Thursday, 14 June 2012

The Price Issue

A consistent comment I've seen ever since I started blogging, is people complaining that the prices of clothes produced by modest clothing companies are too high. Some even argue that these companies are 'ripping us off'. Objectively, if we looked at prices of similar items in isolation, they may indeed be higher than something you'd find in Primark or H&M, but there are a fair few good reasons behind this.

Having had the opportunity to know and speak to the people behind many modest clothing brands, I wanted to look into detail the factors which influence their pricing. I spoke to three very different brands, who all produce for the UK market; Shukr, Inayah and Elenany.

Black and White Cape, Dark Red Pencil Skirt by Inayah

Regards their costs and pricing, Inayah say "All collections are designed and developed by Inayah which takes a lot of planning, work and effort. We are not a large retail chain, we are a humble fashion boutique who offer quality products as limited edition pieces; we do not import from other companies and simply sell on products."

It may seem obvious, but smaller brands simply don't have the economies of scale that multi-million pound corporations do.

Shukr say, "Companies like Gap, Zara and Next sell thousands of pieces of the same style, which enables them to produce the garments in large, industrial factories at cheap prices. Islamic clothing companies like SHUKR only produce small quantities of each style and this inevitably means that costs are higher."

Mainstream retailers also tend to manufacture products in the developing world, where costs are much lower. And with that, it's hard to ignore reports of extremely low wages that workers are paid, and the use of sweat shops in manufacture. The team at US brand Haute Hijab have written a post about fair trade over on their blog, which is a very informative read.

Inayah say, "An incredible amount of time and effort is spent on designing, sourcing and creating items made by individuals with tremendous skill and artistry. A hand-embroidered dress takes weeks of labour intensive craft to create and we want all involved in the production process to be paid accordingly."

Kaleidoscope Gilet by Elenany
Elenany also adds that, "My prices are reflective of my cost prices which are very high because everything is made in the UK. However, UK manufacturing guarantees ethical manufacture."

And on the issue of manufacture Shukr (whose garments are produced in Syria) say, "We are an ethical, fair-trade Islamic company. Unlike most companies, we control all stages of the design and manufacturing process at our in-house facilities– from design, to pattern-making, to sewing, to finishing and packing – and this allows us to make sure that our workers are paid a living wage and that their rights are scrupulously observed."

Another major factor that comes into play is the quality of the clothes. How many times have you bought something for a few pounds, only for it to fall apart after the first wash? You really do get what you pay for. As Inayah mentioned, it's pretty unreasonable to "demand high quality garments made using luxurious fabrics at low-end retail chain prices."

Shukr add that,"We only use the highest quality materials, mostly natural in origin, sourced from top producers all around the world. Our garments are sewn and produced according to the highest industry standards."

So smaller quantities, better quality and ethical manufacture are all things which affect the cost of production for small businesses.

At the end of the day, these businesses still need to turn a profit, and it seems quite unfair then to expect them to sell things at the same prices high street brands do. As consumers, we all have different budgets, but spending money on high quality, ethically made garments is probably a better investment in the long term than buying cheaper goods.

 Carefree Blouse and Shujana Dress by Shukr

Elenany also offers a business perspective to the issue, which is often overlooked: "The business story is that if you want cheap high street prices like Primark, etc. you have to get them made abroad and in very large quantities. You might want to make large quantities but then you would need stockists.

Mainstream stockists aren't interested in modest fashion, they just aren't. There's no point trying to say "they should be" because at the end of the day it's about business. It's not about "offering choice" because they are there to make money, not to make society better. So the point is to grow the modest fashion market. 

We do have to remain independent for the time being, but it means that we have to support each other so we can continue, so that we create value in the modest fashion market so that mainstream stockists DO eventually stock us, then we can get things made in high volume and sell things at a lower price."

So what do you think about the price issue? Would you be prepared to pay more for clothes from smaller brands? Share your thoughts in the comments below!


Asiya said...

