Photo: HUAIBEI, ANHUI PROVINCE, CHINA - November 1, 2015: Female worker in a clothes factory in Huaibei, Anhui province, east China / Frame China / Shutterstock.com
Standards for Islamic modest fashion are still a hotly contested point. The industry debate on benchmarks covers a wide range of topics: clothing with full sleeves and loose fits, production using halal materials, and even whether a halal mark on clothing is necessary and what it would entail if it were implemented.
However, apart from this, functional requirements are prompting material suppliers and manufacturers catering to this market to modify their products to suit the specifics of modest fashion. Whether it’s the thickness and fall of fabric, its opacity, or its halal credentials—all are being carefully scrutinized for suitability through trial and error as well as consumer feedback.
A COMMON SUPPLIER POOL
Unlike the retail end, where specialist modest fashion brands are thriving (some with their own manufacturing units), everyone dips into the same pool when it comes to raw material supply.
Alia Khan, founder and Chairwoman of the Islamic Fashion and Design Council (IFDC), says, “I don’t think suppliers can afford to be exclusively Islamic—and I do not think they should be. They are in the business of supplying materials whether someone comes from Karl Lagerfeld or from an Islamic fashion operation.”
According to Salaam Gateway’s February 2016 report Current Consolidation Activity and Potential in Islamic Modest Fashion, there are more than 146 focused modest fashion brands, of which 58 sell their own brand of clothing. There are more than 800 apparel manufacturers in key Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) export markets.
“In a highly fragmented industry, there were over 7,500 textile- and apparel-manufacturing companies in the five largest OIC apparel-export markets,” the report says. Of those companies, over 800 were focused on female apparel, of which modest fashion comprises about 14 percent.
This means that the whole nascent sector benefits from the cutting-edge research and technological developments that characterize textile manufacturing today.
Textile is no longer restricted to cotton, silk, and wool with smatterings of chiffon and organza. One example of this is in the blending together of sportswear with everyday clothing. Sportswear as daily wear has spilled over into collections by designers as varied as Chloé and Paco Rabanne on the Paris catwalk.
Avis Charles, a UK-based strategic consultant who works closely with the IFDC, comments, “Ten years ago, who would have predicted that fitness wear would sell at the rate it is selling, where it becomes an item of clothing and not just fitness wear?”
Indeed, one of the early examples of the confluence of mainstream clothing with modest Islamic wear has been in this segment, necessitated by women who wanted to participate in sport.
Cindy van den Bremen, the designer of Capsters, one of the world’s leading brands in sports hijabs, spoke at the Global Islamic Economy Summit 2015 about how it all began back in 2001, when a Dutch girl was expelled from gym class because her teacher did not think it was safe to be wearing a hijab during sports. Reports of other cases soon followed.
“I felt it was my duty as a designer to solve this, not just from the safety point of view but also from the identity standpoint,” van den Bremen said.
Today, Capsters delivers worldwide and has resellers in 12 countries, including Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, and Australia.
This solution-based approach means more returns on investment related to research and development of breathable, comfortable fabrics. Newer technologies for the creation of textiles are being developed every day to suit consumer requirements, allowing designers to include functional, wearable performance clothing in everyday wear.
As synergies go, this is good news for makers and wearers of hijabs and arm sleeves, as the material used to make the garment, especially for women who are out and about in warmer climates, needs to breathe well but be non-transparent.
On the other hand, quick-drying or not, a fabric that fits like a second skin at 55 g/m2, for instance, is not likely to suit the requirements of a consumer of Islamic modest wear.
The demand created by dedicated brands and the entry of specialists into the modest wear sector has resulted in a multi-layered offering far beyond the images of the hijab and burqa that have dominated market perceptions of Islamic clothing.
For many pioneering brands, such as Turkey’s Modanisa, getting the right product mix meant teaching manufacturers to follow their specifications. “First we went to everyone ... We started with the ones that accepted our offer. We didn’t have the luxury to choose,” says company founder Kerim Türe.
Like any other online vendor, Türe watched for return rates for particular designers and producers, earmarking the ones that customers preferred. Today, he sends out a list of specs comprising both Muslim-friendly and general codes related to fit and fabric to the producers, returning some garments even before they make it to the store.
“We’ve moved away from thinking about Muslim fashion as a black burqa,” he says. “We had to train [the producers] and return some stuff. Turkish producers are very fast to learn ... producing a long-sleeved shirt is not enough.”
A common pool of suppliers also entails shared expertise across the value chain. Consultants who advise designers and companies on all aspects of bringing a product to market, including design, merchandising, creative direction, and product development, have made their presence felt in the sector.
Take the example of knits and jerseys, which have been a catwalk staple for a few seasons now. At the recently concluded Paris Fashion Week, John Galliano’s Maison Margiela show featured ribbed knits. At the New York Fashion Week, Oscar de la Renta showed 1980s-style stretch jersey knit tops and dresses as part of the AW 16/17 collection.
However, designers using the fabric for modest wear need to be very specific in translating this trend to their collections. As Charles explains, “If you use [a] jersey, you would use a different weight, or you would create under-slips, so it does not cling. If it’s not the right weight, customers may bring it back. Even if you do make it loose, it creates static; you don’t want that. The thing is in knowing these things.”
What all this awareness is leading up to is a push for certification from companies seeking to leverage their use of halal processes in textile manufacture.
In October 2015, for instance, Indonesian company PT Central Georgette Nusantara received halal status from Indonesian national certifier MUI for stretch knit polyester fabric used by a hijab manufacturer, Zoya. Dr. Lukmanul Hakim, the organization’s director, says that such certification is necessary to ensure that only halal raw material (such as animal products, including fats and coloring additives) are used in the process.
Some manufacturers in China—the country that topped the Global Islamic Economy’s Modest Fashion Indicator in the State of the Global Islamic Economy Report 2015/16—are alert to the benefits of such certification.
The report observes that “China leads the list by virtue of its high clothing exports to OIC countries, which stood at $28 billion in 2014. China meanwhile scored very low in the awareness and social score.”
But things are changing on that count in countries that top the export charts.
UMORFIL® is a functional fiber developed in 2012 by Taiwanese manufacturer Camangi under its Beauty Fiber brand. It uses animal protein materials such as collagen peptide amino acids from fish scales instead of the commonly used porcine or bovine collagen.
Janis Lee, Director of Sales and Marketing at UMORFIL® Beauty Fiber®, says, “When we created the fiber, we understood that the source will be the key point in claiming our position. Our founder and inventor of UMORFIL®, James Hou, has a good friend from college who’s Muslim. So he understands that a halal certificate means treating the animal in the respectful Islamic way.”
The UMORFIL® official website lists numerous testing reports, including those that prove its anti-static, deodorizing, and anti-bacterial properties, among others. Also included is a document certifying its halal credentials by the Taipei Grand Mosque, Taiwan, issued in September 2013.
According to Lee, without any specific promotional activity focusing on this certification, “business has increased … and halal certification is a strong point for us when we approach Islamic couturiers. For instance, our partners in Turkey said more than 95 percent of Turks are Muslim, so they see this as a good selling point for our bionic fiber.”
© SalaamGateway.com 2016