Islamic fashion, oftentimes known as modest fashion, is a $254 billion market. Perhaps it’s surprising, then, that so few startups have made a successful go at dominating it. Sefamerve, a Turkish e-commerce platform launched six years ago, aims to capture a corner of the $1.3tr global fashion industry. It’s one with which many worldwide brands have struggled.
The idea of a global Muslim clothing industry, connected by tech, may have begun just five years ago, when New York-based Emirati Alia Khan founded the Islamic Fashion and Design Council (IFDC), an organization that today has offices in seven countries: the US, Canada, Italy, Pakistan, Russia, South Africa and Turkey. Since then, firms and shows have proliferated. Pret-A-Cover, a Dubai catwalk event, and London Modest Fashion Week, are among the best-known.
The Middle East might seem the biggest opportunity for any would-be online boutique. According to its own research, Sefamerve’s biggest market is the one on the doorstep of its Istanbul headquarters. Turkey is a textile powerhouse: it is the sixth largest supplier of clothes on earth, with clothing accounting for almost 10% of the country’s exports.
Sefamerve eyes a $2bn opportunity in Turkey, with its next biggest market Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, whose 57m addressable women represent $1.4bn in potential sales. Saudi Arabia follows closely with $1.3bn, and the UAE is fourth with a possible $1bn.
“In the world there are so many competitors,” says Sefamerve’s Basak Cokkeskin. “Many big marketplaces also serve into our market. But our aim is to really understand Islamic people’s needs and serve them the right products at the right time, and place an order to make their life easier.”
Turkey is the world’s biggest spender on Islamic fashion, with over $39bn spent in 2015. It is also home to Sefamerve’s biggest competitor, Modanisa, which launched in 2011 and is now backed by over $10m in venture capital. There are plenty of rivals elsewhere, too, such as Czech-Saudi project Talabaya, and Chicagoan Blue Meets Blue. Each caters to a different area of Islamic fashion, from full-cover hijabs, to modest eveningwear and traditional garments like the south Asian salwar kameez.
Sefamerve’s team researched with Facebook, Google and Criteo before launching its platform, which offers a wide range of items. But there are plenty of challenges. Like all clothing sectors, Islamic fashion trends change often. Modesty may be variably defined by the religious character of a nation: anything from fabrics to skirt lengths can change across borders.
“There are differences for sourcing, selling and marketing,” says Cokkeskin. “For example, there are some restrictions in marketing area, and also it is hard to retarget customers.” With that in mind, Sefamerve is looking not only to sell clothing in Turkey and beyond, but to sell its AI e-commerce solutions to others.
With that in mind, Cokkeskin is sure Sefamerve can make signficant progress targeting one of the world’s fastest-growing, and exciting, clothing industries. Being based in Turkey is no small advantage. And with six years honing its intelligent marketing technology, expect to hear a lot more from Sefamerve soon.