Indian apparel firms latch on to ‘modest fashion’ trend
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.
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.