Fashion

What it’s really like to run a modest fashion company

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Romanna Bint-Abubaker, 34, is CEO of Haute-Elan, a modest fashion company. She lives in Wimbledon with her parents and daughter, Ayah-Sophia, three 

MY ALARM GOES OFF…

At 4am for morning prayers. Then I go back to sleep for an hour before checking urgent emails, most likely meeting requests or issues with stock. I’ll wear three-quarter-length trousers and a colourful tunic, usually with an Ecadin hijab – I try to wear brands we work with. I’ll eat granola and yogurt before leaving at 7.30am.

I’M RESPONSIBLE FOR…

Developing Haute-Elan, a modest fashion [in line with Islamic beliefs] marketplace that delivers a return to investors and supports women – £1 from each sale goes to female-led ventures and 40% of staff are single mothers. We’re an e-commerce site with 250 brands including Mango and Joseph, with worldwide next-day delivery. People had been slow to jump on modest fashion because of politics, but social media made it impossible to ignore. Last year we opened a south London store; customers say how happy they are we exist. Our latest funding was $5million and an Asian competitor just gave us a majority investment, making Haute-Elan one of the biggest modest fashion brands globally. 

I GOT THE JOB…

After working in finance.
 I’d studied law at King’s
 College London, but joined Morgan Stanley in 2008.
When the market crashed 
I went to work at a Dubai bank. After a car accident in 2010 I came to London to launch an investment fund, but, sensing an opportunity, Middle Eastern fashion brands kept asking me about international growth. Inspired by Net-a-Porter, I tested an online marketplace in 2013; it was a huge success and Haute-Elan was launched. We won a $1million investment in June 2016 and have since grown 400%.

MY TYPICAL DAY…

Starts at 8am if I’m not abroad (I’m away a week every month visiting markets in Asia and America). If it’s a Monday, I’ll hold a two-hour meeting with my 12-strong team. We’ll discuss growth targets and projects such as the London Modest Fashion Week (LMFW) I founded; in 2018 Nike will show their Pro Hijab and we’re expecting 6,000 attendees, with 150 brands. Next, I’ll meet potential collaborators such as Dolce & Gabbana, see an investor or meet with Tresemmé, the sponsor for this year’s event. I’ll sign off collections buyers have chosen while grabbing a smoothie and sandwich for lunch. I’ll check the website for any errors or aspects that could be improved and have a one-to-one with a team member – someone always wants a chat – or I’ll reach out to brands we’ve identified as possible partners. I try to leave the office by 6pm.

MY MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT…

Was bringing together 60 designers for the first LMFW in February 2017. We had the BBC and Sky News at the event; I’m so proud of what our team delivered. 

THE WORST PART OF MY JOB…

Is not seeing my family – especially my daughter – as much as I want.

THE BEST PART OF MY JOB…

Is hiring people. Giving them skills and confidence – especially if they’re women who’ve been out of work – is so beautiful to watch.

AFTER WORK…

I’ll read books to my daughter and play games with her. I’ll eat dinner with my parents – my mum cooks – and go to bed at 10pm.

My Plan B: Paediatrician

I always wanted to be a paediatrician, but my family didn’t think I’d make it through medical school because I was going to get married. I have so much empathy for children, so now I think my purpose is to help them through the social work Haute-Elan does instead.

Images: Gemma Day