This London-based sister duo is handmaking 100 abayas a month

Style
An abaya from Barakah, London

 

Sisters Nasra and Sainab Sharif were way ahead of the curve six years ago when they began designing modern abayas at home.

“When we started, most people were sceptical,” the 28-year-old Nasra told My Salaam. “We were one of the first start-ups, so we had to convince people that modern abayas, which have more practical and contemporary styles, were more suitable for the UK weather and lifestyle. For things like going to school and the office.”

The fashion designer joined forces with Sainab, an interior designer, and the sisters went on to build Barakah London, a handmade abaya firm that has since grown into a global e-commerce success. 

“Getting people to trust us when we were new was hard,” the 26-year-old Sainab agreed. “In 2012, a lot of the modest fashion was coming out of Dubai and Saudi Arabia […] and people weren’t sure about us. So when we launched we tried to stay true to the materials that were coming out of Dubai and Saudi Arabia, but we added our own contemporary design twists.”

Nasra said that she used to spend her spare time buying abayas and upgrading them with small tweaks and design quirks. Friends and acquaintances admired her designs, and this gave the sisters the idea for Barakah London. For years the duo personally designed and tailored each abaya to order, sourcing the fabric from suppliers in the UK who offer material from the UAE and the GCC.

Barakah London

An abaya from Barakah, London

 

“Our service is fully customised, and we offer a collection online for inspiration,” Nasra added. “Our collection mirrors global trends, and then we allow our clients to change the details.”

The sisters said that word of mouth has been extremely useful for growing their brand in addition to their regular posting of stylish abaya photoshoots on Facebook and Instagram. “The power of recommendation is still showing,” Nasra said. “There are hardly any female abaya-makers in London. A lot of the tailors here are male, and women don’t like going to a man to get fitted.”

GROWING PAINS

The sisters are now designing and selling abayas at a rate of up to 100 per month to women across the UK, the US, Australia and Europe. Nasra admitted that their growing business means that production has “become an ongoing struggle”. Each abaya can take up to three days to design and produce, so for the first time since Barakah’s inception, the sisters are considering major expansion and hiring a team.

The London-based duo said they are primarily focused on “Western” countries and will be targeting Muslim women between the ages of 20 and 35 years with an expanded range of collections.  The sisters will also introduce children’s abayas and bridal abaya collections for the first time.

 “Younger girls are more willing to wear modest fashion,” said Sainab, “because it is more accessible and there are more styles. This type of Muslim fashion is viewed as less ‘granny-like’ and more young.”

She continued: “It’s like modest fashion is in fashion generally for everyone to wear; it’s not just Islamic, but it’s also fashionable.” Sainab added that ‘reverts’ are a growing customer base for Barakah.

STARTING OUT

Barakah London

An abaya from Barakah, London

 

It has been a long road for the dedicated duo, but both Nasra and Sainab say that it has been “nice” to work with a close relative. “We like to bounce ideas off one another. We always try to compromise and be flexible with each other,” Nasra said.

The sisters funded their business with their own savings and then through family and friends. Their key to success is simple: “believing in yourself”. Nasra remarked: “When you first start out, you’ll see others who are doing the same as you are. But don’t compare yourself to them. Try to support each other and make contacts and have fun while you’re doing it.”

 

(Writing by Alicia Buller; Editing by Seban Scaria seban.scaria@thomsonreuters.com)

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