Meet the woman ripping up the modest-wear rule book

As Prêt-à-Cover Buyers Lane plans to revolutionise the modest-dressing landscape in the Middle East, model, activist and #GraziaGirlGang modesty advocate Mariah Idrissi meets Alia Khan, Chairwoman of the Islamic Fashion Design Council, to find out how
Meet the woman ripping up the modest-wear rule book
Alia Khan: Islamic Fashion Design Council founder and all-round ruddy hero

Mariah: As someone who has attended loads of Modest Fashion Weeks globally, what makes Prêt-à-Cover Buyers Lane different from the rest?

Alia: Over the past few years, we have partnered with dozens of Fashion Weeks. From our experience, we feel that the conventional catwalk model is broken. It requires a lot of resources for brands and designers to participate, and doesn’t really translate into tangible business opportunities. With Prêt-À-Cover Buyers Lane, we propose a different approach to fashion events. For instance, there will be no catwalk – instead, designers have developed and shot short videos that will reflect the imagery of their brand. They’re almost short movies that will be shown on 350-degree screens, promising an immersive experience for the viewers, and inviting them to engage with the designers instead of being passive spectators of a show. We believe that being innovative is the key to moving forward as an industry, so we are trying to bring new strategies, new ideas for business development, and a new format with this event. And we do hope that we can encourage more of this type of progressive, forward-thinking approach when it comes to fashion. We hope we can compel the industry to evolve. This would be such an exciting movement to see for all of us.

Mariah Idrissi was the first hijabi model to star in a high-street ad campaign

Mariah: Personally, being a part of so many different Modest Fashion Weeks sometimes feels like our industry is disorganised and divided. What steps should we be taking to unite the modest fashion world?

Alia: Only ever compete with yourself. Let’s not introduce the competitive nature that the fashion world seems to be overloaded with. It’s time to show a different character. Yes, it’s all about business in the end, and business is cutting edge, but the results can be far more superior when we only compete with ourselves and not worry about who else is getting ahead or not.

Mariah: Is it counterproductive to segregate modest fashion in this way? Should we simply integrate modest fashion into London, Paris, Milan?

Alia: I think we should let things take their natural course. I believe the time will come when modest fashion gets more integrated and the dynamics of the industry will be more fluid, but it is my hope that modest fashion will build and retain its own character. Character is so important in life and, as consumers increasingly want to relate to the brands they associate themselves with, it is as important for a brand or industry to keep its uniqueness as it is for individuals to do so.

Mariah: Will you be casting hijabi models in the presentations?

Alia: To be very honest, I don’t think in this way. The fact is that most hijab-wearing women are not comfortable with the idea of modelling – call it cultural, call it values, call it personal choice – I think it’s better to let a woman who has chosen to be a model be the model. If she fits the brand vision, then she is right for the job. And for some brands, it’s important to have real hijab-wearing models in order to demonstrate the diversity and allow young women to relate to them, but we need not add this pressure unnecessarily.

Mariah: When did you form the Islamic Fashion Design Council and, more importantly, why?

Alia: We formed IFDC in 2013. Right around this time, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed, Ruler of Dubai and Prime Minister of the UAE, had mandated that Dubai be the global hub for the Islamic economy. With fashion and arts being a critical pillar of this economy, we ended up being at the right place at the right time. Globally, modest fashion started to gain traction and we stayed focused on our mission – to build a platform that would contribute to the development of the modest fashion and design industry and support industry players. This hopefully answers the why: with such a huge consumer market, it was so obvious to me that we needed an organisation to act as a platform and build on the amazing potential this space has. Since then, it’s been incredibly busy. We’ve been in turbo mode since!

Mariah: What are the mandates of the council?

Alia: Our primary mandate is to support and develop the industry and industry players, and we do that through initiatives such as putting together research and surveys, working with brands to help them further tap into the US$350 billion modest-fashion market or helping designers get deals. At the moment, we’re conducting a consumer behaviour report, and we are just about to launch the largest survey ever taken about modest fashion, in partnership with Hadith of the Day. Through such projects, we aim to further enlighten the industry about the reality of the market, which is a big help for the brands and designers who are trying to cater to this market. We also work with a lot of governments, events, and conferences in order to promote modest fashion and encourage industry players to become more innovative and bold. Through everything we do, we hope to truly make a difference and hope to inspire people and business to do good. Ethics are at the core of what we do. 

Mariah: Is it important to you to collaborate with influential voices both at the forefront and behind the scenes in the world of modest fashion when putting events together?

Alia: I think that collaboration feeds creativity. It’s important to collaborate with all focused people in the fashion world. Not just modest fashion. We can learn a lot from each other and definitely build something more sustainable together. And I think the key ingredient is to have a common vision, real talent, drive, and work ethics – influence is a by-product of all that. Then, of course, we work with some of the big names in fashion and retail to amplify the movement – it is important to bring together powerful voices.

Photos: Supplied and courtesy of