The cancellation of the anticipated International Muslimah Fashion Week event provoked a multitude of emotions from the Muslim Fashion community. It is understandable tensions ran (and are still running) high due to the amount of time and money attendees invested into preparing for participation. But an overwhelming display of an external locus of control has been observed from those directly and indirectly affected by the event's cancellation. An external locus of control is "the belief that events in one’s life, whether good or bad, are caused by uncontrollable factors such as the environment, other people, or a higher power"(Grinnell, 2009).
The external locus of control given by many is to classify the event as 'a scam', which has provided a false sense of comfort and justification in placing all blame upon the event organizer(s). I will touch on the 'scam' classification a bit later. However concerning the responsibility of blame, rarely does the participation in and outcome of a situation involving two or more people solely rest upon one party. There were numerous signs from the very beginning and many turned a blind eye to these signs, choosing nonetheless to forge ahead. These signs were clearly defined but the overwhelming existence of accepting and celebrating low-quality events and irresponsible business dealings runs rampant amongst the Muslim community. And until consumers hold businesses and entities accountable and demand high-quality, professional events and offerings, we will still continue to receive whatever they have deemed acceptable.
My Personal Experience With IMFW & Other Event Organizers
I was contacted by the IMFW organizer back in October with a proposal of being a media partner with the event. After reviewing their materials, I decided not to participate. Not only would I not be available to attend, but their presentation failed to meet the standards I have set for acceptable partnerships for my brand. A quote from the late Jim Rohn, an influential business philosopher and motivational speaker, summarizes this ideal well:
You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.
In any industry, business owners (including bloggers and designers because you are a business) must cautiously examine offers for advertising, features, collaborations and all other matters to maintain the integrity, perception, and trustworthiness of their brand. While there was tremendous potential for IMFW to become a leader in the U.S. and International Islamic Fashion industry, the event was neither presented nor managed in a professional and trustworthy manner. It was visually and intellectually unmatched for the work I produce.
Their website, correspondence, and marketing had an unattractive look and feel, unprofessional imagery, and poorly edited, unengaging copywriting filled with grammatical errors. There was no confirmed list of designers and this particularly bothered me as it is necessary for me to know if the event will be worth my time. I like to do research on designers before I attend a presentation/show so that I have a better understanding of their body of work, concepts, and inspirations. This allows me to create talking points and interview questions to discuss with them after the show. But IMFW did not make this available.
The final sign was the anticipation of Dian Pelangi participating as one of the featured designers. This was a major red flag as I have been familiar with Dian's work for many years. As a regular participant at fashion events like Jakarta Fashion Week and several high-level collaborations, I doubted Dian's appearance was confirmed. At this point, I could not align my work, my name, or my brand with this event. My resolve remains the same as when I began: I refuse to sacrifice the value and perception of UMAYAMU for a thin-filmed commonality of being Muslim. Business owners may share the same belief system, but this fact does not mean their businesses are evenly matched to work together.
Due to my coverage of luxury fashion, accessories, and events at UMAYAMU and other media outlets, I have received invitations to national and international events. The events I seriously consider attending have always shown the highest level of professionalism, from their initial correspondence to their website, marketing materials, copywriting, and imagery, including images of previous events. All fee payments (if required) are handled by secure systems, providing receipts for reassurance and verification purposes. Additionally, the services provided to attendees are always of the highest quality. For example, I was recently invited to attend a private showing of a new jewelry designer at a boutique in Dubai. I was provided a defined deadline and contact for RSVP and a complimentary limo service to and from the event. All event details were defined and easy to verify.
Everything Is Not As It Seems
A scam is defined as "a dishonest scheme; a fraud." But no proof has been presented to prove this was a scam. Some individuals on Facebook and Twitter have consistently stated this was a scam without understanding the meaning of the term. Using organizational revenue for personal expenses is misappropriation but does not qualify the action as a scam. Is this unethical? Yes, but it does not a scam make.
