LONDON — Much of the modest fashion conversation has been taking place at the high end of the market, or the lower end, but the Saudi Arabian label Leem has other ideas and it’s testing them now in the U.K.
Leem is a contemporary fashion label that’s ready to break out of the Middle East and into Europe, the U.S. and Asia. It is testing the U.K. market with Next’s multibrand online platform and will join Zalando in July.
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The label, which is backed by private investors, has its own ecommerce site in the Middle East and seven physical stores in UAE, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
According to Samah Elwagie, Leem’s head of marketing, the company has spent the past few years refining its supply chain, manufacturing and the quality of its offer as it readies for international expansion.
Leem has already launched on Next and is planning to open its own e-commerce site in the U.K. 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 U.S. and Asia.
In an interview, Elwagie said the global market for modest clothing ranges between $311 billion to $360 billion and she believes the U.K., in particular, is underserved.
“There is quite a large demographic in the U.K. and many shades of modest fashion: You have the Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities but also you have women who don’t want to follow trends if they happen to be 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 that too often modest clothing capsules are used as a marketing tactic by retailers during key periods of the year, such as Ramadan. “They don’t see modest dressing as way of life,” she said.
The lower end of the U.K. market is fragmented, dominated by mom-and-pop operations or individual designers who don’t have the proper operational backbone or infrastructure to support a business, she said.
She argued that Leem stands apart because its model works. “We’re very proud: our conversion rate is very high, as is our ticket price, and our model has been tried and tested via omnichannel within the Middle East. We’re strong enough and experienced enough to be able to target the international market, starting with the U.K.,” she said, adding that sell-throughs last season were 85 to 90 percent.
The company also believes its omnichannel approach will help it gain international scale quickly. “We have a shared inventory pool and customers are able to return the product in brick-and-mortar stores or online. They can shop via the app and then go into a store, try something on and pay in-store. We want to build towards that offer in the West,” Elwagie said.
Average prices fall between 100 pounds and 180 pounds for a dress and Elwagie said the label accommodates a broad variety of needs. It sells hijabs, scarves and hats for women who need to cover their head, neck and arms, and longer skirt lengths for those who prefer that silhouette.
The clothing has a trendy, youthful edge. The spring collection includes a floor-length green knit dress with slash details at the elbows and neckline, while a long blue pleated dress is sleeveless and figure-skimming.
Blouses have puffed sleeves and skirts are adorned with color-blocked details while a cream trouser suit features an off-the-shoulder top with a sweep of fabric across the front.
Details include little chains, studding and tassel embroidery while the color palette takes in magenta, mustard, emerald, pale and bright pink and navy. Fabrics include a bamboo-viscose blend and cotton jacquard.
“You don’t have to be dowdy to be modest and you don’t have to be unfashionable to be modest. You can be 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 including the U.S., 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 be introducing small accessories such as pins and magnets for women wearing scarves and hijabs in different ways.
Next, and its multibrand platform, is fast becoming a gateway for international brands to test the U.K. and Western markets or to reenter the market after a brand sale or restructuring.
As reported, Gap Inc. returned to the British high street via a new joint venture with Next. In March the company opened its first, new-generation shop-in-shop inside Next plc’s largest West End store on London’s Oxford Street.
In addition to its 500 physical stores in the U.K. and Ireland, Next has a vast marketplace where it sells some 700 fashion, home and beauty brands.