For most of the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims, this year’s Ramadan will be like no other in living memory. The holy month, which begins tomorrow in the Middle East with spiritual reflection, fasting and prayer, normally ends in a climax of celebrations for the festival of Eid al-Fitr, a period that has become the single most important sales opportunity for many retailers across the Arabian Gulf.
Fashion and luxury brands depend on the revenues that this shopping period brings to their boutiques in cities like Dubai, Riyadh, Kuwait City and Doha. This year, however, Gulf-wide mall closures, a ban on extraneous household gatherings and the absence of Ramadan tents, where residents gather to break their fast at the iftar meal or to play card games and socialise over nightly suhoors.
The coronavirus pandemic has changed everything for fashion entrepreneurs like Sultan, who is a partner in the multibrand boutique Grain in Kuwait City, and a business development director for her family firm Towell Holding. Before the region went into lockdown, Sultan said that she was planning to order a selection of statement luxury kaftans, often created by international designers for wealthy Middle Eastern clients, to wear during the social events that take place during the holy month of Ramadan.
Instead, she’ll be recycling outfits from previous years, a sentiment echoed by many in her social circle who say they are now only buying basic childrenswear, home accessories and electronics online. “A lot of the girls are like, ‘I keep putting things in my shopping basket on Net-a-Porter or Farfetch then we just end up buying pyjamas for ourselves and our kids,” Sultan said.