Competition for the rapidly growing and lucrative Arab fashion market is heating up, pushing big-name brands to develop a growing number of modest clothing lines. For many Muslim women, the new options are filling a major void — especially during the holy month of Ramadan, which began on Wednesday evening.
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“I’ve always struggled with picking out outfits for myself,” said El Shoura. “Retail fashion from international brands never spoke to me. I like modest wear, and as someone passionate about colors and styling, I felt that they didn’t consider people like me when designing their pieces. Every cut felt like it was either too short or too revealing.”
“They don’t take us into account. You cannot really layer these dresses. It’s never an easy experience, where you can go to one shop and find the dress that you want. One has to go to several to find something long that covers your whole body, assuming you can ever find such an evening dress,” she said.
The special apparel typically involves loosefitting caftans and elegantly flowing abayas. They’re often stylized with ornate patterns associated with the holy month. Shopping for them ahead of Ramadan has itself become a tradition — one that international fashion brands are looking to capitalize on.
Industry experts say the top brands were responding to two things: a business opportunity and shifting consumer behavior.
Now, Ramadan is one of the two top seasons for fashion sales in the Middle East, the second being Black Friday, said Mahmoud Gadalla, the regional digital marketing specialist at Azadea Group, a leading lifestyle regional retail company that owns and operates more than 50 international brand names and franchise concepts across the Middle East, including Adidas, Boggi Milano, Zara, Mango, and Massimo Dutti.
“It’s all about relevance,” said Gadalla. “The reason why many of our international fashion brands are getting into modest, conservative wear stems from a need to remain relevant in the region.”
Ramadan fashion has also had to keep up with the holy month’s increasingly high-end celebrations. What was once a month marked by modest family gatherings has been overtaken by glitzy galas and conspicuous consumption. The rise of the so-called Ramadan tent is a case in point.
Ramadan tents, often corporate sponsored and lavishly stocked, are large venues for Iftar, a feast to mark the end of the day’s fast, and Suhoor, the last meal before sunrise. They often include extravagant minimum charges and long waiting lists. Breaking fast at a nicely appointed Ramadan tent can be a marker of social status. They are, in other words, the perfect venue to show off a trendy Ramadan outfit.
Their content largely revolves around modest fashion. On Instagram, Muslim women share how to layer and mix different pieces to create long-sleeved, nonrevealing outfits that are in line with their styles and beliefs. The popularity of their posts has even brought the concept of modest fashion to the West.
The popular content has put modest fashion in the limelight. International brands have taken notice. That’s why many are starting to offer Ramadan collections of their own.
That makes a strong business case for large brands to tailor to the needs of Muslim consumers and win over new clients from the growing demographic.
Every year, more brands join the Ramadan fashion trail. Last year, Prada introduced a special Ramadan and Eid offering for the first time and, this year, Versace joined the club with an exclusive Ramadan capsule collection.
International brands are also being enticed by more spending during Ramadan.
Is it working?
For those who care about following trends, the Ramadan fashion collections seem to have hit the mark, attracting the attention of new customers.
“Wherever I’m shopping, I would see Ramadan collections, which was a new concept I haven’t seen before,” said Jawaher Alghamdi, a Saudi assistant professor in theater and performance.
“If I’m spending Ramadan in the country, I have to get some proper dress wear for the family gatherings. … As someone who is into the field of performance, I feel like clothing is part of my identity and I would care what to wear on these occasions. So I think I was influenced by the fashion industry, to be honest. It’s something that I liked and started doing recently,” she added.
Some women still prefer to shop for Ramadan outfits from local brands.
El Shoura agrees: “Something is always missing, and I believe that only someone who has lived here and is familiar with the culture and the people can design pieces that truly bring the spirit of Ramadan and the region, and this is why I always opt for local.”
“I honestly do not keep up with what these international brands release for Ramadan, as there are so many other local brands that do it so well. I would rather shop local!” said Fares, the fashion influencer.
In Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country, local brands are gaining traction. That’s likely because Egypt is grappling with an economic crisis that has decimated the value of its local currency, making imports from international brands too expensive for most consumers.
But in wealthy Gulf Arab countries that have benefited from high oil prices in recent years, it’s a great time for shopping.
Gadalla noted that Azadea’s international brands haven’t seen much competition from local brands, especially in Gulf countries.
“Everybody likes to dress in Dolce & Gabbana or whatever. So when they make collections for Ramadan, they make Islam known to the white world. These multimillion-dollar companies are sitting down and saying, ‘Oh, it’s Ramadan for Muslims. Let’s get the Muslim coins.’ So we have become important to them, and it’s pleasing to me as a Muslim, but I wish that they would make more relevant designs for us,” Elsadig said.
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