “You’re actually able to feel the fabric, you can see the merchandise, the finishings and the quality,” he said.


City Walk in Dubai is a favourite dining and upmarket retail destination for local Emiratis and other Gulf nationals. Khan told Salaam Gateway the choice of the venue is deliberate not only for its technical capabilities.

“We want modest fashion to be associated with this higher quality, or better quality. We believe those are the kinds of adjectives that we like to introduce more of in modest fashion,” said Khan.

“I don’t think that, so far, events have really hit that target in the modest fashion space ... We’re prepared for it to attract the high-level money that we’re going to attract.”

However, she says, the range of designers will also appeal to a broader consumer base. “It’s not that it’s necessarily the entire [upmarket, luxury] demographic because we also have athletic wear, we have street wear. There’s more than just the aim of B2B and B2C.

“Of course, the commercial opportunity is very important for us to create but we also have the aim to create a better perception for modest fashion.”

The choice of Dubai is also deliberate, said Khan. "You may say Dubai is a small market but it's an important geographical lcoation. It really attracts the GCC market, it attracts the Europeans, and we're doing it over the Easter and Spring holiday break ... to make it easy for families to come and attend our events."

Other than Toby by Hatem Alakeel, other designers and labels participating in the IFDC event include Esmod Dubai, UK’s athleisure label Under-Rapt, The Room from South Africa, India’s The Hijab Lee, USA’s Dosougi Designs, Punto from Turkey, Italy’s Loretta Caponi, and Malaysia’s Fashion Valet is bringing six labels.

(Reporting by Emmy Abdul Alim; editing by Seban Scaria

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