Like many other parts of the world, Bangladesh's Muslim fashion industry, popularly known as modest fashion, has experienced a boost in recent years.
The rise of the usage of social media, mainly Facebook, has driven down the cost of starting a small business and given way to the hundreds of Facebook-based small shops, using FB pages as a medium to build a community of users, that is engaged in designing, trading, and manufacturing of modest fashion clothes, i.e. hijab, abaya, etc.
There are even newer breeds of startups that are trying to improvise popular western fashion trends, thus finding a balance between Islamic clothing and those of western fashions, by redesigning part of it, to cater to the growing demand for modest fashion products. One important distinction, however, one has to remember while navigating this fledgling but growing industry is that: this is nonetheless a fashion category.
Modest Collection is one of the most successful such startups. Recently we sat down with Fariza Binte Bulbul, the founder of Modest collection, a rapidly growing modest fashion maker based in Dhaka, to know more about the startup, how she ended up in the modest fashion business, challenges, and opportunities in this growing industry and what are her plans for Modest Collection going forward.
Like most of the other female F-commerce founders, companies that sell their products through Facebook pages, Fariza also came to the scene out of curiosity. “Back in 2015, I was visiting a Ramadan fair of a popular Facebook-based modest fashion brand and liked their work very much. I used to write on Facebook during those days, mainly about my journey into Islam, and I had a decent follower base. I was really inspired and thought about designing an abaya and try it out to see how people respond!”, Fariza was reminiscing.
The next thing, she invested Twenty Thousand Taka and designed 03 Abayas, popularly known as Burka, and put those out on Facebook. To her utter surprise, all of them were sold by the next day from her Facebook page and people were asking for more.
This was how Modest Collection came to exist. Today Modest Collection generates six digits revenue a month. They have grown over 275% in last one year on a month to month sales and making several hundred thousand in sales a month.
The company aims to reach seven digits in sales within this year. In terms of the number of orders, Modest Collection now makes over 250 customized dresses every month, which was 120 dresses a year earlier.
A typical homemaker Fariza never wanted to take a full-time job due to her commitment to raising kids, which she feels a tough job and requires a full day and all the energy of a mother. In Modest Collection, a serendipitous entrepreneurial journey, Fariza found a synergy between her passion for making new things and her desire to maintain a work-life balance.
Starting from April 2015, Modest collection has become a go-to place for many 'hijabis' in Dhaka. Fariza and her team work hard to make sure that they provide the best possible products. While MC has a growing customers base in Dhaka, they are also selling an increasing number of products to customers abroad. “We have a growing local user base, but we do sell abroad as well”, says Fariza. “In fact, a majority of our clothes goes to different countries and many of our customers live in Sydney and other cities.
In fact, the startup is considering a franchise office abroad. “We get to send so many packages to Sydney, Australia that we are now opening a franchise store in Sydney”.
Fariza observed that the reason behind NRBs are buying Abaya from Dhaka paying the delivery cost is the high cost of modest clothes abroad. “You can buy 10 abayas in Dhaka with the price of 01 abaya there”, she added.
Online is a different world where trust is, often, an important factor that invariably affects the decisions of customers. In a market like Bangladesh where digital culture is yet to mature, trust remains a huge problem due to all many reasons including piracy, fake products, and all, it is interesting to see a small FB shop thrive and continue to grow.
In fact, women in Bangladesh often feel more comfortable buying clothes after checking cloth design and quality first hand, but for Modest Collection, users order primarily online and without seeing the design or anything.
Once asked about what drives their growth, Fariza told that her follower base trusts her so much that they blindly give orders. “I always try to keep the value of this trust and work extra hard to provide the best quality garment”, She said.
Besides, she noted that there is a growing trend among practicing Muslim women that they prefer buying online to avoid the hassles of buying in shopping malls. She also shared that when a customer feels satisfied with one order, they keep ordering out of trust, which has been crucial to the growth of Modest Collection.
To ensure the best quality garments and products, Modest Collection uses high-quality clothes from export-oriented garments in Dhaka. “These are export quality clothes and you can’t find such quality of clothes anywhere else, which has been a key strength to my work”, she said. And this is what many of their customers reported on their Facebook page.
While Modest Collection works extra hard to provide the best quality garments, it also provides extensive customization. “We provide extensive customization to match the taste of our customers. For this, we pay more to our tailor staff. And we never hesitate to pay as we want to make the best thing for our customers”, Fariza said.
