Modest swimwear for men is getting a lot of traction these days. Almost every single day people search our site to look for info on the topic. Some time ago, we had published a news story about Zusaura, a UK-based brand offering modest swimwear for men.
Recently, we had a chat with the president & CEO of the company to learn more about the brand and its product offerings. Many of our readers may find the interview informative.
Could you tell our readers a bit about yourself and how you started your journey with Zusaura, a modest swimwear brand for men?
My wife, Yasmin, and I are British Muslims and the founders/owners of Zusaura. Yasmin qualified as a doctor from Guy’s Hospital Medical School and practiced as a GP, whereas I graduated as an engineer from Imperial College London and spent the bulk of my career in the oilfield services sector undertaking multiple international and domestic assignments. After leaving the O&G sector I became a schoolteacher for a short period before devoting myself full-time to our company.
The idea for Zusaura took seed when on holiday in Dubai in 2012 and we could not find swimwear for myself that met our faith and taste needs – swimwear that would ensure coverage from navel to below the knee at all times, yet, remained stylish. This seemed to be a shared problem – lots of other men wearing ad-hoc ensembles of T-shirts and ill-fitting swim shorts while at the pool. Paris Fashion Week it most definitely was not! Additionally, having boardshorts that would not “balloon” with air when entering water would be a godsend.
So, upon our return to London, we created an innovative design to meet our needs and tastes. Even so, we did not take things further, convinced established brands would address this need before long.
However, in 2014 we decided to proceed, with a clear understanding our brand should reflect our principles of standing for justice and aspiring towards excellence and be universally appealing to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. We had a proof-of-concept sample made, established the company in 2015, and set about identifying appropriate fabrics and a reputable manufacturer while both still in full-time employment. After numerous sample iterations, and equal measures of patience and heartache along the way, we finally had samples in 2019 that gave us the confidence to take our offering to market. This convinced me to come on full-time into the business to prepare its launch, which we ultimately achieved in May 2020.
Are you targeting the UK-based Muslim men only or planning to go global as well?
Given that we believe our Islamic values are universal – values that promote numerous virtues we aspire towards, that in their totality engender serving all humanity irrespective of individual or collective differences – the aim for our brand could never have been anything but to be globally oriented and universally appealing!
How do you differentiate yourself from your competitors in terms of swimwear offerings? In other words, why should your potential customers choose you instead of your competitors?
To answer this question, it must first be understood by your readers that the global fashion industry is one built upon exploitation, both environmental and human – for the latter, forced labor, child labor, sexual violence/rape, low/withheld wages, unsafe working conditions, and more, experienced by garment workers, is endemic. This, despite many small and large brands trumpeting carefully crafted CSR statements, sustainability claims, or engagement with accreditation agencies purportedly rooting out such evils. Indeed, many reported cases in the press of exploitation in certain garment factories have come in the aftermath of such agencies accrediting these same factories – factories producing garments for some of the world’s leading sports and apparel brands. Further, such exploitation is not limited to garment manufacturing facilities, but also raw materials processing – cotton production is a prime example.
Now that the context of the industry we operate within is set, we can begin to speak meaningfully about how we differentiate ourselves. In essence, Zusaura is an innovative men’s luxury swimwear brand with an ethos centered on justice and stylish refinement. But what does this mean in real terms? Well, we hope the below gives a flavor:
- The design of our 13-pattern-piece boardshorts is our primary innovative step – in essence, our boardshorts are two shorts in one, although the outer short is only ever visible when worn. Through a novel use of fabrics and their assembly, our design ensures our boardshorts: always cover the knees (whilst still offering the wearer flexibility of movement); do not noticeably “balloon” with air at any time; and yet, remain stylish and sleek. Worn together with our rash vests, they offer excellent sun protection (UPF50+) and ensure coverage of the “awrah” at all times.
- To demonstrate our commitment to social justice, we are committed to donating 20% of our profits to charity.
- In keeping with our principles of honoring our neighbors, from the outset, we chose to produce our swimwear as locally as possible (Portugal) with a small, but reputable (family-owned) manufacturer – we decidedly stayed away from “low-cost” centers in Asia where labor exploitation is endemic, and particularly from China due to its abhorrent treatment of Uighur Muslims. Indeed, in contrast to many big brands that simply switched to using factories in different regions in China when these abuses became widely reported, and even though we have no manufacturing in China, we took steps to ensure nothing in our supply chain of peripheral items (stickers, packaging boxes, garment tags, etc.) was sourced from China.
- In contrast to many large global brands that source cheap raw materials/fabrics from “low-cost” (i.e. exploitative) markets, our swimwear utilizes premium, engineered, Portuguese, and Italian swimwear synthetic fabrics offering numerous comfort and performance features.
- While our design principles and philosophy bring with them inherent implications – superior stretch-fabric choices, significantly more fabric usage (to produce our swimwear), more intensive and local production – we have nevertheless chosen to keep our swimwear as accessible and affordable as possible. Suffice to say, whilst our cost of production is significantly higher than mainstream men’s swimwear offerings, our profit margins are lower than the industry norm.
With the above said, we recognize our differentiators will not be to everyone’s taste or values. For this reason, we are grateful to our brave, “early adopter” customers in Europe & North America that we have had the pleasure to serve to date – both Muslim & non-Muslim – that do recognize and value these differences in our approach to that of the mainstream market. They have “put their money where their mouth is” and convincingly demonstrated their convictions towards social justice, and for that, we admire them enormously.
As the modest fashion industry is still in its infancy, how do you market your products to your potential customers?
To date, we have marketed our brand entirely through digital channels – whether through social media platforms or paid online advertising. Other avenues towards exposure (expos, etc.) have been limited due to the global COVID-19 pandemic and our own budgetary constraints – we are entirely self-financed to ensure the integrity of our values is never compromised through outside investor involvement.
Where do you see the industry going in the next 5 to 10 years’ time?
Numerous economic reports show the modest fashion industry to be a growing sector with opportunities for sustained growth and innovation – we share that opinion. Evidence of the market’s attractiveness is demonstrated by some major brands making entries into the market in recent years, and we believe that this trend will escalate sharply going forward.
However, for us at least, therein also lies the danger – as described earlier, the fashion industry as a whole (small & large players) has created a highly exploitative system, and one that may yet get progressively worse given the general trend in widening economic disparity between the very rich and poor over the past several decades, as corporate power, and its practices (also then adopted and mimicked by smaller entities), take hold. Thus, while even now, the terms “modest fashion” and “Islamic fashion” are used interchangeably, there is, more often than not, nothing “Islamic” about the means of sourcing and production of such clothing, and this may likely deteriorate further going forward as large brands prevail and consolidate the landscape through M&A activity.
Thus, all consumers, Muslim or otherwise, carry a heavy responsibility – their choices (through voting with their wallets) within the modest fashion industry, but also the fashion industry in general, will determine what the industry landscape will look like in the coming years and whether brands such as ours continue to have a place in it. We, of course, remain optimistic there will always remain a well-informed consumer segment with high levels of integrity that will make honorable and virtuous choices!