Varied Designer & Vendor Fees
Some have concluded the event was a scam because designers and vendors were provided different fees for participation. This is a system called sliding scale fees. The same system is used in various industries, including healthcare, specifically clinics serving underserved or impoverished communities. This technique is not unusual for fashion events, especially when an organizer is dealing with parties of varying talent and exposure. Fee definitions are flexible and are at the discretion of the organizer. Therefore, this fact does not qualify the event as a scam.
The Organizer's Presence, Ticket Sales & Refunds
Additionally, some have stated the event must have been a scam since the organizer was present at the hotel, selling tickets to the event despite the hotel having cancelled the event three days prior. This is an illogical reasoning. The common profile for a scam/con artist is a person who exhibits a sociopathic or antisocial personality. A telling sign of this disorder, amongst impulsivity, deception, and aggressiveness, is the lack of remorse or indifference to having psychologically, emotionally, or physically hurt others. If the organizer fit this profile, they would not have been present at the hotel, let alone still attempting to meet the terms of the contractual agreement with the hotel. They would not have been online attempting 'damage control' after the cancellation of the event.
What we have here is a situation where inexperience or naïveté was more pronounced than talent and resilience, ultimately ending in failure of the event. The fact the organizer continued to sell tickets on Friday shows what happens when our judgement becomes clouded by our investment of time and effort in a project. We have all experienced this at some point in our lives where we have sought any and all avenues of resolution to make a situation work.
Furthermore, some point to the fact some designer collections have not been returned or the fact that refunds have not been made to claim the event was a scam. This is also illogical reasoning. When was the last time a cancelled internet payment or product has been immediately returned from a company? This is a rare occurrence and to expect immediate refunds and collection returns is highly irrational. If the event organizer is indeed comprised of one person, there will be a lapse in the amount of time it takes to ship collections back to international and national designers along with issuing refunds.
The Necessity of Higher Business Standards & Adequate Business Education Within The Muslim Community
The vast majority of Muslim businesses within the U.S. are operating at a subpar level. From interior to exterior design and product offerings to customer service and marketing, many Muslim businesses are not operating at their highest potential. While business owners have their part to play in this matter, I place more blame upon the consumer. Rarely does one find brothers and sisters demanding higher quality goods or customer service. But you will find price haggling, requests for deep discounts or free services, simply because all parties are Muslim. It's as if subpar and excessively low prices are the hallmarks of an 'excellent business' within our communities. And this applies to schools, stores, restaurants, and even places of worship. But when it comes to businesses outside our communities, they are held to the highest standards possible and closely scrutinized. This backwardsness is the main reason business and events like IMFW are allowed to continue and are supported without question.
To change the way our businesses are operated, business owners must take business courses, degrees, or participate in mentorship/internship programs through state, federal, private, and non-profit programs. There are several programs available to those seeking to learn how to successfully plan, start, and maintain a successful business. While some believe running a business on their own is the best way, this normally is not the case. At the center of an expertly-run business is a team of individuals who keep their customers first. A business is started to gain revenue and provide services that are either absent or inadequately served within a community. Compassionate business dealings coupled with knowledge and skill in various areas of business are key to the success of a company.
There is nothing wrong with demanding and providing excellent services, products, and customer service. No one would walk into Neiman Marcus or even Wal-Mart and accept a purchase that is less than acceptable. So why are we accepting less than acceptable products and services from organizations serving our communities? We must stop accepting poor customer service, poor quality products, and poorly organized events. We also must be willing to pay for quality when it is presented to us, rather than seeking lower prices from quality businesses simply because "we're all Muslim." We have a right to the best and a responsibility to provide the best.
My heart goes out to all who have been involved with and affected by the cancellation of this event. Even in the face of catastrophe, we must continue to show grace, compassion, and understanding. This is not an incident where a calling for blood is justified.
Grinnell, R. (2009). External Locus of Control. PsychCentral.
Small Business Administration
Photo Credit: Melting Plots