Dr. Deanna Khalil is an American Eye Doctor of Italian and Palestinian descent. With a passion for designing her own clothing from a young age, she set out to make an impact in the fashion industry – creating vibrant, fashion-forward clothing for Muslim women that still maintained the practicality they needed for everyday wear. With the support of her husband, Ahmed Aduib, an American Libyan Marketing and PR Specialist, they launched ABAYA ADDICT in 2011, not knowing that this endeavor would play a large role in helping shape a newly born Modest Fashion Industry. Today, they focus on bringing life to every Muslim woman’s closet with fresh clothing of exceptional quality that is not only modest, but fully functional.
She explains that being back in the states over the last year has directly reconnected her with Abaya Addict’s consumers, deepening the relationships she has built with many of them through social media. This has helped Deanna and Ahmed see things from a different perspective. They get firsthand testimonials, giving them a greater ability to cater and tailor production to their shoppers. With an 84% customer retention rate, attributed to shoppers’ satisfaction with the quality and fit provided, girls can expect to see designs that reflect their everyday fashion needs based on their supportive feedback.
MM: Wife. Mother. Doctor. Fashion designer. Entrepreneur. Social media influencer. Overall sweetheart. I’m sure there’s more. How do you balance all the hats you wear on any given day?
Dr. Khalil: My motto is family first. Always. Once I’ve made sure to fulfill my obligations to my family: have the kids’ school lunches ready, the house in order, and spend meaningful, quality time with everyone, the rest of my obligations come into focus. I can’t say it has been easy juggling so many aspects of my life. When I started Abaya Addict (AA), I didn’t have a full-time job or kids, so I was on top of everything at all times. With my firstborn, I would put her on my hip and take her with me fabric shopping and factory hopping. Once I became a mom of two, I had to slow down and it became clear that I needed a stronger team to help me with the business.
It also doesn’t hurt that Abaya Addict’s co-founder, Ahmed Aduib, is a SUPER-DAD. He is very involved with the kids at home – doing a lot more than an average father, masha’ Allah. On top of that, when it comes to the business, Ahmed has also taken over the back end of the business so I can focus more on designing. We work as a team at home and at work. If it wasn’t for Ahmed’s help, I could never juggle working as a Doctor, designing for AA, and managing my home life. Alhamdulillah!
…If one of our brands succeeds in getting business or even makes it into mainstream, we all have a fighting chance.
You shared Abaya Addict with the world six years ago and it has since taken off along with the entire modest fashion movement. Going into this endeavor, did you envision such positive reception to your designs and were you prepared for the success you’ve seen since its launch?
SubhanAllah, when I started AA, the Modest Fashion (MF) Industry was nearly non-existent. MF Bloggers were just starting up, and it was somewhat risqué for young women to post images of their makeup and #OOTDs. As we’ve grown, so has social media. Many brands have popped up worldwide and an immense number of young girls have been given the courage to start blogs and share their unique outlooks on the world. As a Muslim entrepreneur, I can’t help but feel so proud that our success as a brand may have opened doors for Muslim women across the globe to feel comfortable going into the fashion industry. The Modest Fashion movement has rooted itself and it’s only going to continue to flourish. We’re here cheering everyone on because if one of our brands succeeds in getting business or even makes it into mainstream, we all have a fighting chance.
Prior to starting Abaya Addict, you went to school to become an optometrist. With the title of doctor before your name, most people, especially in our community, would shake their heads at (and have a lot of opinions about) the idea of putting that aside to pursue fashion design. Have you faced criticism or backlash that held you back from pursuing this passion?
A lot of people could not understand what I was doing, especially in the beginning when people expected me to “stay in my own lane” and work in my field. Little did they know, designing has always been a passion of mine. I started designing my own dresses in my early teenage years. I think when you are truly passionate about something, you can develop tunnel vision (in a positive way) and become laser-focused on the task at-hand. For me, that task was providing girls like myself – who are always “on-the-go,” focused on their education, working in respectable fields, and busy starting their own families – with hijab-friendly options that suited their everyday needs.
My belief that there was room for modern, colorful, and trendy clothing suited to our needs as Muslim women was what drove me to stay focused. No one’s opinion of my educational background mattered because I wholeheartedly believe in what we’re doing at Abaya Addict. And besides, I still practice in my field Alhamdulillah. My work as a Doctor is what makes it even more evident that working, Muslim hijabis need clothes that allow us to do our jobs with full coverage but in comfort and style as well.
