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A Match Made in Fashion: The Far Reach of the Modest Market

Feb 24

In the past decade, the world of fashion has been puzzled with a question that no brand has been able to sufficiently solve: How do we address the modest market? Companies ranging from all price points and styles have weighed in; Dolce & Gabbana, DKNY, H&M, Uniqlo and Nike have put out modest themed lines that are clearly directed to the female Muslim consumer. But their forethought has overall been met with dissatisfaction. Dolce & Gabbana attempted to reappropriate the abaya as a fashion accessory which was met with controversy while DKNY’s Ramadan collection catered to only one Muslim group without taking into account any others. It begs the question what’s driving these brands’ hyper-focus?

Let’s consider the sheer spending power of the Muslim market. This includes an estimate of the global modest market which is currently worth $283 billion and expected to grow to $402 billion by 2024. A 2011 Pew study predicts that by 2030, the collective spending power of the Muslim population could equate to the third-highest economy after the U.S and China. Brands could easily be trying to get ahead of the curve by trying to curry favor and loyalty with their rendition of modest clothing. But they’ve failed because they’ve mistakenly assumed that “the modest market” is a demographic rather than a psychographic.

In 2019 Lyst, the primary fashion search engine saw a 90% search increase for the term “modest fashion.” Pinterest U.K reported a 500% increase for that search term within the first four months of the year, and the numbers are only increasing. The sector is not representative of religiously observant Jews, Muslims or Christians, nor is it principally targeting the “professional woman.” As Halima Aden, the iconoclast in the modeling industry told #BoFVOICES,

“Modesty is not just for Muslim women. That’s the biggest misconception in the industry. A lot of you are dressed modestly today, probably because it’s cold outside, but that goes to show that it’s a global thing. Women should have choice.”

— Halima Aden

Currently, choice is limited. Shopping in today’s mainstream market includes a lot of bare midriffs, cutouts, low necklines and high slits. There is relatively no “modest” in the mainstream. Maybe this is because no one knows what it means.

The term “modest” in fashion describes a style of dress like any other. Some women found it empowering at the height of the #MeToo movement, a way of dressing that is entirely for their own pleasure and open to interpretation. The potential lies entirely in the hands of the consumer and their comfort zone. The potential, while lucrative to any brand that can successfully cater to its demands, relies on the understanding that modesty is not something that can be afforded to an exclusive group for its profitability. It is dynamic and belongs to no one culture, age group or lifestyle but it’s constantly being disassociated with the rest of the fashion world under the false pretenses that its roots are only in religious tradition. Never mind the fact that in 2019 the midi skirt length accounted for 53% of skirt assortment, or that long sleeves have seen a 162% growth across the U.S mass market and 20% growth in the U.S market according to research conducted by market analysts at Edited. The evidence leaves no ambiguity: the most important marriage yet to occur in the world of fashion is the one between modest and mainstream.

However, like most marriages, it’s in the little things that accumulate that ensure long-term success, rather than the grand gestures. While well-intentioned, Dolce & Gabanna and DKNY reappropriated religious dress and labeled collections with looser silhouettes and lower hemlines as “modest” when they really could have been simply a regular collection. Midi skirts have made their way back into mainstream and fashion and brands like Gucci and Kenzo have taken note and responded in turn. In those moments, women watching their runways can more than imagine wearing their pieces proudly.

Kerim Ture, Founder of Modanisa, a modest e-commerce platform with a $1B valuation, described to The Economist,

“This isn’t just about selling clothes… It’s about a woman’s right to go to the prom night or feel comfortable in a corporate environment... It’s about enabling women to expand their reach without compromising their values and beliefs”

— Kerim Ture

The words ring true as a sentiment to the brands mainstream market; “modest fashion” is as multifaceted as the women who subscribe to it. Rather than trying to reach them on the turf you made, meet them in the middle for unbridled success and holy matrimony.

Sources:

Chitrakorn, Kati. "Halima Aden: 'Modesty Is Not Just for Muslim Women'." The Business of Fashion. November 30, 2017. https://www.businessoffashion.com/videos/news-analysis/halima-aden-modesty-is-not-just-for-muslim-women.

"Here's Why Everyone Is Talking about Modest Fashion." The Independent. April 18, 2019. https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/fashion/modest-fashion-asos-hijab-range-design-islam-religion-a8875636.html.

"How to Include Modest Fashion in Your Assortment." EDITED. August 19, 2020. https://edited.com/resources/modest-fashion/.

"Modesty Fashion: A $283 Billion Market Here's How to Get It Right." MLC MEDIA. December 15, 2020. https://www.mlcmedia.net/modesty-fashion-a-283-billion-market-heres-how-to-get-it-right/.

Segran, Elizabeth. "Muslim Fashion Is A $254 Billion Market-But Big Brands Can't Crack It." Fast Company. October 29, 2018. https://www.fastcompany.com/40559445/these-startups-nailed-muslim-fashion-burberry-and-dkny-did-not.

"The Bold and the Beautiful: Growing the Modest Fashion Industry." The Economist. https://eiuperspectives.economist.com/financial-services/bold-and-beautiful-growing-modest-fashion-industry.

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