How to build an event around a community

Waleed Jahangir, Director and Founder of the Muslim Lifestyle Show

Highly Skilled in developing projects campaigns and brands within South Asian community, Waleed Jahangir has over 18 years of Event and entertainment management under his belt. He has been responsible for some of the most successful global campaigns, and has played an integral role in the development and management of some of the biggest ethnic projects, artists and campaigns, with an impressive client list from the US EMBASSY, BBC and HRM Majesty the Queen to the Dubai Government. 

Talk to us a little about the Muslim Lifestyle Show, which has just taken place at the Olympia.

When we started the project, one of the first and foremost aims was to produce a platform which represented Muslims in a better light and to provide a platform for SME’s to network and connect with consumers. It’s an emerging market, and unfortunately while the SME’s in the market are doing well, there’s not enough guidance into the mainstream. So how do we do this? We provide an opportunity on a mainstream platform, like Olympia, which will then get the attention of some of the mainstream brands. Because if its big enough to be in Olympia, that’s when people start to notice the numbers, and that’s when we can give official stats by official bodies such as Olympia. When we’re doing events in town halls and council funded parks, it’s very hard to understand the monetary value of that because of the nature of the event. So this has given us a great insight into the economy and the spend and how we can help this market flourish. We’ve also come to see ourselves as incubators to the SME’s and what we’re finding is we can connect someone else strength to someone else weakness within the community. As an example, one of the caterers ran out of produce because they were so popular, ran over to another stall and bought a whole load of stock from them. And although that may have initially been a problem, I saw that as another boundary being broken and another form of unity within the businesses - they’re not competing, they’re helping each other on a very small scale. 

What we talk about a lot in events is building a community around an event, and what it sounds like you’ve done is built an event around an existing community, and that has a different dynamic.

Yes, and I think the reason why that has been successful is because of my previous experience. My experience has been primarily very niche and almost frustrating to a point, as I was pigeonholed as the ‘Ethnic Specialist’, despite our trade and skillset of marketing and event management being cross-spectrum. But there’s that old industry saying; you’re only as good as your last event. You become associated with your most recent work, and the events we did  tended to be large events such as with the Mayors Office, Eden Square, and events with the US Embassy. So it did become a bit pigeonholed, but what I can say is that over the last 20 years, I’ve gained a valuable insight into the community and what works for the community on a marketing level, on a brand level and on a consumer level, because I’ve been through 2 or 3 generations providing entertainment, networking opportunities and events, which I could then bring to a platform to celebrate and showcase that community.

For the Muslim Lifestyle Show, I guess it’ll be successful once it’s a mix of muslims and non-muslims?

Yes, and again that’s another aim that we have, to make it an inclusive event by steering away from the specific ‘religious’ aspects from the show. Because in reality, religion tends to scare people. Humans instinctively fear what they do not know or understand, and they step away. So we want to promote the community, the lifestyle and the culture primarily, alongside the economic power of the community, instead of focusing on religion. Because, especially during Ramadan, the spending power is palpable. And it’s everywhere - you can go to any supermarket now and see a Ramadan aisle and a big sign. These large corporations are not stupid, they’re just now beginning to acknowledge the spending power in this market. They’ve spent a lot of time gaining analytics for this, and ultimately if we can somehow statistically prove the power of this economy through our event, then we can really knock down some boundaries here. 

That’s what was so amazing about your event, you could see business being done and cards trading hands.

100%. This year we saw such an increase in international companies coming to the show, which gave us an insight into the hunger of the economy around the world wanting to come to the UK. That was most prevalent I think through our fashion show - we had 35 designers, and 33 of those were international. What we’ve seen in the last two years has been phenomenal, above and beyond our expectations and we have exciting times ahead just seeing the demand out there for this, and how people have travelled all over the world to be a part of this. We had people from Australia, South Africa, Malaysia, Spain, Turkey, and as it was over Easter Bank Holiday we had a lot of people coming to see family which provided a great opportunity from them to have a family day out at our event. I had people turn up and say ‘I thought I’d just pop in and see you’ and ended up staying god knows how many hours! And the funny thing is, the majority of those who bought something, bought something non specifically islamic. Because it’s a consumer event, any business can fit in, and that’s how inclusive this event is. Business of all natures can exhibit. They don’t have to be muslim-centric or have a muslim product. Muslims are human beings that have all the personal requirements and desires and tastes as anyone else, and our offerings cater to the people. 

One of our biggest hits was our comedy show. After all, who said that muslims can’t laugh?! What we really want to do is not only provide a shopping experience but also bring engagement on all levels. For me, the comedy show is particularly important because I see it as one of the ultimate engagement activations. Why? Laughter releases endorphins. So once people have laughed they're just in that 10% of a better mood. They’ve let go a bit of their stress and that’s a 1000 people who are just happier, which is all we could really want. It was the same with the fashion show. Not only were we able to showcase incredible emerging muslim designers but it was visceral and exciting. On a logistical level it was just some lights and a space and a few ladies walking up and down, but on a emotional level it was awe-inspiring and a spectacle, and all of a sudden it becomes a vehicle, and indeed one of greatest hits of the event and was splashed all across social media. It was phenomenal. 

So what’s next for the Muslim Lifestyle Show?

One of the things we’d like to focus on is marketing it more as an inclusive event. Naturally it will grow and we’ll get greater footfall, entertainment and exhibitors, we’ll work through any teething issues, but if I had one main goal for next year, I’d say to make it more multi-cultural. Those non-muslims who did turn up had a great time, and it was nothing if not a family fun day out. So making more of that any turning the Muslim Lifestyle Show into a crossover event will be something we’ll be focusing on. 

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