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CASE STUDY-Russian modest fashion brand IRADA reaching beyond the Muslim community

| 14 September, 2016 | Case Study
Elina Mannurova
CASE STUDY-Russian modest fashion brand IRADA reaching beyond the Muslim community
Photo: Amina Shabanova, co-founder of IRADA / Courtesy IRADA

IRADA

Year established 2010
Key personnel Amina Shabanova and Tagir Shabanov, co-founders
Headquarters Moscow, Russian Federation
Number of employees 15
Scale

3 concept stores (2 in Moscow, 1 in Kazan)

30 wholesale partners (multibrand stores that carry IRADA collections) in Russia

Social media following

vk.com: 20k+ followers

Instagram: 30k+ followers

Facebook: 2k+ followers

 

KEY INSIGHT

By remaining true to its convictions, Russian modest fashion brand IRADA has carved a unique position for itself in the country's modest fashion sector. 

Amina Shabanova, co-founder of IRADA, told Salaam Gateway the company "hires those who are refused equality", referring to the challenges women in hijab face getting jobs in Russia. True to its policy, IRADA has also hired a Christian Orthodox woman who wears a headscarf. 

It is this attitude and business practice that has also helped the company expand its customer base to be inclusive of non-Muslim Russian women who choose to dress modestly. This, and the ability to remain nimble to respond quickly to market needs, has given the company a toehold in the country's mainstream fashion industry, and confidence to continue its expansion.

COMPANY OVERVIEW

Established in 2010 in Moscow, IRADA is one of Russia's largest women's Islamic modest wear companies. It sells its own lines of designs that are manufactured in the country. The company sells online as well as out of three concept, and 30 multibrand, stores across Russia, including in key regions of Moscow, Tatarstan, and Dagestan. IRADA also sells accessories made by local company EkaKopaliani.ru.

THREE KEY ACCOMPLISHMENTS

1. After six years in the sector, IRADA has become a top five producer of Islamic modest wear for women in Russia. 

2. The company is known for being flexible and responsive to changing market demands. 

3. The biggest business challenge the company has overcome was to switch its focus to a younger target market. 

TWO OPPORTUNITIES ADDRESSED

1. Expanding the customer base for modest fashion in Russia

IRADA has succeeded in reaching beyond the Muslim community in the markets it operates, according to co-founder Amina Shabanova. 

Shabanova re-positioned IRADA's unique selling proposition to also appeal to non-Muslims seeking modest fashion after the company hired a veiled Christian Orthodox woman to work in one of its shops.

In Moscow, women in hijab (as in head covering either for Muslim or non-Muslim women) often face difficulties getting jobs and also experience discrimination in the workplace, according to Shabanova. Despite this, she has observed that modest fashion is gaining increasing acceptance among different non-Muslim social groups.

Among the brand's followers is an Orthodox Christian priest who often takes to IRADA young women from his congregation to encourage them to dress modestly, Shabanova told Salaam Gateway.

IRADA also found its way into the mainstream Russian fashion scene in November last year when blogger and model Maria Tatarskaya featured one of the company's maxi dresses on her popular style blog. This helped raise awareness not only of IRADA's clothes but was also a seal of approval from an influencer in the mainstream scene. 

Beyond Russia and neighboring countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States, IRADA also receives orders from Egypt, France, Indonesia and the United Kingdom, said Shabanova. Social media has helped the company expand its geographic footprint. 

2. Local knowledge still a competitive advantage over global high street names

The entrace of high street names, such as Zara and H&M, into the sector has posed a real threat to dedicated modest fashion companies such as IRADA. 

The company is confident its intimate knowledge of local markets still gives it a competitive advantage over the fast fashion giants. 

However, Shabanova cautions against complacency. "While we have that competitive advantage, we - modest fashion brands - need to use it as soon as possible and raise investment from serious businesses," she said. 

She warns that failure to take advantage of their edge now will not help modest fashion companies down the line as they do not have the scale to compete against the big companies.

"We could never beat Inditex prices," she said, referring to Zara's holding company.

SIX STRATEGY COMPONENTS

1. Building Russia's first vertically-integrated modest fashion company as the best supply chain solution

IRADA sources fabrics from China and South Korea, while the recent detente with Turkey froze economic relations with the company's suppliers in Istanbul.

The company is keen to acquire a facility in Ivanovo, which is the center of Russia's sewing industry. If IRADA succeeds in acquiring the facility, it will secure its supply chain and become the first vertically-integrated modest fashion producer in Russia. 

2. Positioning supply based on marketing studies

IRADA had to switch dramatically from targeting an older to a younger market.

The company made the switch after its marketing studies found that its initial target group, who were women in their thirties, preferred to buy cheaper clothes as their incomes were being channeled into priority areas such as children and family entertainment.

Not willing to sacrifice quality or give in to price pressures, IRADA pivoted towards a younger demographic. It now counts as loyal customers younger women in their late teens to twenties who have disposable income for clothes and fashion.

The company attributes its relative revenue stability during Russia’s economic crisis from the second half of 2014 to this change in strategy.

3. Giving employment opportunities to women who wear hijab

IRADA has a hiring policy focused on empowering Muslim and non-Muslim women who wear hijab because they are more likely to be discriminated against in the job market in Russia, according to Shabanova. 

Shabanova says the company “hires those who are refused equality.”

4. Investing in human capital and talent development

Talent management is the biggest business challenge for modest fashion brands in Russia.

As most companies in the sector are small to mid-sized family-owned businesses (Shabanova runs IRADA with her husband Tagir Shabanov), attracting experienced professionals is a challenge as companies cannot meet salary expectations. As a result, the talent deficit leads to slow business development.

IRADA trains its employees from scratch, with a focus on sales and effective communications.

The company’s current bonus system for employees is based on financial reward but IRADA hopes to one day also send its best employees to the haj as a bonus. For the moment, the company only has 1 employee who is not a Muslim (she is a Christian Orthodox).

5. Open to selling shares in the company for sake of growth

IRADA is ready to sell a share in the company to attract investment. However, Shabanova is clear that the co-founders would need to continue  managing the company in order to guarantee healthy working conditions, effective production cycles and to fulfill the brand’s mission.

6. Good work ethics as cornerstone of the ethos of Islamic modest fashion

Shabanova personally travels to the company’s production facility, which is located near Moscow, to inspect how workers are treated, and their working conditions.

She is more likely to dismiss cheap fabrics as she believes there is a higher possibility of them being manufactured under sweatshop conditions.

However, she has not had travelled to source markets such as China and South Korea but plans to visit the former in the near future to ensure fairness and ethics are upheld in the supply chain along with best possible quality at affordable price-points, she said.

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