Business ideas for 2020: Modest fashion

Whether you want to create, sell, or promote products, discover how modest fashion could have a major impact on the small business world...

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Modest fashion is a style of dressing with clothes that cover up the wearer. Common features of modest fashion include long dresses, skirts and trousers, as well as long-sleeved tops and high necklines – essentially, clothes that aren’t revealing.

Although modest fashion is often associated with Islam, its followers can be of other faiths too (such as Christianity or Judaism), or none at all.

As well as potentially having to meet religious needs, modest fashion offers the creative challenge of how to produce and market clothing that is fashionable and meets customers’ modesty requirements.

While we highlighted modest fashion as one aspect of the Muslim lifestyle trend in our business ideas 2018 list, this time around it gets its own page.

With a major online following around the world and recognition from some of the biggest international media outlets, a modest fashion startup could be an exciting business opportunity in 2020.

Why is modest fashion a good business idea?

Of course, with modest fashion often having its roots in religion, the concept has been around for a long time. However, what is new is how it’s becoming more and more mainstream. For example, H&M released a modest clothing range in 2018, while ASOS, in collaboration with Verona Collection, launched a ‘modest fashion edit’ in 2019.

The ASOS collection uses a number of models, including a model who wears a headscarf – indeed, hijab style is a big part of the modest fashion concept.

Modest fashion also offers a way to increase representation in the fashion world and beyond, as well as reinforcing the importance of diversity and inclusion. Not only does it make business sense to cater to as many customers as possible, but it could be said to reflect wider cultural changes, allowing us to question and challenge commonly held perceptions around fashion and style.

Modest fashion is making headlines around the world, with Vogue Arabia, Harper’s Bazaar Arabia, and Harper’s Bazaar Singapore featuring it on their sites.

Yet it’s not only established titles that are promoting it – as these articles about modest fashion influencers show, the concept is making waves online too. For example, at the time of writing, the hashtag #modestfashion had 2.2 million posts on Instagram.

And there are modest fashion vloggers, too: With Love, Leena, a US-based YouTuber, has 478,000 subscribers, while popular UK-based YouTubers include Amena, whose channel currently has 410,000 subscribers, and AyeshaHak, who has amassed more than 10,000 followers since joining YouTube in 2018.

Modest fashion was even the focus of an episode of Netflix’s Follow This documentary series in 2018.

But modest fashion doesn’t have to be faith-based. The ‘bourgeois’ style has been predicted to be a major fashion trend from the autumn winter 2019 fashion shows, with Vogue dubbing bourgeois as the biggest trend of the season, and The Guardian offering a guide on ‘how to wear: bourgeois chic’.

So what constitutes bourgeois fashion, exactly? With a focus on minimal design, neutral colours, pussybow blouses, knee-high boots, and long skirts, it consists of traditional, conservative clothes. Sometimes, these items come with a twist: garments can have more ‘out there’ aspects, like animal print or leather features. Whichever way it’s interpreted, it’s clear to see the bourgeois trend favours covering up. 

Is it Brexit-proof?

Whatever the political situation, people want to look and feel good. Clothes that cater to as wide a range of people as possible can only be a good thing – suggesting that UK modest fashion startups would be a welcome addition to the scene, regardless of Brexit.

Plus, British fashion is respected around the world: London’s Savile Row is known as a go-to destination for tailoring, while London Fashion Week is one of the highlights of the international fashion calendar. However, it’s important to consider the realities of Brexit. This was highlighted by the British Fashion Council on ‘The Impact of No Deal Brexit for British Fashion Industry’, which could see rising costs and longer shipping times, amongst other effects.

Modest fashion: Business opportunities

There are a number of modest fashion businesses that currently exist in the UK, including clothes shops and brands like Aab, Ben Harad, BIAH, Inayah and Shukr, as well as Modestrove, an online fashion and beauty site. Aspiring entrepreneurs could decide to open a shop that’s completely focused on modest fashion, or run modest fashion lines as part of a wider clothing brand.

The Modest Fashion Week concept was co-created by Modanisa in 2016, with its first London edition taking place in 2017. There could be an opportunity to extend this reach further, by creating other modest fashion weeks around the country.

If creating content and building an online following appeals, then would-be entrepreneurs could consider becoming a modest fashion influencer.

Alternatively, those with an eye for design could become a modest fashion stylist, and help clients find clothes that suit them.

With so much international coverage, modest fashion is clearly a big deal around the world. However, with many of the results coming from overseas titles, it looks like there’s space for small businesses to break into the market here in the UK.

This could be achieved by launching a modest fashion magazine, for example. While this type of publication does exist internationally – GAYA and Jen are two such examples – there could be an opportunity for modest fashion media coming out of the UK.

Plus, this suggests there’s potential for UK entrepreneurs to offer a distinctly British take on the concept in general.

And given the bourgeois trend discussed in the section above, another business opportunity could lie in offering modest clothing for people who don’t have religious requirements, but prefer a more covered-up look.

Similarly, with so many female influencers and female-oriented brands in this market, why not offer modest fashion clothing lines for men too? This BBC video on modest Islamic fashion for men highlights some of the key aspects that men should follow to dress modestly, yet reveals how so far, the focus in the fashion industry has been on women and their requirements.

Modest fashion business opportunities

  • Shop (online and/or bricks-and-mortar)
  • Fashion week/events
  • Magazine publisher
  • Styling services
  • Influencer
  • Designer
Is it sustainable?

If you’re creating garments, then consider the sustainability of the materials used and the ethics of the manufacturing process. For example, you could create clothes from recycled materials, or other sustainable fabrics, like hemp.

Similarly, think about the carbon footprint of how the clothes are made: swap airplane transport for locally produced items as much as possible. And, if you decide to start an ethical fashion brand (one of our business ideas from 2015!), then eco-friendly choices like this will be at the forefront of your decision-making process.

Even if you don’t position your startup in this way specifically, there are a number of aspects to running a green and social business that you could incorporate into your operations, covering everything from business models to investment options.

Modest fashion: Insider opinion

Abigayle André, director at Modessa, comments: “Looking at modest fashion from a purely business perspective, most of the world’s most prominent religions have guidelines around dressing modestly. So there will always be a need for longer hemlines and less revealing cuts of clothing. It’s not something that will fade like a trend, and as a retailer, that is something that is very attractive.

“My brand Modessa is an independent brand set up to capture this niche – however, it hasn’t taken long for the giants of the high street to understand this consumer’s need and capitalise on it. The likes of ASOS, Net-A-Porter, H&M and Primark have all introduced curations and ranges set to capture the modest conscious consumer. It is not a flailing fad, but a necessity for a lot of people, which is potentially a good move for an existing retail business.

“Albeit a niche, modest fashion is an emerging market with a lot of potential in the West. In the Middle East and most parts of Asia, it is a part of their culture, with many faiths having their own set of guidelines around modesty. However in the West, modest fashion isn’t just about the religious factor, but one of female empowerment: you do not have to show skin and be seen in a sexual way to be seen or respected.

“I feel that when done correctly, there can be a success in this niche of modest fashion. However, with any business (particularly retail in this economic climate), I would make sure that you have correctly researched the market to see if the demand for your intended product is there. I have seen this market entered and disrupted positively. On the other hand, I have seen large retailers enter and fail disastrously. Like any business, proper preparation and research is key!” 

Written by:
Scarlett writes for the energy and HR sections of the site, as well as managing the Just Started profiles. Scarlett is passionate about championing equality and sustainability in business.
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