The global modest-fashion movement is finally pushing into the mainstream. Luxury brands began picking up on the trend two years ago, with the likes of Dolce & Gabbana adding hijabs and abayas to its clothing lines. However, when modest-fashion label Aab inked a deal with Debenhams for Ramadan this year, it was the first time that modest fashion had entered a mainstream Western department store.
Aab’s partnership with Debenhams extends far beyond the temporary stores in the UK. The deal will see Aab’s modest fashion range in 14 different stores across seven countries, including Avenues Mall in Kuwait and The Mall of Emirates in the UAE.
Aab’s deal with Debenhams will see an array of “pop-up stores” incorporated into the department store outlets throughout the country. The participating stores include Birmingham’s Bullring, Westfield in Shepherd’s Bush, Manchester’s Trafford Centre, Leicester’s Highcross Shopping Centre and London’s Oxford Street.
Launched just over a decade ago, Aab has been successfully integrating its brand into the UK high street for years. The company opened two stores in 2015, in London and Bradford.
“It’s quite interesting,” says Altaf Alim, Aab’s commercial director, reflecting on the first conversation he had with a Debenhams representative. “I met one of the buyers at a conference in London, and it was just a case of me approaching the particular buyer and introducing the brand; it was literally a three or four-minute conversation.”
“We went in [to Debenham’s head office] a week later with some samples and I think they really understood the creativity and quality of the brand. The fact we had our retail stores and we proved the concept at a bricks-and-mortar level as well really helped them have confidence in us.”
Although the pop-up stores will initially be set up temporarily over the fasting period, Alim is positive about the future potential of the partnership. “They see the growth. They understand that they have a diverse customer base,” he said. “Having a product that would resonate well with some of their customers would be really good. It’s a new area for them, but one which they recognise has huge potential.”
Although the modest-fashion market is aimed towards Muslims worldwide and earns a large majority of its revenue from Muslims, the sector has also attracted non-Muslim consumers.
“We never knew how diverse our customer base was until we opened our stores,” Alim remarked.
“Non-Muslim [shoppers] come in because they are curious. They love the colour, quality and embroidery that we’re famous for and they’ll buy something just because they like it.”
But what about the design and style? How does Aab make sure that it is tailored for each market?
Founder and creative director Nazmin Alim said: “The product and the style could be the same for all markets, as that is what has won the confidence of markets. However, the content could be different. For example, in Saudi Arabia you cannot show the … body form and face [at all]; Iran may have a certain style of showing the scarf on their head: these are the elements we consider.”
The latest State of Global Islamic Economy Report estimated that Muslim consumers spent $243 billion on modest clothing, and this spend is projected to rise to $368 billion by 2021. Debenhams may be the first mainstream UK department store to partner with a modest-fashion brand, but the size and growth of the modest-fashion market means it’s unlikely to be the last.