I'm wondering, is it necessary that every overseas operation takes place in a sweatshop? Isn't it possible to open up an operation overseas, where the costs are significantly reduced, even if you give your employees decent, cost-of-living based wages, and reduce your overheads? To argue that everything made overseas is cheap and poor quality is a false stance. The fact is, almost everything we buy now is made somewhere else, but we still buy it, and like it.

If it's all about facing cold hard facts and business being business, than perhaps the businesses who sell hijab need to face a few themselves, and that is, if they want to grow their market share, and compete in a global market, their current marketing position is not sustainable.

I get that they can't produce the same volume of sales as zara, the gap, H&M or any other high street retailer, but these high street retailers can't sell the same volume as wal-mart or tesco. At some point you have to be willing to choose to compete. I think there are enough hijabis out there, and the market is big enough, that at some a point someone who is willing to manufacturer cheaper garments overseas will step in and take over.

I respect these businesses and their ethos, but at the same time, I disagree that this is the only price point at which it is possible to buy halal clothes. I deserve to be able to afford things that allow me to dress in a more islamic manner, no matter what my budget. Also, a quick observation of many hijabi sisters makes it clear to me that most of us have just become resourceful at finding affordable things on the high street and adapting them to our needs.

LK said...

Shukr's products are very nice and they do go on sale quite often. I never felt ripped off by their sale prices at least. Their regular prices are high but most of their clothes are staples you'll wear for a long time.

Jana said...

Asiya, Shukr do indeed manufacture their products in Syria. So yes it is possible to have ethical overseas production, but that still doesn't mean they can sell cheaply for the other reasons stated. And no where have I argued that "everything made overseas is cheap and poor quality". Also the various modest clothing businesses all offer different price points; anything from £25 (hardly expensive) to £200+.

LadyB said...

I can, do and will continue to pay more for "Modest" clothing of whatever brand basically because I accept there is more material in length and width for a loose fit than in a skimpy mass produced garment
This applies to Marks and Spencers and Next just as much as to an Islamic fashion house

Rinei said...

I understand stuff about uniqueness.
But as Muslim, we always obey Islamic rules, and the Prophet always advise us to be as economical as possible.

Anonymous said...

If you don't like it, don't buy it. If you don't buy it, don't complain about it.

Anonymous said...

Muslims spend thousands of dollars on weddings and luxury designer brands like Prada and Gucci and get annoyed when they have to pay an extra 10 dollars for a top they like, just because a Muslim produced it.

MaryamW said...

The price issue used to be a concern for me, until I realized the saying "You get what you pay for." applies.

Most of the time, a higher price tag means better quality and for clothing that you will wear often, it makes sense to invest and spend more.

Personally, I'd rather spend $200 on a well-made abaya that will last years, as opposed to spending $20 on a poorly-made abaya that'll last less than a year before falling apart/tearing.

And of course, the issue of fair trade, as you mention, is very important to take into consideration. Some times we comment on the price without fully realizing the amount of time, thought, effort, and resources that go into the production.

Thank you for doing this very information, thorough, and much-needed post.

Anonymous said...

Rinei - How about the Islamic ruling on ethical practices? There is nothing wrong with spending your hard earned wealth on good quality items + Looking presentable. What would our prophet (PBUH) have to say about garments being produced at low costs in poor working conditions and giving workers so little just so that we can walk around in cheap clothes? Not very Islamic is it?

There are Muslim families who give so much to the community and to charity, they work so hard day and night, why should they not be allowed to wear beautiful garments? Just because some people are too stingy to do so (as someone above said, they aren't so stingy when it comes to weddings and western designers) or just because some people can't afford to do so? Apply your knowledge to the correct context.

Gail said...

Assalaam walikeum.
I sew my own Islamic clothing yet insha'allah I would love to buy from Shukr.
Cheap is not always good, yeah you get the look your want but it does not last long. Quick is not always good because the garment construction is compromised.

♥Soso♥ said...

Such an awesome article .. If they charge slightly higher for 'quality' why not. All fair x

Aisyah, the Winner said...

We have same quality and design in Malaysia, if convert the currency of course our country is wayyy cheaper than the UK.

