Muslim fashion bloggers and designers have been making an impact in the online fashion world for years. Now, one exclusively online modest fashion company is taking a big leap of faith by opening a brick-and-mortar store in Florida.
Verona Collection, a company that designs and sells hijabs, dresses, cardigans, and activewear, celebrated the grand opening of its new shop at Orlando Fashion Square mall last Saturday. Located in between a Dillard's and The Limited, Verona is reportedly one of the first Muslim women's clothing stores to open up in a mainstream American mall.
Verona's founder, Lisa Vogl, is a photographer who converted to Islam in 2011. Vogl told The Huffington Post she had no idea how huge the Islamic fashion industry was until she started teaming up for photo shoots with popular Muslim fashion bloggers and brands.
Wanting to try her hand at the industry, Vogl launched Verona's online boutique in February 2015 without any formal training in fashion design. From the start, she said she wanted her collection to have a "Western feel."
"Whenever you think about Islamic fashion, you always attach it to the Middle East," Vogl said. "But Islam is such a diverse religion and you're going to find millions of Muslims living in Europe and North America ... So I ended up going with an Italian name to speak to the majority of our consumer base, which is European and American Muslims."
Alaa Ammuss, a fashion designer, Nadine Abu-Jubara, a personal trainer, and Hassan Mawji, a social entrepreneur, joined the team as directors. Before long, Vogl said, her business was booming.
To give their customers the chance to feel and try on Verona clothes, the team decided to open up a store in Orlando, a city that has a growing Muslim population and that both Vogl and Abu-Jubara call home. The storefront at Orlando Fashion Square mall is also just a few minutes away from Masjid Al-Rahman, a popular local mosque.
Abu-Jubara told The Huffington Post that she hopes the store will appeal to women looking for classic, everyday wear who want to look stylish while adhering to the principles about modest dressing encouraged by their religion.
"A lot of our pieces are basic, the equivalent of a white t-shirt for a Muslim woman," Abu-Jubara told The Huffington Post. "Something you can throw on, that will cover all the right places and still look good."
Muslim fashionistas are already expressing their excitement about the storefront -- and hoping that more of their favorite online boutiques will take a cue from Verona and open brick and mortar stores.
"We knew this day would come," writes one blogger at MuslimGirl.com. "Three cheers for ditching shipping costs, which are the bane of every online shopper’s existence. Even more kudos that customers can see the designs in person, and try them on in store."
Sabiha Ansari, co-founder of the American Muslim Consumer Consortium, a non-profit that funds research on the American Muslim consumer, told The Huffington Post that although brands like Dolce & Gabbana, DKNY, and Tommy Hilfiger have begun to make inroads into the burgeoning global modest fashion industry, American Muslim women "are looking for something a bit more affordable."
Although it's not the first modest clothing store to open in a mainstream mall, Ansari said that Verona's opening is a significant milestone for the American Muslim community. She also pointed out that the modest fashion industry doesn't just serve Muslim women.
"There are plenty of Jewish, Christian, and other faith-based women who prefer modest clothing instead of the latest mainstream fashions," she said.
The Verona Collection team is hoping that their brand will attract consumers outside of the Muslim community. Abu-Jubara explained that one of the biggest advantages to opening in a mainstream mall is the opportunity to reach potential consumers of all faiths.
"We don't want to be a Muslim company that just caters to Muslims. Modest fashion is also a movement we're trying to create," Abu-Jubara said. "In a time when fashion is about showing more skin and being more revealing, it's a revival of a movement that shows you can still look good and dress cute without having to show cleavage."
"The idea is to be in a mainstream mall and stand out."