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The independent British label Aab is set to become the first modest fashion brand stocked at John Lewis & Partners this spring.
Arriving on the website on 9th March, John Lewis’s exclusive buy is a 40-piece collection, spanning hijabs, abayas, kimonos, jumpsuits and maxi dresses.
Aab is just one of 50 new fashion and beauty brands being taken on at the department store this season, as it aims to refresh its offering and champion smaller businesses following the pandemic.
“Aab captured our attention for its modern, feminine style and inclusive approach and we are delighted to launch the brand to our customers,” Jo Bennett, Head of Womenswear Buying tells The Telegraph. “We are focused on positive change and improving the diversity of choice and inclusivity in our womenswear ranges and we believe that modest dressing is important to many of our customers.”
For Nazmin Alim, who founded Aab a decade ago, the collaboration is a milestone for her business.
“It's good when a department store like John Lewis recognises the diverse customer and has an offering for them,” she says. “Because sometimes it can feel like you're not represented. This is a very exciting moment for our business.”
Alim founded Aab in 2011, from personal necessity as much as an interest in fashion.
“I love clothes,” she explains, “but due to my faith, I do prefer to dress modestly. 10 years ago, the modest silhouette wasn’t always easily available in the shops. I'd have to be quite creative when shopping. If long skirts were in fashion, I'd make sure that I stocked up. I would struggle because of the seasonal offerings, often to find the quality was looking for."
What started as a hobby in her spare time became a business, as friends complimented Alim’s privately tailored clothes. Aab’s collections are now all designed in London, and production happens in India and Pakistan in vetted factories.
The label’s colour palettes - whether using muted hues, or brighter pop colours - are particularly striking, as are the original prints and embroideries, with prices for tops starting at £36, and for a floral embroidered abaya reaching up to £139.
In the last four years, the modest fashion market has grown to be worth an estimated £100 million in the UK alone. Alim says that while many of her customers dress modestly according to their faith, women from all backgrounds buy her designs.
“When we started out, a lot of people didn't understand what it was we were offering and it was mainly a Muslim market,” she says. “As time has gone on it is not just people of faith that want to dress modestly. Women in general are buying that slightly longer hemline or longer sleeve or looser fitting item. This is not a small niche market, and the products that we sell are quite diverse.”
The Telegraph surveyed online ranges stocked by 18 of the most popular high street clothing retailers in the UK, and found that 44 percent now stock modest clothing choices. A search for modest fashion on ASOS pulls up 111 options, from head scarves to maxi dresses, while at Marks & Spencer you can now buy a viscose head scarf for £12.50, in multiple colours, or a hijab for £8.
The 40-piece Aab collection going into John Lewis, however, is arguably the most extensive, specialist offering currently available on the high street.
“What’s special about us is that we are thinking only of the modest customer and not compromising on quality, or forgetting small details that matter,” Alim considers. “It's not like a tick box [exercise], checking we’ve got that covered. It’s in everything that we do - that's what makes us different.”
As is the case with most retailers, Aab has adjusted its offering in the last year to cater for customers staying at home in the pandemic.
“As a business we've pivoted from dresses, embroidery and embellishment, into modest activewear and pyjamas,” Alim explains. She has hopes that the activewear may soon be bought by John Lewis too.
Ramadan, which falls from 12th April - 12th May this year, is undoubtedly the biggest date on the fashion calendar for Aab. Family celebrations may still be restricted somewhat due to the Government guidelines, however Alim says that shopping for new outfits in the run up will still be “huge”.
“For the Muslim market, in particular, Ramadan is a big deal,” she explains. “Every year we come up with a theme and base our colour palette and our embroideries around it. Last year it was botanicals - we built up the anticipation on social media, then when the collection dropped at midnight there were some lines that sold out overnight. It’s the most exciting time of the year for us as a business.”