Global Development of Modest Fashion Industry

By: Zubair Mughal – AlHuda Centre of Modest Fashion, UAE

Modest and Fashion are paradoxical words getting the global intentions from last few years. It basically means, wearing loose and less-skin revealing cloths in a way that fulfill ones spiritual and stylistic needs and meets the criteria of faith and religion along with personal preferences.  Although modest fashion- the roller coaster of religious fashion industry, is a few decade old phenomenon but taken the momentum from last couple of years on streets, in media, online or on the catwalk. The concept was started in 1998 by Dana Becker, a converted Muslim from Minnesota, USA, is a good starting point to discuss, religion and fashion (1). Modest dressers tend to be regarded as representatives of essentialized, unchanging, collective religious identities rather than as individuated youthful style seekers. Today, the world modest fashion market is estimated to be more than $283 billion. The increased in modest fashion market and expenditure on apparel and footwear by Muslim community was 4.2% in 2019. Due to COVID-19, it has decreased in 2020 but is expected to reach $402 billion until 2024, according to the Islamic economy report 2021.

Islam has given some clear guidelines about the dressing of man and woman in the Holy book of Quran. It states that “O children of Adam! We have sent down to you clothing to cover your shame, and (clothing) for beauty and clothing that guards (against evil), that is the best. This is of the communications of Allah that they may be mindful.” (7:26). It clearly shows that cloths can serve the purpose of both coverings and beauty. Modesty, in this regard, is playing its role efficiently. However, The modesty is an evolving concept that changes over time and is diversely adopted, rejected, altered by or in some cases imposed on different groups of women (and, to a lesser extent, men) in different times and places. The ways in which modest self-presentation is achieved are myriad and so are the reasons that motivate it. For some women, modest dressing is clearly motivated by their understanding of their religion. For others, it provides a way to reinterpret community and ethnic norms in relation to contemporary life. For others, modest dressing is less about faith or spirituality than about pragmatic options for achieving social or geographical mobility, or for responding to changes in their lifecycle (such as having children, getting older, going to a new job). Modest dressing can mean different things to different women and can change meanings over the course of their lives.

In many Muslim majority countries European styles of dress had become increasingly widespread in the course of the twentieth century, especially amongst the middle and upper classes, the ascendance of the Islamic revivalist movement in the 1970s and 1980s encouraged a growing number of women to start to wear recognizably Islamic, covered styles of dress (Brenner 1996; El-Guindi 1999; MacLeod 1992; Mahmood 2005). The emergence of an Islamic consumer culture engendered a greater heterogeneity of Islamic styles of dress and stimulated the fashion consciousness among younger, more affluent Muslim women (Kiliçbay and Binark 2002; Sandıkçı and Ger 2007; Abaza 2007). Some Instagram influencers and models have also given rise to modest fashion.

Now, in the contemporary society mainstream brands are launching modest fashion lines to cater the need of the market. According to the Dinar Standard (2019 / 20) total Muslim spending on apparel and footwear estimated to be worth $283 billion in 2018, there is significant potential for Modest Fashion to take a much larger slice of the $2.5 trillion global apparel market. Although the modest fashion sector is growing rapidly with 4.8% year on year growth, there is dire need for modest fashion standards or guidelines to address the challenges e.g. models does not wear appropriate clothing to market a line of hijabs in US etc. Mainstream brands and retailers have also not fully realized that modest fashion does not require completely different collections to appeal to consumers: clothing can be adapted to be more modest, such as looser fits and longer coverings for arms and legs. Keeping in view the essentiality of standards and guidelines “Think Fashion” launched The Council of Modest Fashion in Indonesia with outpost councils around the world to promote inclusive fashion, sustainable practices, support designers and engender the growth of the modest fashion industry. These kind of initiatives ought to be taken by the industry professional and researcher collectively to strengthen the industry base.

With the growing potential and phenomenon there are opportunities for both the governments and businesses along with investors. Governments can pull the GDP up by boosting the industry followed by the employment generation. Businesses can secure substantial revenues by launching modest fashion lines in the fashion industry with the help of potential investors. While there are notable challenges as well which should be considered with due care. Firstly, there are very limited stores, catering specifically to women who cover. Secondly, as the industry in its expansion phase, needs more brands and variety to intelligently attract the attention the potential clients. Last but not least, the awareness wave should be thrown through advertisement in common and specifically through social media (Aisyah 2016). This will help the industry to breathe with full vacuum. Modest fashion industry can bridge the local and international opportunities for businesses and investors (Peng 2017).

The country ranking based on GIE indicators shows United Arab Emirates at top followed by Turkey, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Italy, Bangladesh, Morocco, India and Sri Lanka respectively (Dinar Standard, 2019/20). Muslim spending on clothing and apparel is projected to grow by 6% to reach $402 billion by 2024 and investors, governments and businesses can address substantial opportunities across the modest fashion sector through developing robust strategies, with strategic imperatives.

 The projected CAGR growth was observed at 6% from 2018 to 2024.

The industry requires complete set of developments to be live which include:

  • Operational developments: Modest fashion could be transformed by utilizing innovative crowdsourcing and inventory management techniques. Modest fashion has yet to explore new business models, notably crowdsourcing.
  • National developments: OIC governments are starting to support modest fashion to diversify their national economies. Dubai and Indonesia are playing a lead role in promoting modest fashion designers.
  • Ecosystem developments: Trade events, fashion shows and academies are pushing the sector in the right direction. Entrepreneurs and trade bodies are hosting Modest Fashion Weeks and exhibitions and
  • Social impact: Modest fashion can play a powerful role in addressing ethics and sustainability in the sector. Strong analogs but with limited activity in modest fashion, with a clear mapping in the 2018/19 report to 8 SDG goals, including promoting job creation and economic growth

A business roadmap for modest fashion industry would be started from the feasibility study on developing modest fashion products by creating a team to research unique products needs with seeking out the business partners for design and e-commerce. So one must be prepared to meet new consumer expectations in ethical and sustainable fashion. The Islamic world can again play a positive role, combining Qur’anic codes about waste with modern business practices to be kinder to the environment. As the sector matures, its transformative powers will continue to shape society for the better.

Muhammad Zubair, CEO Alhuda CIBE

( AlHuda – Centre of Modest Fashion (AlHuda CMF) is a sister concern of AlHuda CIBE for the development of Modest/Halal fashion industry, for further details: www.alhudacibe.com/cmf-profile , you can contact the author at: Zubair.mughal@alhudacibe.com )

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