How Rabia Z built a modest fashion empire

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Rabia Zargapur wearing her line’s organic linen abaya and signature breathable jersey hijab, the best-selling hijab in the world. (Irthi Contemporary Arts and Crafts Council)
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Rabia Zargapur was one of a few designers selected to showcase a couture piece using Swarovski elements for the Swarovski Sparkling Couture Exhibition in Dubai. This piece is the ‘Revival of the Emirati Mukhawara Dress.’
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Rabia Z’s head to toe demi-couture collection and signature jersey hijab are sold on Modanisa. (Rooful Ali)
Updated 22 August 2018
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How Rabia Z built a modest fashion empire

  • Rabia Z. Zargarpur’s brand first came to life in 2002
  • To Zargarpur, modest fashion is more exciting than ever

DUBAI: Rabia Z. Zargarpur is a superwoman. Learning about her insane current schedule, one wonders when she finds the time to eat and sleep.
Business trips aside, the designer – the force behind the renowned modest fashion brand Rabia Z – has been focusing on the official launch of her Rabia Z Modest Fashion Academy, plus her online Rabia Z Mentorship Program. Then there’s her consulting work, rebranded Rabia Z launch and sustainable fashion collection.
“And of course, family time with my husband, entertaining our 6-year-old twins and our 14-year-old son, who are off for the summer,” the 40-year-old founder, CEO and creative director told Arab News. “So yeah, pretty much business as usual!”
Zargarpur’s brand first came to life in 2002, as one of the world’s first modest fashion, ready-to-wear e-commerce stores, a time when the industry certainly wasn’t as known as it is today.
“We were producing the basics line in Dubai and selling out of San Francisco from my grandfather’s garage,” the Emirati-Afghan-American explains. “We relaunched as a full-on designer brand back in Dubai, on runways in 2006, and won the Emerging Designer Award at Dubai Fashion Week in 2007.”
She went on to showcase modest fashion on mainstream runways and fashion weeks across cities including New York, London, Milan, Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Buyers and customers certainly took notice – today, Rabia Z sells to 71 countries.
To Zargarpur, modest fashion is more exciting than ever. “It is finally ‘du jour,’” she exclaimed. “For me – (someone) who has tirelessly worked almost 18 years, the majority of it towards building awareness for this huge market at a time when neither this sector nor the term ‘modest fashion’ existed – I am happy to see it flourish globally.”
Now she predicts that it’s Saudi Arabia’s turn to fully embrace the market. “Saudi women have always been style savvy and with the major changes we’ve seen this year, we will see some of the styles and collections in the GCC come out of Saudi,” she said. “I think modest fashion will especially boom there next.”
Nonetheless, she admits that there remain challenges in the industry. “It’s a work in progress and lots needs improving,” she said. “We need more serious, true global brands that are professional and to the standards of major mainstream designer and retail brands. We need a more sustainable industry and ethical, eco-friendly brands.
“The supply chain is another area of improvement. We need labels that have a strong DNA and an innovative or creative direction which is currently lacking.”
Back to her own business, fans of Rabia Z have plenty to look forward to. “We have always been an ethical brand and always worked with breathable and sustainable fabrics, but upon the relaunch of Rabia Z next year, we would like to not only highlight that in our collections, but also adopt more variety of sustainable fabrics,” Zargarpur said, adding that there will be a separate roll out of Rabia Z Accessories.
She is continuing her collaboration with major online retailer Modanisa on Rabia Z’s licensed hijab line, its signature breathable, combed cotton jersey hijab wraps that are the best-selling hijab in the world. “(It) celebrates its 15th anniversary this year and is being exhibited at the Contemporary Muslim Fashion Exhibition in San Francisco this fall.”
On a personal level, Zargarpur aims to return to academia. “I was offered the opportunity to do a PhD in the Business of Fashion by the London College of Fashion, which I hope to pursue in the next couple of years, InshaAllah,” says Zargarpur, who already holds a business major with a minor in fashion. “In addition to having my PhD, I would like to see our flagship stores in key cities around the world someday, sitting alongside major brands.”
Yup, looks like she won’t be getting much sleep anytime soon.


Muse: Life lessons from Instagram sensation Amena Khan

Updated 24 September 2018
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Muse: Life lessons from Instagram sensation Amena Khan

  • Amena Khan is making a name for herself on Instagram
  • She talks candidly about her struggle to the top as a hijab-wearing influencer

DUBAI: The British blogger talks candidly about her struggle to the top as one of the first hijab-wearing influencers in the UK.

As a child, I was inspired by the arts and entertainment — it was a form of escapism for me. Somewhere around my teens, the penny dropped, and I realized there weren’t very many brown faces on TV, so it probably wouldn’t be financially smart for me to study journalism, or media or acting.

When I started out, I heard insiders in the beauty industry say there was no place for a hijabi, that it was too divisive of a symbol and that I should just give it up. But I didn’t – I’m proud of being the first woman of color in a hijab to be in mainstream beauty campaigns across television, magazines and billboards. Seeing my dream materialize was like seeing the power of passion, perseverance, struggle, creativity and positive thinking.

I think that there are a lot of misconceptions tied to the hijab as it makes you visibly Muslim, and because most of the media representation is negative, it rubs off on people.

The cause that I believe in – which is freedom of choice for everyone — benefits everyone because we are all objectified. It’s this journey that all women are on and it’s this journey that binds us, so we have to find a way to accept people for who they are instead of trying to control, manipulate and force women into being what we want them to be.

My focus has become more inclusive. I personally have become more inclined toward fostering an environment where women feel safe to express themselves however they want.

In regards to online negativity, I think dealing with it, you need a really strong support system, and really thick skin and you have to really know who you are and stick to it.

I once got a doll that looked like a voodoo doll and I don’t think it was, but I was too afraid to even touch it.

For me, simply existing within a sphere where beauty is currency as a woman of color who is identifiably Muslim is groundbreaking, it’s revolutionary. For me, to thrive in this space and make the relationships that I’ve made with big brands is testament to the fact that there is a space for us. This is not just a space where I have fun with make-up. I want my presence to stand for something.