Niche designer fashions “modest” success.


Conservative couture is not something we usually associate with fashion runways. But up-and-coming designer Anniesa Hasibuan, owner of a boutique in Jakarta, has shown her line of “modest Muslim” clothing in London and Paris, and now she’s making her debut at New York Fashion Week.

This is the 30-year-old entrepreneur’s second business venture. She got her initial training in running a small company by working in partnership with her husband, Andika Surachman, who started a travel agency devoted to organizing Umrah voyages—Muslim pilgrimages undertaken throughout the year.

With that background, she already knew something that many of us don’t realize or forget: Muslim consumers are not a niche market. The Pew Research Center reports  that as of 2010, the global Muslim population was 1.6 billion. That’s 23 percent of the population on the planet. And Hasibuan saw an opportunity to meet the needs of women like her who wish to be observant and fashionable.

While her vision is distinct, her business strategies will be familiar to any entrepreneur. “I stick to the traditional tools like SWOT analysis for my business,” she says. “Thoroughly considering my strengths and weaknesses, as well as the opportunities and threats, helps me plan my business.”

As the venture grows, she balances time spent tracking fashion trends and dynamics with mastering time management and learning to contend with seasonality and cyclicality. At the same time, she’s forging strategic alliances with companies like Wardah,  which makes cosmetics that contain only halal ingredients. She’s also a proponent of promotion via social media who maintains a YouTube channel and has developed a following on Instagram and Facebook. “It helps me building my brand and image by showcasing the uniqueness of my designs, the Indonesian touch I’d like to bring to the world.”

Hasibuan’s designs have their roots in Indonesian styles, colors, and fabrics but incorporate trends that she has observed in international markets. The result is a mix-and-match line in a category known within the industry as “modest Muslim.” But the term is not intended to suggest that other clothing is immodest, she says. Rather, it refers to styles that allow women to adhere to their religious beliefs but still dress in a “beautiful, sophisticated, and elegant” manner.

“Take it as another beautiful face of the fashion industry, which has great potential as more and more women all over the world choose this line of fashion,” she says. “I am trying to transfer my passion for whimsical, elaborated haute couture lines for modest style into a prêt-à-porter, ready to wear line, which can accommodate everyone.”

Her early success is a welcome barometer for other entrepreneurs who hope to tap into untapped or underserved markets for specialized products or services. “I am aiming at global market,” she says. “I want to bring Indonesia to the world.” Her advice for others who want to follow a similar path with their own vision? “I know it’s easier to say, but we have to follow and enjoy the process instead of making it a burden. We also need to stay focused and be consistent and persistent with the lines of work we have chosen.”

Build your brand, stay active in your industry, and “keep your creative energy flowing,” she says. And don’t underestimate the size of your prospective customer base. With work and determination, your venture—and your profit potential—may be greater than you realize.


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