In my opinion, if the quality is good, why not to spend some money on it. :)

Anonymous said...

Great post!

"high quality, ethically made garments is probably a better investment in the long term than buying cheaper goods. "

I agree!!!!!!!!!

H.A said...

at the end of the day, we all have to be responsible and ethical consumers. i would gladly pay that extra bit knowing that the money is sustainaing someone's life and sweatshops and child labour is not being used. both the buyer and the seller have to be happy with the transaction. buying something just because its cheap without any thought to where its come from and who made it is not just unresponsible but unjust. do remember the rights of other people

Neelam said...

Assalamo alaikum,

Thanks Hijab Style for the nice article! I agree with what others have already said: modest clothing manufacturers don't enjoy the same economies of scale, and they're still not selling enough quantities where they can afford to offer (even) lower prices. Having said that, many modest clothing businesses have very competitive prices on quality products. A savvy shopper can find many good deals if they look around.


qatheworld said...

I haven't bought from the other two companies, but I have bought from SHUKR, and yes, the quality is definitely worth it! You get clothes that last for years, are durable, and don't wear out. Yes, they are somewhat more expensive compared to a lot of online islamic clothing, which made me a little bit hesitant ordering the first time (I was on a very very tight budget when I started revamping my wardrobe to be more islamic), but once I saw the quality of the fabric and construction I knew it was worth it and have been a customer for many years. A good return policy also helps for online companies because you can try on and switch sizes or return if it's not a good fit. It is not expensive compared to good quality garments I can buy locally in the US (in fact sometimes cheaper AND better quality) and fits my wardrobe better because of their modest options.

I do also buy locally for some types of garments, and I also buy cheaper brands (and cheaper online islamic clothing) but it depends on what you are buying and how much of a staple it is. When you buy in person too you can often tell if something is of lower quality and decide how much you are willing to spend on it, and have a better idea how it will wear out.

With that said though, I also see islamic clothing online that is rediculously marked up. Several hundred dollars for an abaya of some type of polyester that will snag and wear out quickly simply doesn't make sense. Some of the markup is for "fashion" reasons and I don't have much patience for that. I do appreciate good quality material and construction that I won't have to do repairs on, and I sometimes compromise with cheap things I need now that I may need to do repairs on, but the markup of some retailers I agree is ridiculous. There is a certain point on some of these expensive companies over which no matter how good the construction is, you know the material and cost of labor doesn't even come near the price tag (certain handbags for instance). I don't want to pay for a "name" I want to pay for something useful to me.

Suraya Mahumed said...

Thank you so much for writing an article about this subject, may Allah bless you.

As a designer myself,I find it quite hard to believe that people overcharge for the cheapest of fabrics...synthetic materials that will snag after one use or get ruined in the wash. I love natural fibers and I support Muslim businesses that use these materials. I am with you on all the points you made, so long as the quality is there in the type of fabric used, the work/detail put into the item...then it's definitely worth the cost. Some people get synthetic scarves shipped from overseas for a few cents per piece and they want to charge more than what local designers charge, for them all I have to say is Allah sees all that you do. If you don't know your fabrics, it's easy to get ripped please please read up on it ladies. The next article perhaps? <3

I can help you put that together if you'd like:

Anonymous said...

I made the decision to support Islamic Stores run buy fellow Muslimahs. I want these companies to grow. So I now rarely buy from non-Islamic stores. Granted, not everybody is in my position. But I feel + hope that my hard earned money is Inshallah contributing towards a young Muslimah's business + its development. Be realistic, how old are some of these companies? Some only a few years. So how can one compare their prices to other stores that have been in the clothing industry for years? I think it's wonderful + brave of my fellow Muslimahs who are trying to earn their living by developing their own businesses. It takes time + effort, there must be a lot of overheads + also there are salaries to pay within the business. These hard working Muslimahs who run their companies can't be expected to give away their products for next to nothing + not earn a living or make a profit. Nowhere in Islam is it prescribed that there is a maximum limit that one can charge for selling their wares. The only rule is that one must not falsely advertise their wares. If there are companies who are running their businesses in a "non-halaal" manner, well, Allah SWT knows it and may Allah SWT guide them onto the straight path. I'll tell you what I find personally expensive, it's take-out food + restaurants! So I don't eat out - I choose to cook at home. My point is - it's all relative + I don't complain. It's my choice on how I spend my earnings. What I might find affordable maybe expensive for another; if I see something that's expensive for me but another person can afford to buy it, well, Alhamdhulilah, I'm happy for that person. Truly. Alhamdhulilah.

