Thursday, 4 March 2010

Islamic Clothing Today

A couple of weeks ago, I put in a request for Hijab Style readers to let me know what they thought of the current Islamic clothing industry, as part of a post I wanted to write about the topic. I am very grateful for everyone's responses which can be found here; they echoed a lot of my own thoughts and so it's good to know I was on the right lines!

The following is the result of personal research and reader's opinions on today's online modest and Islamic fashion options:

The growing number of brands and websites catering to modest dressers from around the world is increasing rapidly, and never before has there been so much choice available. Or so it may appear.

I recently added a list of companies that cater to the clothing needs of Muslim women which you can browse here; and the sheer number is astounding.

But unfortunately, many Islamic clothing companies still face a host of problems including shoddy websites with everything from poor English to inadequate product images to use of copyrighted material from other brands. This is not to say that all brands suffer from this - there are many examples of companies with professional and well laid-out websites, but they are few and far between.

Other problems include poor customer service, extortionate pricing for goods easily available in mainstream stores - one example being the ubiquitous pashmina; found in every colour and on every street corner (in London at least) for a mere £2-£3 being peddled online for as much as £12. There is also a real lack of variety between websites, with many stores selling the exact same products found on twenty other websites, with very few new products being added.

Aside from the lack of variety, one thing that always surprises me is that many Islamic clothing retailers just.don' Maybe these companies have never bothered with market research, but it seems that they really don't know what consumers today are looking for. From my personal experiences and from reader's comments, Muslimahs don't want cheap imports from Asia and the Middle East. Poor quality fabrics, clothing that's cut like a tent, funky embroidery, excessive embellishments, psychedelic prints and shoddy finishes are all still being marketed as 'modern' Muslim fashion, whereas what most women want are simpler garments, clean cuts and minimal fuss for everyday wear. The state of professional and work wear available to Muslim women is even more deplorable, if you manage to find any in the first place.

Even in companies that clearly do invest a lot in their website and marketing, I've found that my eyes just glaze over when looking at their latest collections, which seem to just be re-hash of last year's garments, maybe with some embroidery added here and some pleats there. Nothing seems new or improved anymore. Add to that the fact that many companies do not cater for women of differing heights and proportions, and you have a fairly frustrating shopping experience, which these retailers originally sought to elminate!

I apologize if the post so far has made it seem like doom and gloom so far, but I will highlight below examples of good practice and some useful advice for businesses.

Developing a Brand

Part of this is related to the 'Website' section, but in general, it's important to think about branding. In real-life terms, this is the difference between a major company like Topshop, or a market stall trader. Some points to consider are:

1. Who is are your target customers? Are they teenagers? Are they professionals? Are they young mothers? What kind of price range are they willing to pay, and what are their clothing needs?

2. What is your niche? Most small businesses, especially when they just start out can't cater for everyone and everything. Consider if you are selling sportswear, evening gowns or casual clothing.

3. What is your philosophy, or more simply, what are you about? Is your emphasis on trendy fashions, eco-friendly fabrics or luxury lifestyle? What do you want consumers to identify you with? For example, if I mention the words 'natural cosmetics' I bet the first thing most people will think of is The Body Shop or Lush; iconic brands with a clear ethos. Although of course the modest clothing niche is much smaller; the same principles apply. Aim to be the go-to brand for something, be it Dubai abayas, hijabi sportswear or bridal gowns.


If you are primarily an online retailer, then it goes without saying that having a well-designed website is key. You need to be able to convey a professional image in order to attract customers and encourage them to buy from you. There's nothing quite like a dodgy-looking website to put people off. Some things to consider are if the site is clear, user-friendly, easy to navigate and secure. Is it quick and easy to search for products? Is it easy to find shipping, returns policy and contact information? Do you have clear images of your products? If the consumer can't see what they're buying in detail, then well, they just won't buy! Always include an 'About' section; this is incredibly important for small businesses. Customers want to know there are 'real people' behind a business, and that the website isn't just being run by a bot.


Take a look at any major brand, and you'll see they employ various marketing techniques. Though of course as a small retailer, you obviously won't be thinking about ads on the backs of buses, there are many other avenues you can take. Simple things like a newsletter and mailing list to keep customers updated with new products, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and affiliate programmes are all easy ways to create, and more importantly maintain, a web presence. Special offers, discounts and competitions all also help create a buzz and encourage people to your site.

