Alia Khan on Leadership and Islamic Fashion

Alia Khan on Leadership and Islamic Fashion

November 7, 2016

Alia Khan is a pioneer and founder of the Islamic Fashion Design Council (IFDC). When she isn’t setting up new offices around the world, she is speaking at major fashion events or consulting for retailers and designers who are aiming to enter the lucrative arena of Islamic fashion.

Raised in Canada and the USA, Alia worked on her own fashion creations with a fusion twist, which led to setting up her own independent media and marketing company in Los Angeles, winning high profile clients like Procter and Gamble.

Alia has had the privilege of working with experts from around the world and is a recognized industry expert and speaker at top business forums, conferences, and events including World Islamic Economic Forum, Turin Islamic Economic Forum, among other government and private events.

Alia Khan was one of the keynote speakers at Leadership Summit 2016. In an exclusive interview with Bangladesh Brand Forum, Alia Khan shared her thoughts on leadership and the Islamic fashion industry.

BBF: How do you feel visiting Bangladesh?

Alia Khan: I love Bangladesh. I came here for the first time several months ago, and I did not know what to expect. Even though I’m originally Pakistani, I think we have every reason to come to know each other better because we should feel a closeness in our ties. When I first landed, I was amazed at the beauty and the greenery. I think Bangladesh is really blessed and I really hope I keep coming back and do more of my work here.


BBF: You are the founder of Islamic Fashion Design Council. What is Islamic Designing? How is it different and what are some of its characteristics?

Alia Khan: I think what you have to keep in mind when you talk about Islamic fashion is that every woman is the same essentially. No matter where she is from, whatever her beliefs are or what her background is. We all appreciate style, elegance and beauty. I think that is just human nature. To be human is to know beauty and to embrace it. With Islamic fashion, we have certain parameters by which we live. It’s embracing a modest lifestyle. So that means that we normally keep everything full length and try to be modest in our appearance. We don’t encourage anything that is tight fitted, but at the same time, we want to make sure that it still drapes elegantly. So there are a few tricks that a designer needs to know about catering to the modest fashion consumer. But when they do, it is almost as if they have tapped into a huge market. If they can please this market and understand consumer profile, they have basically tapped into a very loyal customer. It is because this is someone who is committed to the modest lifestyle. It’s not a passing fancy; it’s not a seasonal fad. It’s something that they wish to do forever.


BBF: What attracted you to this industry?

Alia Khan: I think it’s the same for everyone. As I said, I’m no different in the fact that I like to live within my modest means and lifestyle. I try not to be too extravagant in the way I live. But at the same time, I embrace elegance and I like to wear things that look graceful. So for me, I felt that if I were one of those customers, there must be many more. So, I originally wanted to come up with my own fashion line, because I thought that I’d like to cater women like myself. But when I went about that process, I realized that there was no organization, no council, not even a chamber of commerce that would address the challenges that one would face when trying to get into modest fashion. So, that is when I had the idea of coming up with a council that would provide a platform to cater to this industry better and work more effectively. I mean, you’re talking about a customer base that has a spending power of $500 billion, depending on which report you read. So, that is a significant market and we need to cater to it in a very effective manner.


BBF: What is the social impact of IFDC?

Alia Khan: I think, by default, what happens is that you are looking at designers globally that are acknowledging this consumer base and I think it is a very interesting place to be right now. As you know, there is a lot of commentary going around the world, whether it’s the French minister or elsewhere, where they have their opinions of what women are like when they dawn a scarf on their head. I never realized that a small piece of cloth will have such an impact on people. But it does, and I find that very interesting. So, socially, when you see companies like Dolce & Gabbana coming up with their own Abaya and hijab line and they cater to this market in their own way. You can’t help but understand that it is a nod of appreciation for this market. So, I think there is a way that this industry is embracing this consumer and acknowledging that this consumer has a right and a reason for the way they wish to dress and we should appreciate and respect that.


BBF: Does IFDC cater to non-Muslims?

Alia Khan: Sure. In fact, it is a very strong part of this market. Of course, the primary demand is from the global Muslim population, which is a huge population and over 60% of them are 30 and under. But strong secondary markets are the Christian and Jewish women that wish to wear something modest to church, for example. You’ll often find them coming to the Islamic boutiques to find that right dress because they are not finding the kind of covers that they need otherwise. So, I think what’s happening is that, we are seeing the birth of a legitimate category. It’s because more than one type of consumer is asking for this type of fashion. So, it needs to be catered to in a more significant manner.


BBF: Do you think you have created a new market, or changed an existing one?

Alia Khan: I don’t think I have ever thought about creating or changing anything. I just saw a need and I realized that if this need is not filled, there are going to be inevitable issues. Because what happens is that the stakeholders, the industry players, the designers and even the retailers end up falling into categories that don’t necessarily befit them. I suppose if you were to find a direct answer to that, I think that there is some change that has happened because of our existence. With IFDC now in the scene, and being the global leader that it is in Islamic and modest fashion, by default, it has allowed people to see positive change. It makes people more aware, not only of the opportunities, but of the actual profile that has so much beauty and elegance, and I think that understanding is developing.


BBF: What are your expectations from today’s summit?

Alia Khan: I’m actually very excited about today’s summit. I think the summit is a very good idea and it is a great way for all of us to share our leadership skills with each other. I plan to share a workshop that we tend to do for the industry players and we have found it to be quite effective and to be honest, the workshop was developed over time by our own success story. So I’ll be sharing some of the mindset behind why we undertook the journey and perhaps it’ll help people think about their journey and how they can fit some of those ideas in.


BBF: Your topic today is “Women in Leadership”. How do you perceive ‘leadership’?

Alia Khan: I think a leader is not what you may see in a hero movie. It is not someone who is the mightiest, or the biggest, or the tallest. I think a leader is someone who is quite humble, quite understated and they don’t need to be the loudest or the biggest and the brightest. A leader is someone who has the discipline to do things differently. A leader is someone who ‘eats what other people don’t eat’. A leader is someone who is willing to be under training, under all circumstances because they realize that the more we brush up ourselves, the more we can lead the world to a better place. A leader changes themselves first before changing anything else.


BBF: What would be the core message for the young leaders out there?

Alia Khan: The next generation needs to be even more focused. We are coming into some very tricky times, and I think the next generation needs to be very sure about who they are. I think it is very important for them to understand that it is okay to be different. Unfortunately, because we are in such a tech based society, that pressure of being like everyone else or being influenced by the real life or social media peers, it is going to be even harder for them to be independent thinkers. It is very critical for them to remain on a steadfast ground where they can understand that right has to win over popularity.

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