In­dian ap­parel firms latch on to ‘mod­est fash­ion’ trend

Hindustan Times (Jalandhar) - - BUSINESS - Soumya Gupta soumya.g@livemint.com

Sar­to­rial choices made by con­ser­va­tive Mus­lim women are open­ing up busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties for In­dian ap­parel mak­ers and re­tail­ers.

Called “mod­est fash­ion”, a mod­ern ver­sion of tra­di­tional Mus­lim wom­enswear such as the head cov­er­ing hi­jab and the long maxi-dress abaya is gain­ing pop­u­lar­ity in In­dia.

“Mod­est fash­ion and the hi­jab cul­ture is set­ting in much more in the US than in In­dia,” said Fahd Hameed, founder and man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Delhi-based Mod­est For­ever. “It is pop­u­lar among young Mus­lim women who want to blend in with mod­ern Western wear but want to ad­here to the prin­ci­ples of con­ser­va­tive cloth­ing in their com­mu­nity.”

Mod­est For­ever sells on­line through its web­site and also through mar­ket­places such as Ama­zon, Snapdeal and Limeroad. The com­pany set up shop in June 2016, in a largely frag­mented and un­branded mar­ket.

Last week, Amer­i­can sports­wear maker Nike launched a “Pro Hi­jab” de­signed for fe­male Mus­lim ath­letes who want to keep their head cov­ered in keep­ing with re­li­gious tra­di­tions for Mus­lim women. The hi­jab will go on sale in the US, as sev­eral Mus­lim fe­male pro­fes­sional ath­letes said wear­ing tra­di­tional hi­jabs while com­pet­ing was dif­fi­cult since it is not made for sports.

On­line ap­parel re­tailer Limeroad an­nounced it was cu­rat­ing a col­lec­tion of hi­jabs and abayas from Mod­est For­ever, which is now a ven­dor on its web­site.

“One thing that each and ev­ery per­son at Limeroad is ob­sessed about is to be able to help our users dis­cover great stuff ev­ery day,” said Suchi Mukher­jee, founder and CEO of Limeroad. “Abayas and hi­jabs in this con­text is one of the cat­e­gories. Our new line cel­e­brates women who love embracing global styles in their own way and be­ing com­fort­able at the same time.”

Limeroad is car­ry­ing a col­lec­tion of silk and cot­ton hi­jabs and abayas priced be­tween ₹300 and ₹2,500. The com­pany is plan­ning to rope in more mod­est ap­parel mak­ers, although Mukher­jee de­clined to share fur­ther de­tails.

Hameed added that there is no ma­jor brand or or­ga­nized re­tailer that caters to the mod­est wear needs of young Mus­lim women or older women look­ing for tra­di­tional Mus­lim wear. “Glob­ally, you would find good qual­ity hi­jabs, abayas and burqas in Dubai or in Saudi,” he said. “But mod­est wear is not just about these. It is about mak­ing Western wear mod­est for con­ser­va­tive women with longer sleeves and sil­hou­ettes that do not cling.”

In­dia has the world’s sec­ond largest Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion af­ter In­done­sia. Yet, mod­est fash­ion is a rel­a­tively un­known term here, and no ma­jor ap­parel maker in the coun­try has a brand for this seg­ment.

Num­bers for the mar­ket are also hard to come by. How­ever, the size of the Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion in In­dia is the clos­est way to es­ti­mate the size of this mar­ket.

Ac­cord­ing to the 2011 cen­sus data, 172.2 mil­lion, or 14.2%, of In­dia’s 1.21 bil­lion peo­ple were Mus­lim. Of this, 19.35% or more than 3.3 mil­lion were ur­ban fe­male Mus­lims. How­ever, def­i­ni­tions of what is con­sid­ered mod­ern and nec­es­sary for mod­est Mus­lim wear are not uni­form among In­dia’s Mus­lims.

Be­sides, hi­jabs and abayas can be pop­u­lar fash­ion­able choices for con­ser­va­tive In­dian women of other faiths.

“Fif­teen per cent of our sales come from non-Mus­lim women who are sim­ply look­ing for mod­est wear that is fash­ion­able,” Hameed said. “Women of­ten buy hi­jabs to wrap on their heads, or abaya-like dresses that are mod­est choices.”

De­spite a size­able busi­ness op­por­tu­nity, most re­tail­ers sell­ing hi­jabs, abayas and burqas are lo­cal re­tail­ers whose own­ers are of­ten Mus­lim and have been in the busi­ness for a while. Mod­est For­ever, run by par­ent Ster­ling Re­tail Pvt. Ltd, set up its first own store in Delhi’s Jamia area in 2016, a Mus­lim neigh­bour­hood that also houses the Jamia Milia Is­lamia Univer­sity. They are now set­ting up their next store in Luc­know, in the Mus­lim-dom­i­nated Aminabad area.

REUTERS

Last week, Amer­i­can sports­wear maker Nike launched a “Pro Hi­jab” de­signed for fe­male Mus­lim ath­letes who want to keep their head cov­ered in keep­ing with re­li­gious tra­di­tions.

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