Is Islamic Fashion Apparel a Missed Opportunity?
The Muslim world represents a key consumer base, with underserved needs and rising spending power. There are approximately two billion Muslims in the world, accounting for nearly 30% of the global population. This share of the general population is set to grow even higher, as the number of Muslims is expected to increase at a pace of 1.4% per year globally. Alongside a thriving Islamic economy, there is growing demand for Islamic fashion apparel. In 2013, the 57 countries that belong to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation accounted for 7% of total value sales of apparel and footwear. By 2018, this figure is forecasted by Euromonitor International to rise to over 9%.
Muslim fashion apparel is a key area that companies should explore. One reason for this is that there has been a change in mind set over the years. Muslims increasingly see clothing as a way of expressing their fashion sense, along with their religious and cultural values. Unfortunately, Islamic fashion apparel offerings have been limited, and there is no single Islamic brand catering to the fashion needs of the Muslim population globally. Thus, there is an opportunity for modern Islamic fashion brands to be showcased.
Source: Citra Style
Changing market needs for Islamic clothing
The global Muslim consumer base is diverse, with varying interpretations of Islamic practices, dependent on cultural differences across regions. Nonetheless, a set of common Islamic values does exist that practising Muslims try to adhere to in varying degrees of strictness. These values inform Muslim consumers in their perception of what constitutes Islamic practices, including what is ‘Muslim fashion’. With the current modern fashion offer, however, the Muslim shopping experience is a frustrating one. While runway-inspired designs are often admired, the actual clothing itself is not designed to meet the required standards of the Muslim faith. Designs are too tightly tailored, may have unsuitable necklines or hemlines, or are difficult to match with the hijab, leaving many Muslims unsatisfied.
Ironically, the current styles of modern Islamic fashion do not differ that drastically from mainstream popular brands like Zara, Mango and Tommy Hilfiger. They follow the same trends in terms of design, prints, materials and accessories, but are tailored to Islamic requirements, in particular the need to preserve modesty. However, there remains a gap in the market, as Islamic fashion is in its early stages, and not many companies, particularly international ones, have properly assessed its potential.
Local brands driving Islamic fashion apparel
Currently, no single Muslim brand dominates Islamic fashion. The gap in the market is addressed by local designers and small start-up companies that have created a selection of modest Islamic fashion, such as Shukr in Jordan, Hijub in Indonesia and Citra Style in the United Arab Emirates, this latter label designs and produces all its garments within the country. The first established international brand to follow the Islamic clothing trend was DKNY, which launched its ‘Ramadan collection’ in July 2014.
Nevertheless, the Islamic fashion industry has further progressed in countries such as Turkey, Indonesia and Malaysia, where local brands had made great headway. The Muslim Fashion Week in Jakarta was established in 2007 and remains the largest global Islamic fashion show to date. But, despite the relatively progressive designs that have been showcased in these countries, they typically cater to local shoppers’ tastes, and it is likely that local brands will continue to focus on their respective home markets.
Reaching the Muslim fashionista
A key challenge for start-up Islamic fashion entrepreneurs has been creating economies of scale that will allow them to face the competition with attractively priced products. As such, internet retailing tends to be the leading form of distribution for Islamic clothing, allowing producers to expand their geographical reach at a relatively low cost. However, for Islamic fashion apparel to really pick up, it needs to become more available in typical bricks and mortar establishments.
One way to gain some leverage is through the extension of already-established brands. However, one concern is whether a line extension into Islamic fashion can be a successful concept for a company not normally associated with Islamic apparel. One may also wonder if a Western fashion brand is fully equipped to address the sensibilities of the Islamic consumer and gain ‘acceptance’ as an Islamic brand. Another consideration is how the brand will sit alongside brands not traditionally aligned with Muslim values to create a cohesive brand message. In particular, the company will need to confirm that the brand supply chain operates in accordance with Islamic values, as well as the concept of ‘Halal’ in terms of sourcing. Thus, companies will need to carefully evaluate all of these potential concerns when looking at a brand extension or even a new brand.
As such, it may be more strategic for established players to invest in a local brand with strong Islamic roots. Equally, starting a new label in collaboration with a Muslim designer adept in Islamic brand guidelines is another option. In particular, there is strong potential for Muslim consumers living in North America and Europe. In fact, Middle Eastern-based label Citra Style indicates that 90% of its sales originate from these continents, although this trend will likely continue to other areas, for example North Africa, as spending power increases. As for pricing, while the current Islamic fashion offers are typically premium, there is potential to create value brands in order to reach consumers who have less disposable income. With the tremendous potential that Islamic fashion apparel represents, it is something that apparel companies should seriously consider, as it has a target audience two billion strong.
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