Customer Service

These things should really go without saying, but I still get readers who tell me about online shopping experiences than have been less than satisfactory. Basic things like responding to e-mails promptly, timely dispatch of orders, acknowledgement of problems are all keystones of becoming a professional online retailer.

Now, back to the issue of actual design of the clothing, here are a few examples of what I personally think are appealing to many Muslimahs. Firstly, this red dress from Artizara makes a great evening gown - simple but in a rich fabric, minus the crazy beadwork and embroidery that plague most special-occasion dresses. Secondly, this purple abaya from East Essence is great for those who wear jilbabs on an everyday and casual basis. The colour is a nice change from black, and the detailing adds some interest but without being overpowering, leaving you to accessorize as you please!

Thirdly, I love this cute tunic dress from Malaysian company Get Gorgeous. The cut is modest, yet the colour and embroidery are fun and make it great it to wear with a pain of jeans to uni or at the weekend. Lastly, this black Losve skirt is one of my work-wardrobe staples. The cut is flattering and smart, and the fabric is of high quality. I can pair it with a variety of tops, cardigans and jackets for an outfit that doesn't look out of place in a professional environment.

Safiya hand embroidered silk gown $189.00 (USD), Artizara; Aiza abaya $26.99 (USD), East Essence; Escapade chiffon dress RM 62.91, Get Gorgeous; Long skirt A line in black with belt £33.75, Losve.

Hopefully this short post has brought to light some of what can be done to improve Islamic clothing businesses. Feel free to post more examples of what you think are good websites/items!


Mamta Mamta said...

Hi,I have been reading your blog for few months,glad I found it,today's post is very well written and as a retailer and designer I am impressed with your detailed suggestions and recommendations.I have designed lots of jalabiyas etc for boutiques and stores in the middle east for nearly 10 years and I see Islamic fashion coming into its full form,makes me happy,I have been away from clothes for a long time and would love to assist anyone who wants to source stuff out of India,great work happening,great designers available,one has to though tell them what one wants,the understated elegant look is one of the best.
Today's article has brought me out of the closet :)All the best with your blog,you are doing a great job

Susanne Q said...


I am running a modest clothing online shop in germany and can agree to most of the things mentioned above.

But due to a lack of choice in former times or a lack of sense for quality or whatever, it is kind of hard work to explain to most of the muslimahs here why quality clothing isn´t that cheap like chinese or synthetic clothing! I get comments about prices beeing too high although it is a high quality work e.g. from aab or other european designers and the items won´t fall apart after one season!

Muslimahs here need a push to try out new things and to put color on themselves. It is hard work, I can tell you. :-/

But your blog, Jana, inspires me and my own hijab blog in german.

Muslim Girl said...

Wow, this is a great summary! And the problems you listed are some of the main reasons why I NEVER buy from Islamic companies, unfortunately.

ioana said...

Great post.
I also liked how you did not linger just on the negatives, but instead offered some pointers to follow and some good examples.
All the interest in islamic fashion and browsing around made you quite knowledgeable, don't you think?:)

Lady Muslima said...

Thumbs up for the topic, Jana! A valuable feedback for retailers like myself. I hope my shop is not in your 'frowned-upon' list :D

Lady Muslima

NoortheNinjabi said...

I have the purple east essence one. It's completely awesome, unless you spill something, in which case it sucks royally. (It shows wet spots very clearly, so wudu can be evident for a good 20 minutes.) However, most of East Essence's clothes are absolutely fantastic and last well under pressure.

Ridda said...

I love this!

Because I was thinking of exactly the same things, I'm studying all of this at the moment in my A Level Business Studies class, so it comes as a big help!

I hope to sell my own Abayas & Hijabs which are suitable for all Sisters one day soon, I'A :o)

Thanks for this sweety!
I loved reading it!


Anas said...

Assalamu 'alaikum Sister Jana,

Thank you for an excellent post. It's always nice to learn how we can make improvements.

I wanted to mention a couple of common issues raised by customers which Islamic clothing retailers like SHUKR (as well as many other companies I'm sure) are aware of, but are currently limited in what they can do to solve them:

1. High prices.

The Islamic clothing market in the West is a niche market and so Islamic clothing companies just produce very small quantities of each item of clothing. The big mainstream clothing companies produce thousands of pieces per style, often in cheap labour countries like China. The unit costs of producing Islamic clothing are therefore much higher than regular mainstream fashion. No Islamic Clothing companies are deliberately trying to overprice their garments and make huge profits; instead, most are just struggling to make ends meet.

