Will modest menswear take off in the UK?

Style
Traditional waistcoat or kurta kameez. Getty Images/Aliraza Khatri's Photography. Photo for illustrative purposes only.

At the London Modest Fashion Week (LMFW) this February, male models flaunted dashing kanduras and modest prayer hats for the first time on the centre stage to a crowd of journalists, bloggers and fashionistas.

The men’s designs were the creation of Jubbas, the homegrown British modest-menswear brand. “We thought the event would work for us and give us good exposure,” Akil Desai, founder of Jubbas, told My Salaam.

But it wasn’t easy to convince the owners of LMFW that hosting a male brand would be beneficial to the event. “They usually only take women, so it was a bit of a challenge,” Desai said. 

“The men segment of the show opened the eyes of the world to understand that modest fashion is wider than a women-only perspective,” Romanna bint Abu Baker, the founder of LMFW and online marketplace Haute Elan, told My Salaam. “With a wide range from the traditional Jubba to new-edge contemporary, the styles were innovative and wearable.”

Shukr Clothing_Modest menswear collage 1
Collage: The Anas Jubba (left) is one for a variety of occasions; The Denim Jabari Hooded Thobe (centre) is an example of a traditional garment with a modern twist; and The Karim Tunic (right) is an example of a more contemporary modest style. Photos courtesy of Shukr Clothing

Men’s modest garb has been slow to catch up. The UK only has a smattering of outlets that sell men’s modest wear or men’s Muslim wear, and these are often family-focused websites that include a men’s range, such as Islamic Impressions, Arabian Luxuries and Shukr. 

“Modest menswear has been sold for decades in the UK under the more traditional guise of men’s Muslim wear,” said Anas Sillwood, Managing Partner at Shukr, a British-Jordanian online portal for Muslim wear that launched in the UK in 2004.  “When we talk about modest men’s apparel, we are essentially speaking about a vastly Muslim-majority market, because modest fashion for men is not a mainstream phenomenon.”

He added, “Given that it is a mainly Muslim market, the trends will typically depend upon how comfortable and confident Muslim men in the UK feel about outwardly expressing their Islamic identity. […] With the rise in Islamophobia, there is now a greater pressure for Muslims to fit in, and so this pushes the trend towards Western-flavoured clothing with subtle modest touches.”

Shukr Clothing_Modest menswear collage 2
Collage: The Ilyas Shirt (left) and Pouch Pocket Trousers (right) are examples of more contemporary modest style. Photos courtesy of Shukr Clothing

“We haven’t seen a significant jump in menswear sales. Men have not typically been seen as having as great a need for a specific type of modest clothing, because men’s bodies are not as curvy and attention-grabbing as women’s, and mainstream clothing standards for men have typically remained fairly conservative,” Sillwood said.

Sillwood added that men can be “a bit slack” when it comes to modest clothing. “Even though Islamic prescriptions of modesty apply to men as well as women, it’s common to find Muslim men wearing tight trousers and short tops or shirts which do not modestly cover them. There needs to be more encouragement for Muslim men to dress modestly.”

Contrary to Sillwood, Desai said that his firm, which is purely dedicated to modern modest wear for men, has seen garment sales jump from 2,000 units in 2012 to 25,000 in 2017, with 40,000 garments targeted for sale in 2018. During this period, Desai has grown the brand’s brick-and-mortar presence to three stores in Blackburn, London and Bolton, with plans to open more in Preston, Liverpool and Manchester. Jubbas traditionally provided “low-cost, low-value” clothes before the brand’s relaunch in 2012, Desai said. “I came in and improved the quality; we lost some buyers as the costs went up, but overall we are doing better now.”

Like Sillwood, he said that Muslim men are seeking out “traditional but contemporary” clothes.  “They want to respect their faith, but they want to fit in, so they are looking for traditional clothes with a modern feel.” Additionally, around 5 per cent of Jubbas’ customers are ‘non-Muslim’ and simply seeking comfortable clothes. “We make sure we provide what the customers want. There are more options now, and that drives the market.”

“Marketing is the key thing for success,” Desai added. “So far, all the branches we’ve opened have been very successful. If don’t take a gamble, you won’t succeed. And believe in your product; it really works.”

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