Modest fashion is booming, but many large and small brands are failing to increase sales within this segment. This is article examines the reasons as to why this is. Once we’ve identified the issue, the solution is fairly a simple one. Let’s start by defining what I will be talking about.
Modest fashion: (i.e. Islamic fashion) identifies fashion in line with Islamic principles, influenced differently by cultures and geographical locations. Although there are different interpretations of the rules of modest clothing, generally speaking, modest fashion translates into loose clothing that covers the body and adheres to Islamic values. We are also seeing several trends that are taking the entire market by storm worldwide. This is mainly caused by young Muslim women being as influencers on social media.
Me-Too: This is a positioning term that refers to brands that jump on the bandwagon of a rising industry, offering the same products or services as everyone else in the market without having a unique selling proposition.
Modest Fashion is Rising
Currently, the market is valued at a whopping $240 Bn and is increasing by 30% by 2020 to $320 Bn. Here is a detailed video on the state and the future of the modest fashion market. Millennial Muslim women are breaking stereotypes and kicking butt in an ever-changing industry, in times where Islamophobia and xenophobia is at its peak. Established and new brands view this as a once in lifetime opportunity and are entering the market as soon as possible.
However, this is a developing market that is quickly becoming over saturated with companies that are similar, if not the same. Most of the startups are not seeing the success that was anticipated. Large fashion brands such as D&G, Mango and YSL have tried to enter the market, and although the gained international recognition, they still received backlash from young Muslim women online. What is happening? Why are brands that are targeting millennial Muslim women directly not getting the success that they anticipated? We’ll take a look at what went wrong and how to succeed in this booming market.
Backlash: Large Fashion Brands
Firstly, it’s important to note that the brands mentioned earlier in this article that have entered the millennial Muslim market, offered nothing new compared to what already has been available. Brands need to come up with something unique to offer to this market. Like all women, Muslim women tend to not buy a piece from your brand if it is the same style or design as another high street retailer. Be innovative in solving problems that millennial Muslim women face, for example, light and airy materials work great in the summer, but they shouldn’t be see-through.
Secondly, these brands and many others, have greatly underestimated the intelligence of the market. Brands tend to expect amazing reactions from Muslim women when offering targeted collections. The lack of products and collections is not the only struggle that Muslim women face, it goes beyond that. These women want to be represented and empowered, as well as involved in the process of the creation.
Thirdly, brands have been lacking in proper design consultation on basic things such as transparency, length and material of clothing. It seems to be that the difference of perception and use of fashion for Muslim women is something that has been missed by marketers and designers.
Lastly, there was a lack of story for these women to buy into, a story that gives the creation of the product a purpose. The absence of a story made Muslim women feel that brands are finally catering to them, because of the big cash in the game. The reasons for catering to Muslim women should have been stronger and revolve around a story that empowers women and laying a clear, long-term strategy. In order to avoid being a gold-digging-one-hit wonder, the brand strategy needs to communicate a long-term relationship.
Improper Positioning: Small Fashion Brands
There seems to be a new “modest fashion brand” turning up every other week. This is great, because that means that the market demand is only growing, however, the major flaw these me-too startup brands have, is entering the market with a short-term, or in the worst case, no strategy. The market is getting more saturated with me-too brands that are claiming the same claim, which means that only the first brands will succeed and the rest remain to struggle. Take the Burkini as an example: the swim wear that covers the entire body, sold over 700 000 pieces by the company that invented it. The great figures have worked as inspiration to many others, but the other “Burkini” brand’s that followed did not do so well.
So should you not start a modest fashion brand? Quite the contrary, this market offers opportunities that no other market offers. The point is, that you should never enter the market without fully understanding branding and positioning. Don’t worry about manufacturing, logistics, e-commerce and everything else, these are technical issues that are easily solved. Understand the importance of positioning and make it your priority.
RUH collective and Aywa London are a few examples of brands doing it right, but still the majority are simply recycling what is already in the market. Ruh Collective stands for ethical modest fashion, and make this very clear through their branding and positioning. A strong USP and position will make you stand out amongst your competition. You have to take future competition in consideration also. This may not be an easy task, but definitely possible with a positioning and branding professional that fully understands the market which you are entering.
Personal Branding: Modest Fashion Influencers
There are hundreds of millennial Muslim influencers, with some having millions of followers. Many brand owners aspire to be influencers to further boost the company image as well as the personal brand. The truth is that there are only a handful of successful influencers and the rest are me-too imitators.
The positioning model is amplified in personal branding. People relate to people and are very quickly to spot if you are trying to do something that is already in the market, making you lose authenticity and authority within the industry. This makes you a second or even a tenth choice in comparison to your competition. Once you have been placed down the positioning ladder in the mind of your customer, there is no coming back. People and brands have spend millions trying to change their position in the mind of the consumer and have never succeeded due to wrong positioning in the first place.
How to solve this? Find a gap in the market that you can fill. Hanna Tajima is perhaps one of the best examples of an influencer that has done well, because of her unique approach to modest fashion. Tajima might not attract a million generic likes and follows, but whoever she is attracting is a true fan of her artistic style. Her positioning and personal branding clearly works, as she has done two huge deals with UNIQLO, designing modest fashion collections. I will leave the financial benefits of those deals up to your imagination.
Another model who is doing great is Mariah Idrissi. She has leveraged her position as the first Muslim model to be featured in a major mainstream ad, and rightly so! Now Idrissi is an authority on this subject and is the first Muslim to enter a large modelling agency. See her speech on Changing The Face of Fashion.
The Solution: Positioning
The subheading says it all. Did you know that the name you choose for your product or brand could cost you millions in the future? I won’t be able to say it better than Al Ries and Jack Trout, so here it is:
“Positioning starts with a product. A piece of merchandise, a service, a company, an institution, or even a person. Perhaps yourself. But positioning is not what you do to a product. Positioning is what you do to the mind of the prospect. That is, you position the product in the mind of the prospect. So it’s incorrect to call the concept “product positioning.” You’re not really doing something to the product itself. Positioning is the first body of thought that comes to grips with the difficult problem of getting heard in our over communicated society.”
The work flow to reach the right position in the market is a more complex matter to explain. You can try to learn positioning and try to do it yourself. You can also hire a branding agency that is an expert in understanding the market and the work necessary. Positioning might include things such as naming, market segmentation, USP, Cognitive Response Model (CRM) and Peripheral Response Model (PRM). Here are some things to understand and communicate with your agency.
- Against a competitor
- Within a category
- According to product benefit
- According to product attribute
- For Usage Occasion
- Along price lines
- For a User
- By cultural symbols
Don’t worry, this is a normal response for non-branders. Even experienced marketing directors struggle with this. This article can go on for much longer. But, every brand is different and its not possible to cover everything in one go. This might be complex and overwhelming, but absolutely vital to build a world class brand. Positioning is the secret behind every glossy and smooth looking brand. H&M, Nike and Primark go through the same process over and over again to make sure that they are properly positioned in your mind.
Have you skipped this? I urge you to press pause and look down on your foundation. Remember, you cannot build a strong brand based on a weak foundation. Build something that is long-lasting so that you don’t have to renovate a flimsy product line or business.
MILLION DOLLAR HINT: Be the first in a niche. Find a gap and fill it.
by Anmar Matrood
Brand & Marketing Strategist at Qufi Creative