Top five challenges faced by modest fashion startups

By Alicia Buller

The world’s top fashionistas stood up and took notice when designer hijabis graced New York Fashion Week for the first time in history this year. Muslim designer Anniesa Hasibuan received a standing ovation for her trousers and flowing gowns, crafted in luxurious fabrics and detailed embroidery, all worn with hijabs.

The world’s press is, at last, turning its attention to the growing legion of designers who are catering for fashion-savvy Muslims globally. In the last two years, hundreds of modest-fashion startups have opened shop, gingerly followed by limited lines from mainstream clothes designers and retailers.

The figures say it all. According to the Global Islamic Economy Report by Thomson Reuters, spend on clothing and apparel from Muslims is projected to reach $368 billion by 2021.

The latent global opportunity for modest-fashion retailers is simply staggering. But what are the challenges faced by startups in this competitive space? Alia Khan, founder and chairwoman of the Islamic Fashion and Design Council (IFDC), outlines the challenges entrepreneurs need to consider when starting out in the global modest-fashion arena.


One of the biggest challenges is convincing buyers that your products are an essential item. Mainstream buyers need to understand that they must have a good representation of modest wear in their shops; it’s just an absolute necessity in today’s retail world. If retailers aren’t stocking modest wear, they are alienating a good percentage of their potential clientele. Despite global backlashes over burkini sales, this market is never going to go away, and these consumers will still want to buy these products. It’s your job to convince buyers of this.


When DNKY, Tommy Hilfiger and other big designers came up with their collections, a lot of them received harsh consumer reviews. The Islamic market was disappointed because the collections weren’t modest enough; they were see-through or too tight. The Muslim consumer base felt misunderstood, and this was an important lesson for people in the industry.

So do your research and take some time to get know your market. If you are going to cater to an audience, prove to them that you’ve done your homework and that you understand them.


The Muslim consumer has a profile of her own. This is a consumer who knows what she wants and who she is. When she’s wearing a hijab, she’s basically saying that she has committed to a way of life for a higher purpose.

Muslims are individuals, and they don’t really pay much heed to seasonal lingo. They don’t necessarily follow trends. It’s important to cater to a sense of individuality. This could mean remaining traditional yet elegant, or it could mean remaining cool and hip but not compromising on values and faith-based parameters for dressing.


Muslims are expected to be all-round ethical, whether it’s food sourcing or managing business, travel, or relationships. If you’re going to be values-based, you can’t overlook the ethics of fashion. Muslims are very supplier-conscious. It takes a bit more effort to ensure that your manufacturing is done ethically and your suppliers have ethical practices, but it’s essential to your business.


When people referred to modest fashion just two years ago, it was a very confused label. For example, people in Europe had differing ideas about what the term meant, and it required some explanation. However, this challenge is slowly dissipating.

Now when you say you’re a modest-fashion designer, it’s more likely to be a conversation piece. It sparks all sorts of interest. It’s become like a new art form. People who know about modest fashion are now seen as more worldly. It has evolved quite nicely.

Every mainstream brand is interested now. The IFDC is being approached by a lot of the mainstream brands. These companies are open and keen to learn more about how they can get into the business. Again, this wasn’t the case a few years ago. Modest fashion is seen as a ray of light for a slumped global economy.


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