Saudi Designer Deema Ajlani On Slow Fashion, Supporting Local And Surviving Covid-19

Interview by Lucy Wildman

6 min read

“I am sure the industry will survive, but it will have to adjust itself just like everyone else will moving forward. This pandemic was like a wake-up call for the world and hopefully we will take something from it, “ Deema Ajlani tells MOJEH.

Bahrain-based, Saudi Arabian designer Deema Ajlani ventured into fashion by chance and began her career with a whimsical line of kaftans made for the modern Arab women. Fast forward to 2020, and Deema is the founder of her eponymous ready-to-wear label and annual Ramadan collection, and just like many other small business owners in the region, is battling to stay afloat amid the coronavirus crisis. Here, the designer shares her view on the future of the regional fashion and what the industry needs to do to reinvent itself post-crisis.

Before the coronavirus lockdown came into effect, what were you working on?
I was preparing to launch my Ramadan collection when the Covid-19 lockdown came into effect. Since my production is not local it meant that I did not receive my full collection so that is why I launched a capsule Ramadan collection instead of my usual larger one this year. 

How has coronavirus impacted your business?
Covid-19 firstly disrupted my supply chain, my stock is not as it should be, and it is also not as varied since some of the collection did not arrive. Secondly it has slowed down sales immensely as people are home and don’t feel the need to shop. They have nowhere to wear what they buy so for the time being they are not shopping, especially for seasonal items of clothing such as kaftans which are also primarily worn for social gatherings. 

Deema Ajlani

Deema Ajlani SS20 collection

What changes have you had to implement to your business to diversify?
As a fashion brand it’s been difficult to implement any major changes. The focus just shifted more to e-commerce and trying to generate sales on digital platforms rather than relying on exhibitions and events, as we’ve previously done in the past. 

What’s your strategy for business now?
My strategy right now is just to focus on online retail for the time being and to heavily promote it and use discount codes to move the stock. Usually by the time Ramadan ends work on the Spring/Summer collection begins, this year however, I feel the pace will be slower and not as urgent as the whole world has paused and needs to regroup and reassess and collectively move forward once things settle.

And what’s your strategy for business post-crisis?
Post crisis I feel the whole world will have to adjust. We all have to pick up the pieces and move on. The fact that I operate mainly online has meant that I did not suffer as much as other businesses with physical shops, so I am lucky in that sense. Post covid-19 I will hopefully move onto to beginning on the new collection if the situation allows it. The next collection however might be slightly smaller sustainable fashion as the world shifts slowly towards and being more mindful. So many things will come into play in the future of fashion I believe.

Deema Ajlani SS20 collection

Deema Ajlani SS20 collection

What is this period of turbulence likely to mean for the future of the regional fashion industry?
I think these events will change the landscape of fashion in general for the better. Hopefully the pace will slow down as will the insatiable appetite of people for the next ‘it’ thing. I think there will be a shift in mentality as well to ‘less is more’. I hope this will give local and regional brands a chance to shine and compete against the international ones. Just as the food movement around the world moved to ‘eat local’ in the last decade and I hope fashion moves more towards ‘shop local’ as well. 

And what is the single biggest thing that you need from the regional fashion consumers at this time?
As a small emerging brand, I need the support of the region to not only succeed but to persevere and stay afloat. The numerous ‘think local’ campaigns have shined a light on many businesses and hopefully people see the value in nurturing local businesses and helping them to stand on their feet and even to thrive. I feel we all need to do our part and buy from local businesses to keep them going.

What are your thoughts about how the industry will have to rebuild and reinvent itself post crisis?
I believe more that more than anything people will have learnt to live without excess after the crisis. I think this pandemic shook people to the core and realigned priorities. It also made people aware of the frenzied pace of life we have been living and how consuming it is. Fashion I think is one of the major industries which will be affected by people’s shifting mindset. I think people will learn to appreciate the smaller and simpler things in life and not constantly lust for more, so fashion will have to slow down, I believe, to follow the changing mentality. As demand falls so will the supply I believe. This will be true for both local and international brands. 

Deema Ajlani SS20 collection

Deema Ajlani SS20 collection

What are your thoughts on skipping or combining seasonal collections?
I think that the fashion industry and its carbon footprint on our planet is enormous and unnecessary. Skipping and combining collections to make seasons last longer and slow down wastage and the pace of fashion is essential and necessary. It is maybe one positive we can take away from this disaster. 

What advice could you give to others in the industry upon getting through this crisis?
I think this pandemic has shown us the value of e-commerce as it has been key to the industry’s survival whilst physical stores shut down. I think businesses who previously did not invest in e-commerce will see that it is vital to their success and will move towards having online presence rather than rely on store sales only. 

Finally, how are you trying to stay positive during this difficult time?
I believe that there is a silver lining in everything. This global disaster has unified humanity as a whole. Our pain is one, our struggles are shared and that has humbled us and fostered an altruistic spirit in people that I hope is here to stay. We have had to come together as one to overcome this disaster that engulfed the world and I hope we emerge with our eyes wide open and minds clear and set a new kinder path for both our planet and ourselves. The planet has finally had time to breathe, as have we, and I hope we continue on a positive, more mindful path in the future.

Deema Ajlani’s SS20 collection is an ode to Africa with rich tapestry style prints, vibrant bursts of colour and flowing silhouettes that capture the spirit of the continent’s majestic landscapes and diverse culture. Perfect for the Middle East’s humid summer, the line features paper-light fabrics in bold hues or earthy neutrals, depending on the mood. Available on

Read Next: Ten kaftan silhouettes to wear all summer long