With the #MeToo movement now ingrained in our culture, modest fashion has grown as more women are dressing for themselves rather than the male gaze.
According to the State of the Global Islamic Economy Report 2019-20, Muslim spending on apparel and footwear is projected to grow to $402 bn by 2024. This is a market that brands can no longer afford to ignore, as businesses already operating in this space are reaping the rewards.
Religion isn’t the only reason women are opting to cover up. For some, it’s a personal preference, where modesty is empowering. With the #MeToo movement now ingrained in our culture, more women are dressing for themselves rather than the male gaze.
As demand for modest dressing grows globally, we’ve studied how fashion trends are influenced at western retailers, as well as what opportunities brands can tap into.
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Brave new world – trend shifts in the UAE
The Sunday Times reported a distinct shift in traditional dress in Saudi Arabia. New designers are pushing boundaries by introducing color and patterns to traditional garments – a bold move in contrast to standard black.
The EDITED color recognition software shows how hues have evolved in this market. Let’s start with analyzing new abayas (long traditional robes) available at 9 of the largest UAE online retailers compared to a year ago. While black still dominates, playful colors like red and pink are increasing. Currently, black makes up 59% of the abayas available at these retailers. When compared to the same period a year ago, black was 70%.
The abaya color wheels reveal an obvious swing into brighter colors and less grey. This confirms bolder tones are becoming more acceptable within this market. There is a similar trend in prints, which are rapidly gaining popularity. Patterns make up 23% of the abayas currently in stock compared to 16% a year ago.
There’s more growth in another area too – jewelry. The number of necklaces retailing online in this market has increased by 40% YoY, followed by bracelets 21%, rings 11% and earrings 4%. This is a powerful category, especially for younger consumers who wear accessories as a statement. Jewelry is an easy way for brands to gain footing in the UAE market.
#MeToo and modesty
Modest dressing has gained momentum for some time. In 2017 new modest products arriving in the US included long sleeved dresses, high necklines, midi dresses and maxi skirts.
We charted steady demand for these items throughout that year followed by a spike in October. This coincided with the #MeToo movement when it went viral, showing how fashion reflected global trends.
Modest fashion is a serious game and it’s not slowing down. Read on for how the market has evolved and the major players investing.
How is retail interpreting modesty?
So who’s wearing modesty? Western women in the US make up 36% of customers shopping on The Modist, an e-commerce platform for luxury modest fashion. The retailer showcases pieces from luxury brands alongside up-and-coming middle eastern designers.
The luxury market is pioneering the modest fashion movement. In addition to the success of the Modist, Dolce & Gabbana launched a range of hijabs and abayas back in 2016. Since Alessandro Michele joined the helm at Gucci, more demure and elegant pieces started to trickle through. This evolution is obvious in Gucci’s recent marketing, a stark contrast to its campaigns from the early noughties (‘G’ pubic hair anyone?) under Tom Ford’s direction. Meanwhile in the mass market, modest dressing has become more accessible. Uniqlo has collaborated on a range with visual artist and designer Hana Tajima since 2016. Back in May 2019, Zara temporarily included a modestwear edit advertised via a drop-down bar on its homepage. And Islamic label, the Verona Collection, is now available on ASOS.
Over the past year, modest styles have grown in both the luxury and mass market. On luxury brands’ own sites, tops with a high neckline increased by 20% YoY. Compared to the US mass market, this style experienced a 162% uptick with growth driven by brands catering to a wide demographic, ranging from NA-KD to Target.
In both sectors, hemlines are coming down. The midi dress continues to thrive with new arrivals increasing by 22% YoY in luxury market and 35% in the mass market. As the key shape for skirts, midis make up 58% of new skirt arrivals over the past year for the luxury market driven by brands such as Prada and Dolce & Gabbana. In the mass market, this silhouette is also the dominant length, equaling 42% of skirts arrivals with boohoo, Nasty Gal and Macy’s as the top stockists.
While the maxi skirt makes up the smallest percentage in both markets, retailers continue to back this shape. New styles rose by 6% in the mass market and 14% in luxury, YoY.
Last year, Halima Aden covered Sports Illustrated as the first model to wear a burkini and a hijab in the magazine. In retail, modest active and swimwear still stand out as an untapped opportunity for western retailers. It’s been over two years since Nike launched its Pro Hijab with next to no competition from other pure-play active brands. Nike has also recently released the Victory swimwear collection, which includes full coverage swimsuits and hijabs. While Slazenger and Next have dabbled in a small range of burkinis, these items are yet to be a mainstay of swimwear assortments.
Analyzing the latest runway shows, modest elements were prevalent in all cities, playing into the overarching theme of hyper-feminine dressing.
Victoria Beckham, Simone Rocha and Fendi were among the many designers showcasing modest maxi dresses. While layering continued as one of the strongest trends of the season.
High necklines were among the key shapes for tops alongside blouses featuring long, voluminous sleeves and feminine details such as ruffles, frills and pussybows. Capes and ponchos were noted at Jil Sander. For commercial silhouettes, midi and maxi skirts remained a crowd favorite in an array of colors and prints. An alternative to skirts and dresses, tailoring and suiting continues to gain momentum on the runway. Look to designers such as Roland Mouret and Giada for inspiration.
At Milan Fashion Week, modest accessories were incorporated including turbans at Dolce and Gabbana, headscarves at Gucci and bandannas at Mario Dice.
These looks on the catwalk confirms the continued presence of modest dressing. While this market has grown, there’s still an open space for specialist categories and diversification within assortments – the time to tap into this market is now!
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