Her Excellency Sara Al Madani, Board Member at Sharjah Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Director of Rouge Couture has brought style and entrepreneurial spirit to the world of Halal fashion
What inspired you to get into the abaya business? What did you feel the Halal fashion industry lacked in the UAE?
What inspired me when I was 15 to enter into Halal fashion was my curiosity and desire to change the abaya. Also, I wanted to position the Arabic woman in the fashion industry with her traditional clothes, make her part of the industry with traditional wear, and yet keep it modest.
The modern fashion industry is a billion-dollar industry—it is undeniable that there is a huge need and demand for it. Right now, Dubai is reaching out globally and is positioning itself in this world. This is helping us position our traditions as well. I think a lot of doors are going to open in the future, with this Dubai growth, and modest fashion will be based in the UAE. Right now, we do not have any events that promote modest fashion internationally in the UAE, but hopefully in the future we will have that, because the demand for it is undeniable.
How did you begin to get your idea off the ground? What work did you do behind the scenes to make it happen?
I am a very creative person, and I come from a very creative background; creativity runs in my blood. Everything inspires me because when you seek inspiration you find it in everything, but when you are waiting for inspiration to find you, it will never happen. So, everything inspires me—food, countries, cultures, floors, flowers, personalities, everything.
Because I am creative and full of inspiration, this helped me to start my business at a young age. It pushed me and it was my fuel to start very young. I had no fashion background when I started, I learned it all within the last 15-16 years. It was all self-taught; I learned a lot and failed a lot. I just picked myself up and built myself better.
How are you financing the business?
My business is self-financed. When I opened my company, I gathered around AED 20,000 and opened my store. Back then, that was a huge amount that could cover your rent for up to two years at least. I started by selling my things, and gathered money by doing side jobs to be able to self-fund everything. I did not allow my parents to take part of this because my dad taught me that if I wanted something then I have got to do it myself. I did not want to feel obliged or think about anyone else. In case I failed, I wanted to fail on my own terms.
Have you worked with Islamic banks? Why or why not?
I have not worked with Islamic banks honestly, but I have a lot of friends who financed their projects through Islamic banks and they have very good deals. Right now, the opportunities that are available and the services that available from banks are amazing for SMEs. They might not be the best, or the most ideal, but there are a lot of initiatives happening. I have never been through a bank, as I mentioned I was self-funding, as I started small and it took me years to grow. But would I ever work with a bank? Maybe, why not? There are some good opportunities out there.
How are you marketing your products?
I have been marketing alone all my life, through social media, digital content, printed media or TV. I have done different and various kinds of things, and I started my project when I was 15 and I am 31 so back then when I started, marketing was very limited. We had no access to a lot of things that we have access to now. But I grew up with the brand, and even the marketing and the strategy changed as the brand grew and expanded.
How has the reception been from customers?
The reception for clients has always been priority, clients always come first. Follow up, feedback, staying in touch, understanding, and listening; the consumer always comes first and the consumer is always right. This is how we deal with our clients, we are always in constant communication and engagement with them.
How have you altered your product based on the feedback you have gotten from customers?
Because I am dealing with a traditional piece, I have done so many fashion shows in Paris and I’ve had so many requests from non-Arabs for my pieces. In terms of colours, cuts, and other basics I’ve catered m product to a global audience, Muslim and non-Muslim, to accommodate different mentalities, groups, ethnicities, people, and countries. If your brand is successful, you will be able to adopt and accommodate any request. My brand has definitely been catering to different requests for different people.
What else would you like to see improved in the Islamic economy? What other areas do you feel are under-serviced?
I would like to see more unity in terms of supporting each other. We need to work on bringing the spotlight on Islamic entrepreneurship because there is a lot of creativity out there. I have met a lot of people who are in the Islamic economy who do a lot of things related to Islam; and their ideas are so creative and so beautiful. We just need to shine the spotlight to see what we can do within our religion and how we can celebrate it and actually work with it.
Where do you plan to go from here?
I just want to grow, and with the strong digital influence we have in the world right now I am thinking of selling more online and reducing the plan I have of expanding to different branches. Right now, you can reach the world with just a click, so I am investing a lot in online retail and not investing as much on the on-ground expansion. I believe that this is the smartest way to do things.
What advice do you have for those who want to start their own business to join the growing Islamic economy?
My advice is to stay true to yourself and your identity, and do not get influenced. Because the beauty of starting something Islamic and traditional is sticking to these things, if you change them and modify them you will lose your base and your flavour with time, so stay true to what you do.
Make sure to target specific customer groups and market a lot, because these kinds of things need a lot of marketing, so that the consumer can understand your product. Make sure that you market it in ways that are appealing because a lot of people perceive that religion and traditional things are not very popular. Although there is a huge demand, it might still not be broadly popular.
Make sure to work hard on proving your product, and that you can make a difference. I am living proof that you can. Take your traditions, take whatever Islamic products you have, and always stay true to who you are and never change.