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't.get.it. 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.
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.
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!