7 tips to brand your modest-fashion label in India
- 26 March 2019
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India’s nascent modest-fashion industry caters to the third largest Muslim population in the world: 172 million people. A handful of clothing brands are pioneering fashion that is tailored to the Indian Muslim woman and, in the process, discovering the challenges that come with catering to such a diverse country.
My Salaam spoke to two Indian entrepreneurs, Nighat Ahmad of The Hijab Lee and Shanaz Rukshana, The Hijab Company, about the Indian modest-fashion market. Here, we present a few of their tips and strategies to position your brand and contend with the uniqueness of the Indian customer profile.
1. In Muslim communities that have conservative ideas about how one should dress, anything different will be met with resistance, so you’ll need to find a way to get people used to new ideas. This was Nighat’s dilemma when it came to her community in Kanpur.
“It all began when my 5-year-old daughter disapproved of my usual black abaya in public,” she told us. “Sensing her unease with the customary garment, I was determined to become a role model for my daughters.” Nighat bought fabric, designed flowy abayas and got them made at local tailor shops. “My daughters loved them, and so did our [neighbourhood],” she said, “after some resistance, of course.”
2. Nighat believes that it is important to find your brand’s USP and your target market. The Hijab Lee started in 2014 as a luxury modest-fashion brand based on the idea of “bringing fashion and faith together for young, educated Muslim women”. “Our hand-embroidered, bold designs are our USP,” she said.
The Hijab Company is a more recent entrant; it was founded by Shanaz in 2017. She says she likes to keep the vast differences among and preferences of her customers in mind while creating her pieces.
3. The Indian market is diverse, not only with regard to the people and their various sects and communities but also the geography. For Chennai-based Shanaz, this is what makes India tricky. “Some communities wear brighter colours. Others prefer subdued colours.”
And then there are the different climates across India, “starting from the cold, rainy north to the warm and summery south,” she said. “When we curate designs and fabrics, we keep in mind everyone’s needs and likes.”
4. Your modest-fashion brand may gain popularity beyond the Muslim market, as dressing modestly has broad appeal in India.
“We mainly target Muslim women with outfits, hijabs and scarves,” Shanaz said, but she quickly added that she has noticed an interest from non-Muslims in scarves and turbans.
Nighat too says that although The Hijab Lee is “truly Islamic at heart and abides by the Islamic code of female dressing”, it is an international brand with a universal appeal thanks to the Indian craftsmanship displayed in their products.
5. There is still a lot to be done to establish modest fashion as a market segment in India, so you need to figure out how to do your bit to define the segment. The Hijab Lee does this by participating in fashion shows and exhibitions in India. Nighat told us, “We are planning to open stores in major malls of the metropolitan cities and expand via franchise model and become easily accessible.”
Nighat’s big challenge while designing for the Indian market is knowing when to be restrained. “As it is an introductory concept, we need to take baby steps towards establishing the modest fashion sector in India. As of now, our designs for the Indian market are more traditional […] with a hint of quirkiness. The fabric is of high quality and the craftsmanship is not compromised.”
6. You may have to cater to markets abroad to keep afloat, much as Shanaz and Nighat have. Shanaz says her overseas clientele is comparatively smaller: “Our goal was to make universally available trends within easy reach of Indian Muslim women. Personally, I’ve found it hard to pair a modest outfit with the right scarf or layers [due to lack of availability].”
The Hijab Lee caters to countries where modest fashion is already a booming industry. With regard to their international market, Nighat said, “we are able to do justice to our brand philosophy, which calls for really bold, playful, chic designs”.
7. Both Shanaz and Nighat agree about the potential in the Indian market. Shanaz observed, “Modest fashion has yet to be entirely explored. There is still so much to change, and it’s time we bring awareness to the new aspirants of modest fashion.”
(Writing by Susan Muthalaly; Editing by Seban Scaria firstname.lastname@example.org)
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