You lived in Dubai for a few years, so you know the industry there well enough to provide tips and suggestions to others who might think about pursuing modest fashion. What would you say to a young designer or entrepreneur who is starting out and needs to learn the ropes?
The number one thing to understand is that the Muslim community needs quality brands everywhere, even within Muslim countries like the UAE. Today’s fast-fashion has left us all mortified when products we buy from the mall or the local bazaar fall apart in one wash. These fast-fashion finds are often made at the hands of children somewhere in a far away land who work for pennies in horrible conditions and using synthetic fabrics that are of the lowest quality. Muslim entrepreneurs should strive to do better than that.
We should be setting higher standards for our products and our industry as a whole. When we, as an industry, raise the standards, the global community will stop complaining about paying a little more because we’ve done our jobs educating them that we use better fabrics, produce in fair-trade factories, and don’t take shortcuts to save a buck. Muslims deserve access to better quality products that we make for ourselves. Give the Muslim community clothing that reflects who we are (and should always be) as a people — clean, informed, and put-together. When you hold yourself and everything you make to a higher standard, nothing will stop you from paving your success as a brand.
You started Abaya Addict with your husband, Ahmed. That has #powercouple and #relationshipgoals written all over it. What is the best part of working with your spouse? Are there any challenges you’ve faced as a result of working together? Do you have suggestions for other couples who want to be successful business partners?
The best thing we ever did for our family was start Abaya Addict together. We’ve established a company that we hope our kids and their kids will sustain even as the times change. Of course, anyone who owns their own business, from food to fashion, knows that you never really just go home and leave work behind. We talk Abaya Addict 24/7, 365 days a year – always trying to improve it, nurture it, and care for it. We always joke that Abaya Addict is our first baby. And when your company is like a child that you are watching grow in front of you, your work is never truly done.
You’ve recently returned to Chicago with your husband and two (adorable) small children with plans to work in your original field of optometry while also launching new lines for Abaya Addict. You’re a role model for young women and what stands out to me most is that you’ve shown that we don’t have to be pigeonholed into one category. What are some thoughts you can share with others who feel like they have to have their lives figured out and be on a clear path by a certain age?
Thank you. That’s a nice way to put this: pigeonholed. Our community does it so often. We put labels on one another. We aim to be a community full of doctors, engineers, and lawyers, and anyone who doesn’t fit into that mold isn’t taken seriously. We raise our kids to work hard with the end-goal of attaining a title in a field that we believe to be widely understood and respected. Working in law or healthcare is commendable, but it’s not for everyone. We have yet to recognize that not every child is destined for that life path. When Little Mariam spends hours creating exceptional artwork that is beyond her years and Little Mohammad has his camera attached to his arm – filming a YouTube series with his friends, we write them off as just “hobbies.” Oftentimes, we dismiss their creative passions and these kids’ talents fall by the wayside. We have yet to nurture creativity with tools and scholarships to push them into becoming the best artists and filmmakers. Overlooking the youth’s talents just to push them into acceptable jobs leaves the community at a plateau. In today’s fast-paced world, where social media has taken over, we need to have specialists in every field, not just law or healthcare. And we should never limit ourselves to just one field either. Those who are good at multiple things should be praised and scouted, not scolded and told to gain focus.
It’s safe to say that Abaya Addict has been (and isA will continue to be) a leader in the modest fashion movement. Beyond that, what impact do you hope to make when you think about leaving behind a legacy?
In sha Allah, as a company, we’ve always wanted to be recognized as a global brand by Muslims for Muslims. We hope that Abaya Addict will grow further into a household name, known for providing a full-range of clothing that is not only practical, but also breathes life and vibrancy into people’s lives. When future generations continue wanting to wear Abaya Addict because it sends the message that Muslims are fully covered and still ‘cool,’ we’ll know our message has come across as intended and the legacy is alive and well.
You had to put your new line on the back burner as you dealt with personal and professional changes to your life over the last year, but I know you’ve been gearing up for it for a while and just launched that line a few weeks ago. What else do we have to look forward to from Abaya Addict?
We just re-launched with a collection of fun abayas and hijabs and we’ve only skimmed the surface with our new line. We’re reintroducing tons of our best-selling styles in new prints along with fresh styles that incorporate the latest trends into our classic and chic approach. As always, you can expect fun patterns and bright colors, but look out for some interesting new details throughout the line which have been inspired by my latest muse: nature.