Retail In Ramadan: Nez Gebreel Is On Fashion's Frontline

BY Nez Gebreel / May 29 2017 / 20:26 PM

As we enter into the Holy Month, former CEO of Dubai Design & Fashion Council Nez Gebreel discusses the future of Ramadan fashion as a retail opportunity

Retail In Ramadan: Nez Gebreel Is On Fashion's Frontline
Efraim Evidor

Ramadan is one of my most cherished times of the year, bringing with it renewed simplicity, peace and clarity. As a consumer I devour less, but while my style is pared back to become more modest, fashion is still pivotal. Though I come from a part of the Middle East where abayas aren’t indigenous to the community, since being in Dubai I like to culturally assimilate, looking to designers such as Huda Al Nuaimi for modern abayas or Katya Kovtunovich, who works with sadu, a particular weave from the UAE. It’s an incredibly special time, from both a sartorial and societal perspective, with the former gaining traction year on year. 

Whilst the ‘modest movement’ isn’t new, with designers honing in on demure dressing with hopes of capturing the Middle East’s growing high-spend market (H&M, Dolce & Gabbana and Oscar de la Renta have all launched modest designs tailored to this region), I’ve noticed in recent years an increase in designers focusing on Ramadan. Often released as capsule collections, brands capitalise on a period of heightened retail activity throughout Ramadan and Eid Al-Fitr. People want to shop, they want to buy, they want to celebrate. 

But, how opportunistic are these collections? I’m all for Ramadan collections on the condition they are authentic with a cultural conscience. The customer is smart – they know when they’re being duped, so brands need to invest in understanding the region, rather than simply the general perception of it.

There is demand, after all, during Ramadan for beautiful, yet modest, clothing and if brands are reciprocating requests and meeting clients’ demands, then they are simply doing their jobs properly. Needs are being met. The fashion industry is mid-shift in becoming a consumer-led market and more reactive to customer requirements, so it’s natural that more focused, time-sensitive collections will occur. 

The difficulty these brands have is to approach the design from an informed vantage point. You may remember Dolce & Gabbana’s abaya collection launched last January; it wasn’t  well-received, with, in my opinion, dated designs that didn’t relate to the sophisticated, trend-aware Khaleeji woman. The brand is now in conversation with local designers and industry experts to understand where they went wrong and in a bid to learn, adapt and communicate better with the market. 

For me, this is the crux to the success of a Ramadan collection. The brand must listen to the customer. Until recently, brands and retailers followed their own paths, designing what they wanted and dropping in store when it suited them. In the last few years, onus has switched to a more consumer-driven society and the demands of the customer – what do they want and when do they want it? If customers want pieces specific to Ramadan and Eid, then brands should listen and deliver accordingly. That means supplying at the right time but also creating appropriate pieces. 

Designers Alice Temperley and Burberry’s  Christopher Bailey have committed much time to visiting this region, understanding the culture and meeting clients. While smart designers have been adapting pieces to this region for a while, catering to the power of the modest dollar, it is so much more than just lowering hemlines. The more designers who follow their leads and discover this for themselves, the better.

Yago Goichoechea, one of the designers behind Dubai-based label Taller Marmo, says they frequently have clients enquiring about their upcoming kaftan collections and to meet demand have created a limited edition collection with Zayan Ghandour of S*uce and designer of Zayan The Label, whose customers visit the boutique up to two months before Ramadan looking for appropriate collections, says that being a small company means she can be nimble and produce exactly what she feels her customers are looking for. Feeding into opportunity with reactive supply and demand.

Other abaya designers I know won’t create a collection all year round but each Ramadan they’ll do a collection, sell out and that will be them done for the year. It can be one of the most lucrative periods and there is much growth potential. 

My advice for brands looking to launch Ramadan-specific collections is don’t underestimate your customer – we are well-travelled, well-educated, smart consumers; Have a conversation with the region and in turn learn about the religion, culture and society. Understand that the Middle East is not just one big territory, you need to tap into each one individually because they have different aesthetics with very different needs. Be aware of how important the spending power of this market is, particularly on a luxury level; Lastly, know that the future of fashion is communication. Brands will only succeed if they listen to their clients.  

This article appears in the May issue of Harper's Bazaar Arabia

Nez wears: Dress, Victoria Beckham, Dhs3,075 at Boutique 1

Styling: Samah Elmeri

Photography: Efraim Evidor