Mango just released its second Ramadan collection, one week before the Muslim holy month. It's hardly the first: In 2014, DKNY pioneered the “Ramadan” collection targeting Muslim women in the Middle East. In the two years that followed, Tommy Hilfiger, Zara, Oscar de la Renta, and Monique Lhuillier have also put out collections. But despite acclaim from Western and Asian news outlets (including this site), many Muslim women have expressed that these collections have missed the mark. In fact, I believe Mango’s current Ramadan collection is disappointing for reasons that most observant Muslim women can point out: They’re inappropriate for the occasion, improper for the religion, hyper-focused on a small segment of the Muslim population, and inconvenient for most Muslim women to actually buy. The number one reason these collections fail is brands’ lack of understanding of Ramadan. Let’s start with the basics: Ramadan is the month when Muslims believe that the Prophet Mohammad received the final divine revelations, the compilation of which makes up the Quran. Ramadan is regarded as one of the holiest — and busiest — times for Muslims. It’s 30 days of non-stop celebration, worship, community, and family.
During the month, Muslims fast, abstaining from food and drink, from dawn until sunset, during which time we’ll also engage in extra acts of worship, including increased charity, prayers, and visiting the sick. Each day, Muslims break their fast at sunset with family and friends over large meals, and attend evening prayers that last late into the night. The end of Ramadan is marked by a huge celebration called Eid, where we dress up and gather for an early morning service followed by a full day of socializing, eating, and gift exchanging. Despite this rich and complex tradition, brands have relied mostly on limited market research which has lead them to believe that Muslim spending is concentrated in the Middle East where Muslims spend their Ramadan evenings shopping in malls. Brands are only targeting these populations because they have been lured by the $489 billion spending power a State of the Global Islamic Economy 2014-2015 report commissioned by Thomson Reuters and Dinar Standard estimates Muslims across the globe will have by 2019. What’s puzzling is, why go after a foreign market with customers you don’t understand and who have constant access to modest clothing, while ignoring the estimated $100 billion market in the west — a market these brands are more familiar with who have very limited access to modest clothing? With many retailers struggling with poor earnings, targeting an underserved market in their own backyard should be a given.
So the “Ramadan” collections are already on shaky ground to begin with, but there are four main problems with them.
1. The timing is off. Just as stores push "back to school" shopping well before school actually starts, or display New Year’s Eve dresses long before December 31, so, too, should Ramadan collections be available well before Ramadan. But that’s not the case: Mango’s current collection came out one week before Ramadan, while DKNY, Zara, and Tommy Hilfiger’s all came out the day Ramadan started. It makes little sense to have these collections only available when Muslims have the least time for leisurely shopping.
2. It's too casual. The main apparel women are looking for during Ramadan is something formal or semi-formal to wear for all the events and Eid. Most Ramadan collections offer relaxed pieces better suited for a casual brunch than celebratory evenings. Women are looking for sophisticated dresses, elegant tops, and dramatic skirts; not striped cotton dresses and tunics.
3. It's not available to most shoppers. Ramadan collections have only been offered in stores in the Middle East, which only contains 20% of the world’s Muslim population. The vast majority of Muslims have no access to the Ramadan collections, since they are not offered online. Additionally, most price points also cater to the “oil rich” myth of high-spending Middle Easterners. Most Muslim people don’t have lavish clothing budgets.
4. It's not modest enough. While non-Muslims might associate “fancy” with cocktail dresses, Muslims also adhere to a modest dress code. Most would never wear anything sheer, strapless, backless, or with a low neckline or high slit. Muslim women are looking for contemporary, stylish clothing that isn’t revealing. Tommy Hilfiger’s Ramadan 2015 collection has come the closest to meeting these style and modesty requirements, but most other collections fall short.
Obviously, Mango sees things differently. In a statement to Refinery29, the brand stressed that it's committed to serving Muslim women: "We have designed special collections for Ramadan for 10 years now. Collections are designed to complement the preferences of the Middle Eastern market, fulfill our customer's ongoing demand for high quality and detailed designs, as well as offer richer fabrics and embroidery. The majority of the designs within this line already exist in the Mango collection and are adapted to include these characteristics. With over 45 individual styles, this wide range of selected designs includes looks that suit both day and evening occasions, both being of equal importance. Because of this, we place an emphasis on not just relaxed garments like printed kaftans, blouses, tunics, dresses, soft waistcoats, and leggings, but also more formal and embellished pieces like double cape dresses, lace garments and skirts, and elaborately embroidered pieces covering all styles."
Despite its decade-long commitment, “Ramadan” fashion collections have only recently received international publicity. During a time when so many people have deeply held prejudices against Muslims, this act of inclusion is a welcome contribution. Having the fashion community recognize the Muslim market as worthy of attention was a milestone in and of itself. But now that the novelty has worn off, brands must do the actual work of creating collections that reflect the needs and values of Muslim women. In order to cash in on the projected $489 billion, they will have to do more than simply label collections “Ramadan.” So far these limited-time, geographically constrained, modest-lite Ramadan collections do not satisfy the demand, at least to this Muslim fashion enthusiast. Understanding modesty is the key element to unlocking sales from Muslim women. Brands must delve deep to know how modest women value coverage, so much so that the sheerness of a fabric or slit in a skirt can be the determining factor in a purchase. Brands that make the effort to gain this understanding and offer modest collections year round to customers worldwide, similar to how plus-size and petite collections are available, are sure to be rewarded.