Alia Khan set up the Dubai-based Islamic Fashion Design Council (IFDC) in 2014. The same year, a report by Thomson Reuters Corp and Dinar Standard estimated that the Islamic and Modest Wear market would grow by 83% from 2012 to 2019. Brands ranging from Mango to Dolce & Gabbana started creating modest wear capsules. The 2020 Salaam Gateway report (Global Islamic Economy Report 2020 | Salaam Gateway – Global Islamic Economy Gateway) stated that by 2024, the Islamic and Modest Wear market will be worth $US311 billion: a large market, thirsty for the right product, but that required a deep understanding of the culture. 

“It surprised me that no one had already looked into this, supported and really tried to understand the needs of this market despite its huge spending power,” said Khan. Apart Saudi Arabia and Turkey, the largest spends in the Modest Wear market are Great Britain, France, and Germany. Having a global view was very important to Khan (who is of Pakistani origin). Though she opened its main office in Dubai, IFDC was first registered in New York and now has an office in London, where Alia is presently based. “My vision was never to be a me-too council,” she says. 

Work in progress

In the past, IFDC has created disruptive initiatives like Pret-A-Cover Fashion™ Week (PACFW), a virtual event where young designers benefit from buyers’ and merchandisers’ reviews and participate in virtual press conferences that help to mentor them on how to deal with the media. Says the chairwoman, “IFDC needed to address real concerns, and so needed to think critically – not follow the norm of mainstream fashion.” With their new offices in London they are now geared towards more tech-based initiatives.

Another initiative, Pret-A-Cover™ Buyers Lane, partnered with The Retail Summit Edition held at Dubai’s Atlantis Hotel in 2019. Designers chosen by the Council had the chance to be on the same platform as the fashion industry’s elite. Richard Branson, Patrick Chalhoub, Jo Malone and Huda Kattan were among those who attended this three-day global summit. IFDC also offers consultancy services to brands looking to be a part of the lucrative global Islamic economy. The list of labels chosen by IFDC’s selection committee included Dubai’s Pose/Arazzi, the UK’s Reshma, and Bahrain’s Muna Mattar to name just a few from countries around the world.

Modest approach

While Modest fashion is not a definitive term, Islamic fashion is. This is the gap that needs to be addressed. “There are global royal families in Europe who subscribe to the modest lifestyle. Definitions may differ but there is an overlap,” says Khan. However, when it comes to the Islamic consumer, this is a faith-based mandate, and this is where non-Muslim brands sometimes get things wrong. “Like when they use sheer fabric in a collection made for the Islamic market. Fashion needs to do their homework,” Khan said. This is where the IDFC can help fashion brands address the needs of Islamic women who enjoy fashion while at the same time being advocates of their faith.

As far as brands cashing in on the modest fashion market, Khan says, “It is important not to judge people.” She is aware of the backlash against Dolce & Gabbana’s Hijab and Abaya collection and how Nike was labeled opportunist for launching their Hijab. “This is a legitimate business. Everyone should be allowed to grab market share, and if the market appreciates what they do it is all fair game,” she says.

Halal beauty

The same can be said about how international brands approach halal products. “The topic of halal is multifaceted and primarily addresses the ethical and healthy consumption of meat and meat products. This is now a legitimate topic for cosmetics as well, as what we apply topically enters our bodies through the skin,” Khan said. 

Grand View Research estimates that the halal beauty industry will be worth $52.2 billion by 2025, so there are big bucks to be made here too. Khan does not believe that “halal” is a term that should also affect fashion: “The idea of “halal” is about the merciful treatment of the animal in life and death, so that our bodies have not consumed an agitated soul, hence endangering our own bodies and souls.” As fashion is not ingested it is a moot point for the apparel industry.

If you are wondering why Khan is not to be found on social media (only the Council has an account), she is very clear about her role as founder: “We are not about making celebrities out of anyone. It is about helping fashion understand how to stay within the Islamic principles of dressing.”