After halal food and halal travel, the next huge untapped market within the Islamic economy has caught Thailand’s attention: Muslim designer fashion.
Muslim apparel production is not new to Thailand – there are over 200 Muslim dressmaking groups in the country with more than 100,000 members mainly in the southern border provinces, including batik dressmakers, and those who make Kaffiyeh, or Arab headdresses for men, and hijabs, the head scarves for women, according to the Thailand Textile Institute. Designer brands engaging in Muslim fashion, however, have been rare so far.
This has changed with entrepreneurial designers who particularly focus on haute couture for the affluent markets in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations, as well as for tourists from this region who come to Thailand and indulge in upscale shopping. Among those Thai fashion boutiques that are developing apparel for the Muslim market are established fashion boutiques such as Tube Gallery, Tango, Theatre and [email protected] With their distinctive fashion sense, they combine traditional Asian styles with Muslim preferences such as high-quality fabrics in loose dresses with glittery handcrafting and embroidery with a fine attention to detail, mainly in darker colours including black, dark blue and purple, sometimes also mixed with gold threads and exotic skins.
Tube Gallery, a fashion house founded in 1999 and based in Bangkok, after embarking on Muslim fashion some time ago, has since been stocked by leading fashion stores in GCC countries, including the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
Tango, for its part, last year opened a franchise boutique in Hili Mall in Al Ain, UAE. Its collection includes hand-embroidered clothes and a variety of accessories such as snake-leather handbags and bespoke footwear, all highly exclusive, as well as modest, but fashionable clothing.
Theatre, while not (yet) present in the Middle East, sees its high-quality loose dresses, although not particularly designed for the Muslim market, highly acknowledged by buyers from the GCC at its posh shop in Bangkok’s Siam Center. The brand is one of the most renowned in Thailand’s fashion scene and active since 25 years.
[email protected] features halal fashion that is produced in Thailand’s Muslim south and has been introduced by the Thailand Textile Institute (THTI). According to THTI executive director Suttinee Poopaka, the products are meant for Muslim markets in Southeast Asia, namely Malaysia and Indonesia, as well as the Middle East, and should open new opportunities for fashion entrepreneurs throughout Southeast Asia. The THTI also runs a well-frequented online shop.
Going by the numbers, the Muslim fashion market is certainly worth tapping into. In 2014, the Islamic fashion sector reached expenditure of around $230bn globally, constituting 11% of the worldwide fashion market, as per the State of the Global Islamic Economy 2015 report by Thomson Reuters. And the sector is projected to be worth $327bn by 2020, indicating impressive growth potential for both mainstream apparel makers and fashion designers. Among the established global clothing brands, labels such as Mango, Zara, DKNY, Tommy Hilfiger or Uniqlo all have started experimenting with Muslim fashion, presenting “Ramadan Collections” offering clothing lines specially themed for this holiday, as well as other Muslim fashion items, whereby the emphasis on Ramadan comes from its growing status as a shopping season among Muslim communities. Even Swedish brand H&M last September featured a Muslim model donning a hijab in one of its video ads.
For Thailand, this new interest in Islamic fashion has been recognised as a big opportunity. The Thai Textile Institute last year even invited top designers from Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia to design a new look for Muslim fashion under a programme aimed at pushing the textile and fashion industry in the country to the next level.