“We’re seeing big brands reaching out to Muslim audiences,” says Ghizlan Guenez, the founder and CEO of The Modist, a luxury e-commerce destination for modest shoppers. While brands ranging from Max Mara, Alberta Ferretti, Valentino, Dolce & Gabbana, and even Céline to Tommy Hilfiger, Nike, Mango, and Uniqlo are undertaking efforts to cater to Muslim consumers, this was certainly not always the case and still is not the overarching norm.
Ms. Guenez, who worked in finance for 15 years before venturing into e-commerce, told Vogue last year that shopping for modest clothing – which often but does not always have religious ties – was often a challenge for her, even in Islamic Dubai, where she is based. In this way, she is one of a growing market of women that had not been catered to by the fashion industry for years, in large part because, as Fortune put it, there is a perception that “the Muslim market isn’t interested in fashion.”
That myth could not be further from reality and there are numbers to prove it.
According to Reuters and DinarStandard, the Islamic economy is growing at nearly double the global rate. Muslim consumer spending on lifestyle products, including apparel, reached $1.8 trillion in 2014 (a year prior, Muslims spent $266 billion specifically on clothing and footwear), and is projected to reach $2.6 trillion in 2020. Spending on garments and accessories is expected to top $484 billion by 2019.
Despite these eye-popping numbers and while a number of brands have dipped their toes into the modest market, the vast majority of Western companies are simply not endeavoring to meet the demand of the growing Muslim population, including young consumers, who have significant spending power, in a lasting way.
Why is it that fashion is not racing to meet the demand from this swiftly growing market? Well, one of the issues, according to Shelina Janmohamed – VP at advertising agency Ogilvy Noor, Ogilvy’s Islamic consultancy, where she teaches brands how to sell to the Muslim customer – is that the advertising industry, and the fashion industry, as well, “is oblivious to the fact Muslim women are waiting to be recognized, served and reflected. Beneath the stereotypes and political narratives is a consumer segment that is crying out for brands to reach out to them.”
In short, Ms. Janmohamed – who has found that interest in the Muslim market “regularly spikes” but is often limited to single “spot campaigns” from brands – says, “There is a fundamental lack of knowledge about the growing Muslim consumer market that needs to be plugged.”
That includes the failure to really understand one of the core consumer types in the budding Muslim market, which Janmohamed calls the "Muslim Futurist.” She is, according to Janmohamed’s research, an “educated, tech-savvy, worldly [woman], intent on defining her own future. [She is] brand loyal and conscious that her consumption says something important about who she is and how she chooses to live her life.”
These characteristics sounds very much like those embodies by the women that Guenez’s one-year-old site (she launched The Modist last year on March 8, International Women’s Day) caters to in its attempt to change perceptions of what it means to dress modestly with its offerings of wares from Proenza Schouler, Lanvin, Erdem, and Oscar de la Renta to Frame and RE/DONE denim.
As Guenez told Vogue, “We are saying that modesty can be so many different things, can be coveted by so many different women, and that it can be cool and beautiful and elegant and everything a woman wants.” There is a reason, after all, that one of one of the most heavily-used hashtags by The Modest is #modernthinking.
That woman, Guenez told Fashion Network, “could be a lady lawyer in Brooklyn or a Saudi lady shopping for her next trip,” and she is everywhere, from New York to Shanghai to Melbourne, from 20 years old to 60 and above.
In other words, she is rarely confined to the antiquated stereotypes, and brands would be wise to remember that.