2. Limited Sizes

Because the Islamic clothing market in the West is a small, niche market, it is very hard for Islamic clothing companies to produce a very large range of sizes, to suit all body sizes. In addition, Islamic clothing is more complicated than regular mainstream clothing to ensure a correct fit in terms of length. A Muslim woman wearing a skirt or dress, for example, will want to ensure that it is long enough to cover her ankles, but not too long to touch the floor. A non-Muslim woman wearing a shorter skirt will typically not be as concerned with length. So mainstream clothing companies have to focus primarily on the width of their garments, wheres Islamic clothing companies have to focus on the width as well as the length.

The solution that SHUKR is taking to the above two problems is to try and expand the brand all across the Muslim world, not just in the West. By increasing it's markets, SHUKR can then produce more clothing, in different sizes, and lower its costs, and pass on its savings to the customers.

We ask you and your readers to make a dua for our success, as well as the success of all the other Islamic clothing companies. We are all in this together, working to raise the level of the Muslim ummah.


Anas Sillwood
Managing Partner

khadija said...

Loved this post. All very true!

Khadija xox

Neira said...

Great post Jana
although I didn't contribute you have expressed everything that I personally feel!!!

mystical_moon said...

Excellent article. I found it very interesting to read, well researched and well written. Keep up the good work sister!

Carib Muslimah said...

Thank you for posting this! My sentiments exactly.


I love Shukr's clothing and I recently purchased a few items from you. I understand what you mean about the niche market but I am wondering if you have considered that you may be losing customers or detering potential customers when you don't address your market's needs. I know plenty of sisters who willing to pay the sometimes high prices from Shukr but when they are forced to add the cost of alterations they decide not to place order with your company. Isn't it possible to have a limited amount of petites, averages and talls? I am willing to bet you will see a spike in business.

This is not specically addressed towards Anas or Shukr but a comment in general: sometimes I feel like because we are a niche market some Islamic clothing sites take advatange of the very customers they claim to be servicing. When you think about about high prices, shoddy websites, poor customer service etc. it makes me wonder. Any business person who wants to remain in business (especially in these times) understands that they need to take care of the customer. Otherwise I am left to assume that they think the customer will always be there (because we need them) or they simply aren't concerned about their customers.

LK said...

Wow great info. I'd like to say I love Shukr. Yeah prices are high but quality is A+ Ive even sent non muslim friends to the site because they loved the long skirts and tunics. Its a site thats great for all modest women.

just watch for their sales. Their sales are amazing! And the customer service is pretty good.

And you can always take your skirt to a local tailor instead of paying the alteration price. It will most likely be cheaper.

Kawther said...

great post jana everything you mentioned is very true! I am actually working at starting up a new online fashion label catering for muslim women, theres a lot I need to consider there. xxx

Anonymous said...

A word of advice to SHUKR and any other retailer.. I have been living in the Middle East for 3 years and whenever I go to buy an abaya I have no problem finding the right length.

You see, they have a very ingenious and simple solution to length issues: the tailors make the abaya and leave it 'long' without hemming it at all. After a customer has chosen the item they take measurements and hem it up accordingly! How cool is that?! I am sure the same service could be offered to customers of Islamicwear retailers either online or elsewhere. They could incorporate a 'required length (as measured from shoulder)' option for customers as they place an order.

Hope this helps..

fatima said...


I have enjoyed reading this article and its right on.Jana you are single handedly changing the face of Islamic/Muslim clothing industry..Great job, please continue

LAKI Boutique said...

Thanks Jana,

I have been waiting for this post, and it was worth the wait. You have provided valuable information on the industry, and as a designer and retailer in the Islamic Clothing Industry, I know the sources of these problems too well. I agree with Anas, from SHUKR, about the constraints of limited production and the pressure that sets on price.

I must add though. that the production of premium cut and high quality garments does not ADD to the cost of the product, and therefore it could be balanced with a good retail price. It has been very challenging, but it is achievable and I have been able to overcome that problem with my brand, LAKI. I have worked hard to maintain a brand, a style, a point of view... together with fine cuts, rich fabrics and exclusive prints. And my prices are extremely competitive when compared to, what you call in the UK, "High street fashion". I have used an editing eye carefully and made sure to give my clothes a voice, without going OTT. As you say Jana minimal elegance is key in fashion... overdoing with sequins and bling kills the look.

