Meet the people adding Islamic branding to Amsterdam's inclusive new city centre

Culture & Entertainment
Pic: MRP Development

 

To the west of Amsterdam’s city centre, along a street called Osdorpplein, a real estate development company is constructing another centre. 

 

The area is densely populated with Muslims and immigrant families, a factor so significant that MRP Development, the company tasked with the job, has hired an Islamic branding agency, Pure Safy Branding, to help them address the needs of the local population.

 

The idea behind the alternative city centre is to ease the congestion in the historic centre within the canal rings by drawing away some of the traffic from there. High on most travel lists, the Dutch capital sees 18 million tourists each year.

 

“The new centre will feature retail concepts that are able to answer the demands of the target groups,” said Abdelaziz Aouragh, co-founder of Pure Safy. He added that it will feature halal food, modest fashion and recreational facilities for families, as most Muslims have children. MRP Development is also developing apartment blocks that will pay attention to cultural preferences. For example, a lot of cultures like to have their kitchen separate from the living room, which is fairly uncommon in the Netherlands.

 

Kris Valstar is one of the real estate project developers at MRP Development who is working to develop Osdorpplein, a street in the west of Amsterdam. On the company’s decision to hire an Islamic branding agency, she cited its mission of developing real estate that makes everyone feels at home, “regardless of nationality, culture and background.”

 

“That is the reason that Abdelaziz is helping us to create this diversity together,” she said. “We can use his knowledge in our projects. In the Netherlands, we have 1.1 million Islamic inhabitants, [and they] are inadequately facilitated. With Abdelaziz’s expertise, we are trying to develop projects for every nationality ... That’s what Abdelaziz helps us with, and it works!”

Abdelaziz Aouragh

 Abdelaziz Aouragh, co-founder of Pure Safy

 

A 200-room hotel is also on the cards. The local government plans to introduce water taxis to transport tourists arriving at the centre to the west. “Making it halal may be too radical, but I have discussed the idea of making it family-friendly, which works for most people,” Abdelaziz said.

 

That is his strategy; he shares his knowledge of the different Muslim communities and cultures with companies to help them cater to Muslims while not alienating their mainstream customers or their corporate identity. Abdelaziz always works with the knowledge that any Islamic product, from halal food to modest fashion, can appeal to non-Muslims too. “When you know the culture, you can increase your sales,” he said matter-of-factly.

 

And when you don’t, things can go wrong. He cites the example of the much-lampooned Mac Cosmetics ad for suhoor, the pre-dawn meal that most Muslims do not dress up for. Instead, he suggests small changes, such as a meditation centre for a shopping mall in The Hague frequented by Muslims. As he said to his clients, “These small considerations make such a difference. It sounds so insignificant to you guys, but that small gesture [of having a place to pray] means so much to us. You will create a loyal customer for life.”

New city centre Amsterdam

Pic: MRP Development

 

Abdelaziz, who has always been interested in branding, sees lots of opportunity in the growing market for Muslims. His business took off in 2014 after he published a book, Islamic Branding: The Mecca of Opportunities.

 

“So many companies [have] missed opportunities. I compare it to the US in the 80s and 90s, when they ignored the Hispanic community. Once they acknowledged the Hispanic community by adding Spanish to packaging and advertisements, a whole new target group was created.” Similarly, he says, if companies choose to ignore the 1.1 million Muslims in the Netherlands, they are simply missing out on business.

(Writing by Susan Muthalaly; Editing by Seban Scaria seban.scaria@thomsonreuters.com)

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