Anonymous said...


1. Many sisters may not have the capacity and income to be able to purchase from these designers. However many women including myself love their products and can afford the items - many can more easily than others!! They appreciate unique designs, better fit, good tailoring, fair trade, ethical manufacturing, silks, pure cottons, linens etc. They know they will get value for money. Price reflects quality. Any right minded woman would think twice before picking up an abaya for £15 - £20 – how long is it even going to last! And more importantly, what cheap fabric will it be made from and how much did the poor tailor get? £2?? There is demand for high quality, designer, unique, practical and occasional modest wear – these companies are mid to high end and satisfy this demand as we can clearly see from their sites, pages and happy customers. They really know what they are doing. So, for you to say their pricing is unsustainable is ridiculous – some modest brands have been around for years! They hire people, release collections regularly, have hit the runway etc – so, you are very wrong. If their structure wasn’t sustainable I am sure they would have realised time ago and stopped. That’s like saying Prada or Gucci do not have a sustainable price structure – they probably have one of the most sustainable ones! They sell items for thousands of pounds on a daily basis – why? Because they are high end, satisfying high-end demand, for people who appreciate their products, producing good quality designer products. Why are Muslims so quick to moan about prices? I can’t afford a lot of high end brands but the last thing I would do is moan about it and say I ‘DESERVE’ to be able to purchase their stuff – no I don’t, and neither do you. If you can only afford low end stuff, then that’s life. You have to work for things in life. The sample applies to me….It’s all about understanding low vs mid vs high end. Oh and not to forget, the gulf designers who retail their products for a thousand + …Just because we cannot afford it, doesn’t mean others can’t and won’t!
2. I don’t think you realise that, in order to have ‘high-street’ or even lower prices, these brands would have to produce thousands of garments. Look at the variety they offer. They would have to produce tons and tons, just to sell products £10-20 cheaper than they actually are? Doesn’t make sense. We call it a niche market for a reason. They cannot produce large amounts AND be sustainable so it’s the opposite of what you said. Reason? Because they would end up with a lot of waste, end up investing more than they are earning. Especially with so many seasons and styles to cater for!

Anonymous said...

3. Yes of course you can produce abroad and lower production costs – BUT only to an extent and probably by a few pounds which is eaten up anyway - Don’t ignore other aspects all businesses face…shipping, VAT, customs, communication costs etc. All this builds up and adversely affects the cost price. If these brands choose to produce in the UK, then so be it. I am sure they know better than you or us. Ethical manufacturing ANYWHERE is not cheap – this is what people don’t understand. How would you like it if you were paid £5 for an abaya that took you 4 hours to make? The workers are MANAGED by managers who take a cut too. So with many parties involved, an ethical producer will not be cheap. For example, Monsoon, a high street store produce many items in India, however, they use ethical manufacturers. Have you not seen their prices???? More than all the brands above! Now, look at Primark who have constantly been accused on unethical practices. Selling clothes for £5!! Or even less. Ok so a maxi would cost you £12 or £15 – from that Primark needs to earn a good chunk, the factory does too, so how much are the poor tailors getting??? 25p? Rubbish.

