Modest Fashion for British Muslims, 2023 findings

Modest fashion, once a niche within the broader apparel landscape, has now cemented its place in the UK fashion ecosystem. From high street staples like M&S to online powerhouses like ASOS, modest fashion collections and edits have become a permanent feature to engage this thriving market.

Since our last modest fashion deep dive in 2020, the landscape has shifted dramatically. Our latest insights for 2023 reveal a steep uptick in demand, notably amongst Gen Z British Muslim women. For them, modest fashion isn’t a “nice to have” but an essential, non-negotiable part of their wardrobe. It mirrors not just their faith but their identity, intertwining religious needs with contemporary style.

In the past decade, British Muslim women have progressed socio-economically, outpacing other groups in the UK. And with this, it has diversified their lifestyle needs, spanning travel, dining, entertainment, and of course, fashion and beauty. But currently authentic engagement is limited to the Ramadan season when it needs to be ‘always-on’ throughout the marketing calendar. The modest fashion scene is an under-exploited market at the doorstep of fashion brands, and in this report, we reveal our first five insights to shine a light on an audience not just seeking inclusivity but demanding innovation, style, and representation across fashion.

Our Modest Fashion study is a product of intensive cultural research involving over 1000 British Muslims, aims to unveil not just trends but actionable insights about British Muslim motivations, behaviours and attitudes, offering fashion brands a roadmap to effectively engage this dynamic segment.

To have a chat about our complete study and how your brand can play a part, feel free to get in touch at contact@mudorange.com

The British Muslim Backdrop

British Muslims make up 6.5% of the UK population. To put that into context, that’s bigger than the population of Wales. Over half identify as Gen Z and Millennial, and this young, vibrant cohort is at the forefront of demanding authenticity, inclusivity, and representation from brands instead of the stereotypical stuff they’re all so used to seeing. 

The last census shows transformative social shifts especially for Muslim women. 1/3 of all British Muslims attain a university degree and 38% of all of those working are in a white-collar profession. Muslim women are not just participating in the workforce; they're thriving, with median salaries surpassing the national level by 20% giving them significant purchasing power. Yet there’s a disconnect. Industries spanning travel, home, wellness, entertainment, and fashion & beauty are oblivious to this untapped market.

1 in 10 Gen Z individuals in the UK are practising Muslims, and interestingly, data reveals a trend where Muslims aged 18-24 are more devout compared to the previous generations. They’re unapologetically British and unreservedly Muslim, but their vocal demand for representation and tailored offerings goes unmet. So they’ve started setting up their own independent brands to meet the needs of Muslim women globally, gaining traction through Instagram and TikTok.  

This is no longer a niche market, but a significant, growing segment of the population. As a boutique creative agency, we work with brands with data-backed insights and disruptive ideas to engage this growing dynamic audience.

First five modest fashion insights

1. Winter Scramble

Three out of four British Muslim women look to autumn and winter fashion lines to stock up on wardrobe staples for the year. This behaviour stems from the fact that during these seasons, fashion pieces have better coverage which reduces the need to layer up to meet their personal modesty needs.  

“During the winter, shops like Zara and H&M need to cater to the cold months with better coverage. And that’s a huge win  for us because that’s when we can find items that don’t have that random slit or exposed section. So, for me, it’s time to stock up.” Zaynah, 38, Manchester. 

Brands have a golden opportunity here. The winter lines lend themselves to be curated by British Muslim stylists to inspire collections during the season and beyond, and with hyper targeted campaigns brands can position themselves as the go-to for modern modest wear. And leftover stock has a role for the rest of the year, so instead of rushing to discounting, it can be repurposed and reinterpreted into curated modest offerings throughout the year.

2. Regular made modest

84% of British Muslim women actively look for the latest fashion trends that meet their modest needs, and the last thing British Muslim women want from high street retailers is “ethnic” clothing.  So fashion retailers don’t need to compete in the “ethnic” space where they have no credibility, but should stick to their fashion domain but offer more inclusive options, especially for modest wearers. That includes workwear, holiday wear, athleisure, casual to evening wear. They’re looking for mainstream styles tailored to meet modest criteria.

 “I want to wear what’s trendy and in style, but with a modest twist. It’s about fashion first.” says Farida, 27, from London.

Brands looking to play in the modest fashion space, should incorporate modest adaptations within their broader inclusive strategy amongst their creative design direction. They need to retain what they’re loved for, but incorporate a modest strategy that strikes a balance that respects the culture and stylistic needs of British Muslim women.

3. Rising demand for Gen Z

British Muslims women between 18-24 are the most demanding when it comes to modest fashion on the high street. A staggering 9 in 10 actively search for modest wear, expressing a level of frustration with fashion brands and calling out brands online for the lack of availability.

 “It feels like we’re an afterthought, and yet, my friends and I are ready to spend on brands that get us.” Zahra, 19, Birmingham.

Gen Z shoppers want engagement and representation across all areas of the fashion industry – from sportswear, casual fashion, fitness clothing to occasion wear. And for grass roots engagement and affinity, brands should look to collaborate with Muslim fashion influencers and designers.

4. In-store is core

Despite the online fashion shopping boom, 78% of British Muslim women still prefer in-store shopping, valuing the tactile experience of evaluating fabric, shape, coverage and sizes first-hand.

 “Shopping online is convenient but not when I have to return half of the items because it turns out to be figure hugging or transparent.” Hana, 23, Bristol.

Brands can innovate in this space by enhancing the online shopping experience for modest wear. From improved virtual try-ons using augmented reality to a broader diversity of model sizes in online imagery can bridge the gap between the convenience of online shopping and the assurance of in-store purchases.

5. Need for fitness fashion

Muslim women are four times less likely to engage in physical activities than Muslim men, and one of the main reasons is the lack of modest and suitable swimming and fitness clothing available. So, whilst 1 in 3 British Muslim women want to go swimming or to the gym, they feel like it’s not a place for them. This has led to the rise in interest for women-only fitness sessions where they can be part of a group where they belong and gain support.

 “There’s a women’s only fitness studio near where I live, but it’s always over subscribed so I end up just following workout plans on YouTube.” Nour, 31, Leeds.

Fashion and fitness brands can innovate in the space of modest fitness wear, ensuring Muslim women have the gear to give them confidence to attend local fitness spaces. And fitness brands can also enhance the overall fitness experience for these women, producing pop up studios to better digital fitness programmes, helping them work out in a space that suits their needs.

This summary article introduces the first five insights of our study on British Muslims’ motivations, behaviours and attitudes towards modest fashion.

Our complete study provides a cross demographic analysis into all of our findings: from consumer mindset, motivations and decision-making, to their discovery process, obstacles and needs.

To have a chat about our complete study and what it means for your brand, feel free to get in touch at contact@mudorange.com.

Arif Miah, Strategy Director, mud orange.