Even though LAKI is not an online business, I have been waiting for this post to see if we passed this test :) and I think we do...


Head of Design

Mamta Mamta said...

I posted earlier too and I loved the comments which are being posted.I love Islamic fashion even though I am not one.I have always admired your knowledge and awareness and style ;).Jana you are truly doing a brilliant job.
@Anas I loved the stuff on your site,options of fabrics etc and I do agree with you about the challenges of a retailer,I have seen so many stores struggle over the years.Over the years I have found those who do have a boutique and are personally involved fare better in terms of less challenges,those of us who like to expand and create brands and want to go places:)have obviously lot more challenges,but then that is our journey.
The very best to all of you.I am grateful to God that I have had the opportunity of working with Islamic Fashion.I learnt a lot.

Anonymous said...

I think you often get what you pay for. I have no problem buying well fitting quality garments that can be worn again and again. It is better to own few quality pieces than many cheap spin-offs.


Elsa said...

the purple abaya, simple elegant. nice...

Anonymous said...

thank you for your post.
HOw ever I dont agree in everything bus some is true.
I run my own business and it is really hard to find good wholesalers with good quality clothing. This is the most difficult part.
I know that there are good quality even abroad as a good example is islamicdesignhouse that manufacturer their clothes in India.
I wish I could fins good suppliers of islamic clothing more easy.
One thing some sisters actually do ewant black baggy abayas rather that super modern abayas..and not all live in London with cheap hijabs in every corner.
I run a shop with good quality and no copies of other brands I sell other brands but would never sell copies! I keep my prices low and quality high.

Hadia said...

Excellent article. Thank you Jana for all your efforts.

Anas said...

@Carib Muslimah:

We are very aware that many customers would love to see petite, average and tall heights in the various widths we do. However, this is incredibly difficult to accomplish. As it is, we produce about 20-30 new designs each month and for each design we have 6 sizes. So, multiplying these figures together, that is 120-150 different patterns that we have to create. Now, if we add 3 different heights into the equation, we arrive at the mammoth figure of 360-450 different patterns that need to be created.
However, like you suggested, maybe it can be just a limited range rather than all of our designs, so we'll give it another rethink inshaAllah.

@Anonymous (comment about leaving the garments long and then having tailors amend the length like they do in the Middle East):

I'm aware of what you suggest, as I also live in the Middle East and see this done. However, its not easy to replicate this because: tailoring services cost a lot more in the West; many garments need to have fixed lengths during production (e.g prewashed or stonewashed cotton or denim items, items with embroidery at the bottom etc) unlike the polyester jilbabs; and finally we work with outsourced distribution companies who receive and send off pre-packaged clothing parcels.

Anonymous said...


I agree its extremely difficult to cater for everyone, however I do beleive Aab offer sizes from xs to xl in width and they offer longer lengths allowing for alteration. I'm 5'2" size 14 and my friend is 6'2" size 10 and we both buy from Aab. The abayas fit beautifully.

Sue Nasar said...

Salams Jana,

I think this has been one of the most useful articles for modest clothing retailers out there. Thank you thank you thank you so so much. I am so grateful to God that you have given this info to us retailers for FREE. Because of this, I am taking a lot of action on my part. I would like to post this up in my blog so it can help other retailers out there too. Is this ok with you?

jazakallahu khayran,

Jana said...

Thank you to everyone, both customers and retailers for your comments and feedback.

Sue, I'm really glad you've found it useful! I'd appreciate if you could just provide a link back to the post, but didn't copy it. Thanks :)

Kath Fry said...

Salams Jana,

Its kath from baraka women in Austalia, I agree 100% with Anas from Shukr clothing's comments.

At baraka we design clothing that in not only modest but also has a designer edge and quality that is on par with jigsaw,toast,Jcrew and Max&co.

After working for Jigsaw for 7year in the designroom, I can honestly say the islamic market is a tough crowd. Not only do we use 2x the fabric but in general muslims expect H&M price and which is impossible.

These companies are happy to pay a worker less then a dollar a day taking away there rights and living stands for a cheap products, as muslims we should be aware of where a product is made and under what conditions.

Would you work for 15hrs a day for a $1?

If all muslims fashion companies set the bar aiming for a high level, insted of trying to under cut each muslim designer in price and copy them insha allah we will have a much more successful industry.

Wouldnt it be great if we had islamic clothing industry that is on par with Prada? Insha allah that what we are working towards at baraka women.

