Singapore retailers riding strong on Muslim fashion trend set to be worth US$327b by 2020
Fashion label owner: Turnover hit $1m in three years
Her business, Sufyaa - a clothing label for Muslim women - hit $1 million in turnover in 2014, just three years after its launch.
Label owner Azrina Tahar, 38, says of her runaway success: "I never expected in my wildest dreams to reach such a milestone so quickly."
Today, her designs cross borders to buyers from the UK, Malaysia, Australia, Sweden, Norway, Canada and Dubai.
She is part of a global market that is rapidly growing: Muslims reportedly spent US$230 billion (S$327 billion) on clothing in 2014 - a figure that is expected to balloon to US$327 billion by 2020, a recent Thomson Reuters State of the Global Islamic Economy Report says.
The untapped arena of the fashion industry recently made headlines around the world as high fashion house Dolce & Gabbana launched its line of abayas and hijabs in the Middle East.
Last year, Japanese retailer Uniqlo collaborated with UK-born designer Hana Tajima to release an inaugural modest wear collection while Sweden's H&M featured its first hijab-wearing model, Mariah Idrissi.
Ms Azrina tells The New Paper on Sunday that she travelled to London for the Muslim Lifestyle Expo in August last year, where Sufyaa was the Singaporean representative.
She says: "Our designs were flying off the rack. I sold 90 per cent of my line when I was there. Some of them ordered designs to be delivered because we didn't have enough (stock) with us."
Ms Azrina says demand for modest wear is the highest it has ever been.
When she started out, she sold a mere 500 items - ranging from shawls, slip dresses, tops and bottoms - every month.
Now, she does not go a month without seeing "at least 3,000 items" fly off the rack.
On good months, she can sell up to 4,000 items. The online traffic to her label's website sees her shipping about five orders abroad weekly, which, on average, makes up 30 per cent of her monthly total sales.
But it is getting "more competitive in our own backyard", says Ms Azrina.
"When I started, there weren't many modest wear retailers.
"Now, there are always new modest wear stores sprouting up online, so while it is becoming popular, it is also becoming more competitive."
She adds: "I am just constantly setting myself apart from the rest of the stores with personalised services."
Islamic Fashion and Design Council founder, Ms Alia Khan, says Asia's fashion designers can expect more to be demanded of them as international awareness continues to grow.
"With the surge that Muslim fashion has experienced over the last five years, you can probably expect Singapore to be exporting to more destinations in the near future," says the Dubai-based chairman.
"The awareness and the exposure that modest fashion has been getting in recent times - with the likes of DKNY, Mango, Zara and Tommy Hilfiger jumping on the bandwagon - prove that mainstream labels are starting to pay more attention to opportunities in the arena of Muslim fashion."
Ms Alia says the market for modest fashion is ever growing as Indonesia, Turkey and even Australia constantly appear on the radar when it comes to modest clothing demands.
"Some of the online stores I've worked with around the world have told me that their market is starting to go beyond Muslim women."
Religion aside, more women are opting for designs that are more conservative and modest, Ms Alia explained.
"It is definitely exciting times."
"When I started, there weren't many modest wear retailers. Now, there are always new modest wear stores sprouting up online, so while it is becoming popular, it is also becoming more competitive."
- Ms Azrina Tahar, who started Sufyaa in 2011
Booming sales in booming industry
The newbies in the Muslim fashion market in Singapore are champing at the bit to get more market share.
One started her online store in 2013 selling shawls.
But things soon changed for Ms Kat Aziz, who launched Kaifiyyah, when "demand for more" came in hard and fast.
"When I started with shawls, I brought in one piece of each design to play safe. But all of them sold out on the day of the launch," the 30-year-old says.
"Later, I teased followers with photos of maxi skirts. Before I knew it, I was receiving a whole bunch of enquiries about how they can go about placing orders before the skirts ran out.
"Some even asked if there was a physical store where they could buy the skirts at immediately," she adds.
The online label has since improved its variety - selling everything from cardigans, tops, wide leg pants, maxi skirts to long dresses - and is continually looking for new possibilities to benefit from the booming industry.
Another newbie, By Harmoni, opened its doors mid-last year when Ms Siti Aisyah Ahmad's parents decided to invest in her passion for business and fashion design.
Ms Siti Aisyah says sales have skyrocketed.
"Since our start-up, sales have tripled," says the 23-year-old NUS undergraduate, who did not want to disclose actual figures.
"We control our stocks quite tightly and bring in what we are confident we can sell.
"When we started out, it was during the period of Ramadan. That month alone, we had to restock our inventory five times. Additionally, we had requests for more things from over 20 customers," she adds.
Still a young company, By Harmoni has already started shipping its goods to Malaysia, the UK, the US and Canada. Only seven months in, the store sees overseas buyers make up 10 per cent of its monthly sales pie.
As a whole, local retailers claim they are seeing their consumer base of modest wear expand beyond the Muslim community.
Ms Kat says the occasional pop-up events for retailers never fail to surprise her.
"We're seeing Caucasian customers, on top of Muslim women, buying our designs. It's really refreshing."
Miss Siti Aisyah says: "The modern Muslim woman is no longer limited to the plain shawl or abaya. She is seen layered in abstract shawls, kaftans and palazzo pants while living within the parameters of Islam."