A new video campaign encouraging consumers to recycle clothes has been making headlines - but for a very different reason.
What took off from Swedish brand H&M's initiative - portraying urban scenes and stylish attires on a diverse group of people - was the debut of a Muslim model donning a hijab, a first by any international fashion retailer.
Twenty-three-year-old Mariah Idrissi, born and raised in London to a Pakistani mother and a Moroccan father, never expected the campaign to go viral, but believes it is a vital step in incorporating Muslim women's style in today's global fashion identity.
"We should be able to walk into a mainstream store and see a picture of a hijabi wearing modern clothes. Muslim women don't just wear abayas," Idrissi said over the phone.
Hijabi is the term for a woman wearing a hijab, which is used to cover the head and/or face.
Idrissi says that social media is acting as a catalyst in making the fashion industry more accepting to couture that isn't Western-centric.
"Everyone is famous on the Internet," she said, laughing. "And because of that, so many now know about Islamic fashion."
"But, social media is not enough. We need to make this real now. We need to not just make this relevant on the Internet, we need to make this part of everybody's reality," she added.
Social media's ability to provide a platform to anybody and everybody to contribute the global discussions has led to an industry that primarily focused and represented a very specific lifestyle to adapt its marketing strategy to cater to increasingly diverse cultures.
Not only does such marketing instigate conversations on cultural inclusion and acceptance, it also makes business sense, according to some fashion advertising market analysts.
The 1.6 billion Muslim consumers spent $266 billion on clothing in 2013, and are projected to spend $484 billion by 2019, according to a report by Thomson Reuters and Dinar Standard, a Muslim market research firm.
"It wouldn't be very wise of retailers to not be inclusive anymore," Alia Khan, chairperson of the Islamic Fashion and Design Council, who moderated the panel "Modest Fashion Takes Centre Stage" at the recent GIE Summit, told Khaleej Times. "This is a very legitimate and strong market and they need to acknowledge, cater and satisfy it."
The council, known as IFDC, is a platform that provides support, initiatives and programmes to help make the industry more cohesive for Islamic fashion by bringing the industry players together to help them to generate more opportunities, she explained.
The Islamic fashion industry is estimated to grow by six per cent annually to reach $327 billion by 2020. "Islamic retailers are putting themselves in the shoes of the consumer and they are understanding that this is a consumer that hasn't been able to have their demands met and they are very aware of what they need to do and they are doing it. And it is being met with a lot of success," Khan added. The IFDC is also in the works of introducing a new store category, Pret-A-Cover, dedicated to modest wear including readywear, couture, active wear and intimate apparel. At present, 80 stores, including most major retailers and departments, have been signed up.
International brands do sense to be recognising the potential of this relatively untapped niche. Popular brands such as DKNY, Tommy Hilfiger and Mango last year all launched their first collections for the holy month of Ramadan.
"We have a strong business in the Middle East with over 40 stores across the region," Tommy Hilfiger, founder of the Tommy Hilfiger Corporation, stated in an interview via e-mail. "I've visited Istanbul and Dubai along with many other cities in the region, and love the unique energy and distinct style. I look forward to future trips and exploring the region further."
The brand also plans to follow-up on the success of the first Ramadan collection with a similar line for 2016.
The UAE, following Turkey, was the second-largest consumer of the clothing market in 2013, spending $22.5 billion. The UAE was also the best developed among Islamic economies for fashion based on a fashion indicator from 70 select countries.
By Rabiya Shabeeh
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