Ten years ago, only a few in the Muslim world were aware of the vast array of halal food and stunning fashions available from countless businesses within the UK. Now the situation has been transformed.
Mainstream multiples and stores stock halal food, promote Muslim festivals and their buyers avidly search out trends and ideas at Muslim exhibitions.
Identifying the reasons for this change are not difficult. Quite apart from the superb innovative merchandise available and growing awareness of the sheer size of the market, the Events industry has just acknowledged the role of Waleed Jahangir, CEO of Algebra Consulting, and owner of the market-leading London Eid Festival and London Muslim Shopping Festival. Nominated for both Festivals at the prestigious Exhibition News Awards 2022, he won silver for the Diversity & Inclusion Award.
“I was advised to go. I wasn’t expecting it as some of the other nominees were great. I felt proud. Proud for the community, showcasing the Muslim culture and food positively. It gave me strength and happiness for the community showing how the Muslim community was gaining recognition,” commented Waleed afterward.
It has taken six years of very hard work to reach this point, turning a concept idea into an established reality. Waleed knew big mainstream companies and retailers had no understanding of the potential market size. Recognising the lack of visibility for Muslim enterprises and culture, he decided to do something about it.
“I grew up in the UK, and came from the events industry. I was working in the mainstream and saw that the Muslim community didn’t have a showcase for its positive aspects, the way of life, culture, and food. There are a lot of eCommerce businesses operating within the Muslim community. Ecommerce has no colour. Mainstream businesses didn’t realise how big the market was. Companies like Monsoon and John Lewis were not interested when Muslim companies approached them. There were a lot of Muslim SME’s (small to medium-sized enterprises) in the UK but no one knew about them, there just wasn’t a platform.
Online businesses didn’t get to meet buyers and customers, they couldn’t network in person because there was no platform for the halal economy, fashion, etc.,” he explains.
To show the scale of demand, it was necessary to demonstrate it with a very visible event.
The giant Westfield Shopping Centre in East London was the perfect location. Not only did it possess a large available space for such an event, but it is also easily accessible and is occupied by most mainstream retailers.
Waleed contacted the Westfield Shopping Centre and arranged to hold an Eid festival weekend. The results were staggering. People poured into the Westfield Shopping Centre to attend the festival, take part in activities, and shop, shop, shop.
“It was the holy grail for retailers – the equivalent of Christmas sales when it was not Christmas.
This was our way of explaining the strength of the demand for these items from the Muslim Community. We showed them just how many people were involved.
Ås soon as they saw the numbers coming through the doors, and saw the sales, we had their interest.”
The Eid Festival has become a regular event on the Westfield calendar and was soon followed by an even larger event, the London Muslim Shopping Festival, at the nearby Excel Exhibition centre.
Now in its sixth year, the London Muslim Shopping Festival regularly attracts 80 to 90,000 people while the associated events London Eid Festival, London Halal Food Festival, Modest Fashion Live attract hundreds of thousands of people.
Not all are Muslims – many non-Muslims are attracted by these festivals, the activities, and the products on offer, thus encouraging greater awareness of the culture and shopping options.
“We are attracting people from all over the UK and continental Europe to the London Muslim Shopping Festival. This is an opportunity for them to take a look at products and brands, to talk to potential suppliers since Islamic goods are very unique. We get coachloads of females coming to the Shopping Festival to do a pre-Ramadan Shop, then come to Westfield’s for the Eid Festival for a post-Ramadan shop.
People come from all over the UK – Manchester, Bradford, Newcastle, Cardiff to these events. There is nothing else of its kind. For many people, it is a Muslim weekend away. We also attract mainstream shoppers too, it is very holistic, people want to see trends, buy food and unique fashion,” said Waleed.
Mainstream companies especially retailers are equally attentive as Waleed indicates. “All the buyers from the mainstream stores come to the London Muslim Shopping Festival. They want to see what the trends are, what’s happening in the market. Everyone is very flamboyant, peacock-like seeking attention. The buyers now understand that there is a huge market out there. Sainsbury’s didn’t use to hold a Ramadan market in their stores – now they do.”
The influence and popularity of these Festivals, especially the London Muslim Shopping Festival is set to continue growing. Waleed states, “The London Muslim Shopping Festival is growing year on year in terms of numbers of visitors and exhibitors. We are looking to add new features such as a B2B areas, finance, and an Awards ceremony.”
No longer ignored, Muslim culture and products are now clearly attracting attention and interest from a vast audience. And the long-term potential is considerable. With the festivals now a permanent part of the events calendar, Waleed is launching a new event – the Salaam Camp.
“This is our newest project, a festival weekend with kids activities all day in a location safe for them to take part in activities, games etc while adults can listen to music, enjoy entertainment, food, and drink. It will be held in July at an activity centre in Ashford, Kent. We will be setting up a website soon, but details will be on the www.algebra.consulting website just like our other festivals.”
Sufficient to say – early booking is recommended!
Angela Youngman is a freelance journalist & member of the International Travel Writers Alliance. She specialises mainly in travel, tourism, food, culture, leisure, writing for national & international magazines and websites. Angela has written numerous books including walking guides, travel books and garden books.