4. The cost of production and materials is NOT the only thing determining final costs! Some companies invest heavily in models, photography, graphic design, web site development, advertising, and lots more. They are hit with fees, charges and taxes, left right and centre on their business profits.
5. There ARE affordable and some very cheap modest clothing companies, but to be honest, the stuff looks cheaper than it is. And, they are hard to find…why? Because they won’t spend money advertising or marketing their products. Their products are mass produced on high levels and imported/exported heavily. The design will probably be absolutely typical, the item will look cheap, poor quality fabric will be used and plastic stones will probably be stuck on with glue. This is a fact – if it wasn’t, so many hijabis wouldn’t be moaning about not being able to afford products from modest fashion designers as they would happily buy their abayas from the market or elsewhere without moaning.
6. Why can’t people see these companies are offering UNIQUE concepts. As they said, a lot of effort goes into producing a collection. Who are we to underestimate their efforts. If you can’t afford it, there are many places you can buy standard modest clothes from. If you want something designer and different, you have to be willing to pay extra for it! If sisters want to hunt the high streets for modest clothes, then let them. I don’t think these companies see that as a threat as much as you do and even the prospect of someone new entering and producing cheap garments – that isn’t a threat, why? Because they will be a low end business. Not a mid or high end business…And if they want to establish themselves well and market themselves properly and have a decent online store, they will have to invest a lot of money which will drive costs up. If not, they will remain low end with no concept = they won’t be open competitors. They will never be the same. Every modest brand is different, so for someone to enter and dominate would require a massive team and pools of money.. Not forgetting, using good quality fabrics, lining the garments, etc. would be a must.

Prices are subjective. Many people including myself believe that the prices are great, they are affordable as high street prices are somewhat higher for particular items. Many would be shocked. Many would find it so cheap they wouldn’t buy from them and would rather go to a very high end boutique. We all have different living standards. Prices are subjective. End of story.

Anonymous said...

I love these brands and the quality they provide and ethical manufacturing that I am willing to pay the "high" prices. I don't see them at all that high especially in light of what they provide. I see in main stream market things costing non much less even more for quality that is barely recognizable and doesn't last long at all. I also respect the market of Islamic clothing and will support it. For those who say they can't afford it it isn't in their budget then obviously they are looking in the wrong places. I have seen many companies online who sell more moderately prices articles some of them very nice. There are some companies I fall in love with their items but know I can't realistically afford them and so just look at them and pray for more affordable times. But I would never expect them to bring their prices down if it means their quality goes down or their ability to survive economically. With Shukr I have been very happy except at the shipping costs to Australia being 29.95 pounds for just a couple of items (not their issue as far as I can see but the shipping companies)
I will continue to purchase when funds come available to me. If it means saving a little longer and treating myself for the quality I will.

Anonymous said...

Salaam, I always pay more for quality and ethical trade which is why I thought I'd buy from aab. I like their style as its simple and not foreign looking but that's where it stops. Can somebody justify why aab abayas are so expensive, I'm talking almost a hundred pounds for sub standard cotton? None the less I kept buying from them as I gave them the benefit of the doubt as I felt they must produce in uk at that price until the other day I looked at the care label and it said 'made in pakistan''! So anyone from aab reading this can you please justify your price. I always wear abaya as overgarment so I don't have much choice as I don't want black blinging abayas from the middle east so I really do feel I'm being ripped off.

Candice said...

Great post. There's so much to take into account, it can give a person a headache. I believe in paying more to support ethical practices and I support paying more to get better quality garments. And I believe in paying even more for garments that are both ethically produced and good quality, but it feels like you can't even know 100% anymore.

I trust Shukr because of everything I've read and heard about them but other companies who seem like they might be quality and ethical might not be... I'm so disappointed to see greed take over in so many businesses (not exclusively clothing and in fact, it happens in all aspects of life).

Oh well, we need to do a bit of research...

Aminah said...

Salaam, very informative post, very well explained. i love shukr clothes, but haven't bought not yet. I also see them as quality and I think their fashion is also "timeless". You can wear them year after year, in shaAllaah. Less is more.

P.S. Thank you for the blog. Sometimes when I feel down or not so goos, I start to read your blog and I feel great!! I've enjoyed reading your blog from the very beginning...

Anonymous said...

Sad thing is not everyone in the ummah can afford these things, some people put that £200 or how ever much it is into food for there kids, so just because they can't afford it they must wear cheap cloths . It seems like the corruption of money is not just only in the west.


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