LONDON – Much of the conversation about modest fashion has taken place at the high end of the market, or the low end, but Saudi label Leem has other ideas and is now testing them in the UK.
Leem is a contemporary fashion brand that is ready to break into the Middle East and Europe, the United States and Asia. It is testing the UK market with Next’s multi-brand online platform and will join Zalando in July.
The brand, backed by private investors, has its own e-commerce site in the Middle East and seven physical stores in the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
According to Leem marketing manager Samah Elwagie, the company has spent the past few years fine-tuning its supply chain, manufacturing and quality of offering in preparation for international expansion.
Leem has already launched on Next and plans to open its own e-commerce site in the UK in November. It also plans to start testing physical retail later this year via pop-ups. Elwagie said the company is in talks with potential distribution partners in the United States and Asia.
In an interview, Elwagie said the global market for modest clothing is between $311 billion and $360 billion and that she believes the UK, in particular, is underserved.
“There’s quite a large population in the UK and lots of shades of modest fashion: you have the Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities, but you also have women who don’t want to follow the trends if it comes to mini-skirts and crop tops. Other women want to dress professionally in the workplace and they don’t want to show a lot of skin,” she said.
Elwagie said too often modest clothing capsules are used as a marketing tactic by retailers during key times of the year, such as Ramadan. “They don’t see modest dressing as a way of life,” she said.
The lower end of the UK market is fragmented, dominated by family operations or individual designers who lack the operational backbone or the proper infrastructure to support a business, she said.
She argued that the Leem stands out because its model works. “We are very proud: our conversion rate is very high, as are our ticket prices, and our model has proven itself via omnichannel in the Middle East. We are strong and experienced enough to be able to target the international market, starting with the UK,” she said, adding that last season’s sales were 85-90%.
The company also believes its omnichannel approach will help it expand rapidly internationally. “We have a shared pool of inventory and customers can return the product to physical stores or online. They can buy through the app and then go to a store, try something on and pay in store. We want to build towards this offer in the West,” Elwagie said.
Average prices are between £100 and £180 for a dress and Elwagie said the label caters to a wide variety of needs. It sells hijabs, scarves, and hats for women who need to cover their heads, necks, and arms, and longer skirts for those who prefer that silhouette.
The clothes have a trendy and youthful side. The spring collection includes a long green knit dress with cutout details at the elbows and neckline, while a long blue pleated dress is sleeveless and fitted.
Blouses have puff sleeves and skirts feature colour-block detailing while a cream trouser suit features an off-the-shoulder top with a strip of fabric down the front.
Details include small chains, studs and tassel embroidery while the color palette includes magenta, mustard, emerald, light and hot pink and navy. Fabrics include bamboo viscose blend and cotton jacquard.
“You don’t have to be old-fashioned to be modest, and you don’t have to be old-fashioned to be modest. You can look beautiful and dress comfortably. That’s what we’re here for,” Elwagie said.
The collections are designed by an international team and are manufactured in Cambodia, India, China, Bangladesh and Turkey, depending on the type of fabric and finish.
The diverse designers – who hail from countries like the United States, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, South Africa and Portugal – “make it very easy for us to understand different women, body types, ethnicities – and their needs,” she said.
The brand, she added, will soon introduce small accessories such as pins and magnets for women wearing scarves and hijabs in different ways.
Next, and its multi-brand platform, is quickly becoming a gateway for international brands to test the UK and Western markets or re-enter the market after a sale or brand restructuring.
As noted, Gap Inc. has returned to the UK high street via a new joint venture with Next. In March, the company opened its first next-generation shop-in-shop at Next plc’s largest West End store on Oxford Street in London.
In addition to its 500 physical stores in the UK and Ireland, Next has an extensive marketplace where it sells some 700 fashion, home and beauty brands.
The Leicester, England-based company is also co-owner of high-end clothing brand Reiss and is the UK partner for brands such as Laura Ashley home and Victoria’s Secret.