However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to provide extensive customization due to the growing scale of the business. As a result, the startup is changing its strategy and planning to get into mass production of some of its popular designs and sizes to meet growing demand. “We now know the popular sizes among our customers, and we plan to make multiple sizes of same dress from garments by subcontracting so that we can readily meet orders. But, then again, I have a very personal connection with most of my customers and when they request fervently, I hardly could say No to them”.[blockquote source="Fariza Binte Bulbul"]“Unlike most facebook stores, we hardly spend on promoting our products on Facebook. Actually, we never had to walk in that path, as our method of reaching out to our followers is largely driven by interesting content and storytelling. We share different Islamic tradition in form of stories that drive engagement”[/blockquote]
Over the past years, Modest Collection has somehow managed to build a community around its product and most of the customers are returning in nature. Fariza said that word of mouth is the primary driver of growth for her business.
“Unlike most Facebook stores, we hardly spend on promoting our products on Facebook. Actually, we never had to walk in that path, as our method of reaching out to our followers is largely driven by interesting content and storytelling. We share different Islamic tradition in form of stories that drive engagement”, Fariza pointed out that exceptional content and interesting storytelling has made many things easy for her.
Apart from tailoring staff, the Modest Collection is now a team of 03 people and growing. “Most of our staffs are contractual and we do pay a high wage to all of our staffs, as they do most hard works of making the clothes”.
In terms of the distribution channel, Modest Collection now makes most of its sales through Facebook. “However, we have plans to shift our crowd to our website as most of our customers are from abroad and they find it easy to pay online via the website”, Fariza said.
The startup is also pushing its website to the local customer, Fariza noted that they offer free delivery for website orders and “but local customers don't bother about the delivery charge, and feel convenient ordering from Facebook”.
o2o, online to offline, a trend originated in China, is also getting a slow foothold in Bangladesh. While some of the online stores are now considering and many are moving to physical shop style, Modest collection said it does not have a plan to launch a physical shop. However, they may go on franchise style. “We don't plan to expand hastily, as we are committed to ensuring quality products and best possible customer service. We are not considering getting into a physical shop kind of thing soon.
Modest Collection now works with the third-party logistics company to maintain delivery in Dhaka., While logistics remains a key problem for the e-commerce ecosystem in Dhaka, Fariza noted that she is satisfied with delivery agents' performance and asked for customer education as well. “Most of the delivery problems arise because of the misunderstanding between customer and delivery agent and sometimes customers also place an irrational delivery request. Besides, we have to consider Dhaka's traffic condition”.
Fariza wants to go slow about expansion and has no plan to take investment in any form. “With our current expansion plan, we can bootstrap for a foreseeable future and we plan not to take any investment soon”. And she wants, for now, Modest Collection to be a popular web store for modest fashion instead of a physical shop or Facebook page. “I am personally against the physical shop for my business and I estimate that physical abaya shops will see a major fall in their sales due to the rise of online modest fashion stores”, fariza said.
Fariza sees growing competition in the modest fashion space, especially among Facebook-based stores. At the same time, she realizes that it is not sustainable in the long run. “Almost all the Facebook stores that sell modest fashion are making some form of living but there is a growing competition in the space. It will be tough to bring new customers in the coming days as new entrants are offering low-quality copy products.” Fariza noted. However, she considers the web to be a platform that offers more opportunities for the long run if you can offer quality and service and also create a community around it. That's why Modest Collection is investing time and money in building its web platform.
This also makes sense as Modest Collection is targeting a huge NRB community around the world and the Facebook store provides no means of payment for this customer segment.
When asked about challenges for Modest Collection, Fariza pointed to the copy products that are flooding online stores. “However, I am not that much concerned as it will happen and the market size is also big. This will go away as the market matures, I hope”.
Fariza is an avid learner of technology and she herself takes care of many aspects of her business including designing clothes, content writing, and managing the Facebook store. “I am always a learner, and currently learning affiliate marketing and SEO as I have plans to establish my website”. Down the line, Fariza wants to place Modest Collection as a giant online store targeting working women of the country and NRBs.
For newcomers into business, Fariza advised not to start in existing segments where the market is already saturated and asked to search new segments and niches. Since the online modest fashion segment has many established brands, new entrants can hardly compete here unless they have a deep pocket.
Ruhul Kader has edited the story.