Kath Fry
baraka women

Sue Nasar said...

thanks Jana. I have pasted your link for my readers to read your full article :-)

Fatima said...

Salaam Jana

As an Islamic sportswear start up I really appreciate your post.

I havent launched yet, but I have done research with potential customers and came up with the same results as you. I could totally relate to everything they detested in the Islamic clothing industry. Granny - like clothing. Too tight fit. etc Just not trendy enough.

I admit my site probably falls under the dodgy side for now. But that's only because I'm using it more for a web presence during this experimental phase of my sportswear brand. Once things are set-up and established I 'll pay the fees for a professional site. Right now there are too many minor, behind-the-scenes adjustments for it to be worthwhile.

Also sourcing fabric from suppliers that don't have a minimum order quantity of 1000kg per colour/per fabric is so tough!

Insha Allah my customers will bear with me while I bring this brand to life. In order to that I need to start small. Everyone can understand that.

I try to keep in touch with customers to tell show them that it's more than what they see on the site, via a newsletter. That seems to help a bit. Readers sign up for it every week.

Allah bless you and your endeavours Insha Allah.


Friniggi Sportswear

Wisdom said...

I would like to share with you a find.
A beautiful islamic clothing brand from canada:
Please take a look and share if you want.
Thanks for your website and good luck.

Aida said...

Assalamu alaikum all.
I'm so pleased to read this article and I greet sister Jana for the topic of this blog and for the effort. I'm also happy to read the constructive comments. I learnt much, thank you ! I'm about to start an online Islamic Clothing Boutique. I'm not yet sure about the best way to build my Boutique. But alhamdulillah,  I'm already fixed with the niche and target market. I believe it's not easy to find good providers, and come up with new islamic styles and designs. It's a hard work, it's like digging in a rocky land :)
In the other side, it's quite difficult to foresee the success of such a business, because I believe muslimahs shoppers, especially from middle eastern background prefer dealing with clothing by feeling the material, examining the finishing and trying it...which lessen the number of shoppers online. 

I'm now standing in the middle of my way, not sure whether it's worth the risk or I'd better to sell common clothing ?

Should anyone have any advice or recommendation in this regards, please write me on .
Thanks again.
Ramadan Mubarak !

Mamta said...

I have been following your blog for years and have mentioned earlier too,that I love designing Jalabiyas,I am an Indian based in Delhi,for years I have been designing for many of the boutiques in the middle east.
Thank you to all of you for loving my work.I am soon launching my own brand of Jalabiyas.

UmmSultana said...

Asalamu ALaykum

My name is Nafiza and I am the founder of an up and coming company soon to open online next year. I am glad you took the time to write this article. I am a graduate from business school i have been personally observing the blogosphere and rise of online and offline businesses catered to muslim women especially. It is only in recent years where muslims have actually been STUDIED as a LEGIT MARKET. There are some provoking literature on this as well. SO the literature is limited number 1. And also, not many of the Muslims who are starting companies nowadays have backgrounds in formal business education which would explain their poor customer service, poor financial mismanagement and organizational planning. I do agree with the comments above that Islamic clothing in many ways will be more expensive but perhaps that is something we actually need to start talking about as a community. We need to come together as muslims and realize that we should not be buying clothing that takes advantage of the worlds poorest as this will come back to us in the end. I don't quite agree with the style choices. I would not wear any of those times. We are not a monolith and we have different tastes and styles (US casual style versus colorful malaysia and so on...) Not every company should like everyone else but certainly they should find out what customer they'd like to service and always constantly try to improve their company.

Anonymous said...

The problem is cheap fabric, or for Muslimahs living in the United States like me, I have to order from companies that are overseas, which makes it nearly impossible to return due to shipping fees, and also having to wait weeks, sometimes months for a package. The styles also are very foreign to me as an American, and I don't like what I see to buy most of through time.
So, poor quality fabric and or designs
Too short lengths
Expensive shipping costs
& like what was mentioned, shoddy websites.
These are the main problems I face as an American Muslim. I don't want to good outside looking like yaya from through Greek yogurt commercial, so I just order a few select things from a few pricey companies to obtain the look that I want.

Hafeeza Noor said...

To anonymous I would like to say. If you really find it difficult to get perfect length for you, you must try East Essence. I was facing the same issue as I require XL size clothing for myself and I even need customized lengths, East Essence has it all for us. They customize clothing accordingly for you.


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