DUBAI: The story of the self-made designer and entrepreneur behind the e-store Nomad Story began while she was in high school. Tired of being dressed like everyone else, Shay Jaffar started sketching modest designs.
“Despite being an Egyptian growing up in the UAE, I still couldn’t find clothes that spoke to me as a conservative teen who liked to dress modestly,” Jaffar said. “I remember getting a lot of compliments in college on my chic modest wear to the extent that I teamed up with a bespoke tailor in my neighborhood and started creating designs for friends and family.”
Having studied computer science and later pursued a master’s degree in entrepreneurship at Babson College in the US, Jaffar decided to start an eponymous clothing brand for modest evening gowns made in New York and sold worldwide.
“Shay Jaffar the brand catered to a very niche market. At the time, the brand was made in New York at a small scale; the price point was suitable only for a certain high-paying segment, so we weren’t really quite known back then,” she said.
“After I graduated from Babson, I joined the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York to study fashion styling. I wanted to combine entrepreneurship, fashion and technology in one career, which empowered me to start Nomad Story.”
Having the necessary technical knowledge and a multicultural background helped Jaffar launch Nomad Story in December 2019. It brings enchanting designs and bold looks to modest fashion lovers all over the world. “We called it Nomad Story because we wanted to make it a platform that sells modest styles but also tells the stories of women who break barriers and embrace the world,” Jaffar said.
According to Edited, the retail-market intelligence platform, the demand for modest fashion “is expanding outside of the UAE and seeing growth in the Western world with a 15 percent increase since 2017.”
The data analytics company notes in a report that “modest clothing” receives about 8,000 Google searches monthly in the US. According to the researchers, “Religion isn’t the only reason women are opting to cover up. For some, it’s a personal preference; they find modesty empowering. With the #MeToo movement, women are dressing for themselves rather than for the male gaze.”
Nomad Story had that vision, too. “Our goal is to be the online go-to place for girls who love versatile, contemporary, exquisite modest looks, irrespective of their religion, background or beliefs,” Jaffar said. “Now is the time for these girls to find one place that represents their persona and understands their needs. We also want to take our customers on a journey of discovery by exploring new emerging designers brought to them from around the world.”
While luxury and high-street brands shifted towards more modest looks and created serious competition in this market niche, Jaffar saw it as “education to the world about diversity and inclusion.”
“These brands helped remove the stigma that modest fashion has to be old and dowdy,” she said. “In fact, they showed that modesty is also stylish and fashion-forward like every other style. Because of that, these brands actually helped us deliver our message.”
Despite being in the business for only six months, Jaffar has learned a lot more than she expected. “Although it looks like a short period of time (especially with the coronavirus and all), we learned a number of things about our business and our customers,” he said.
“Most girls need help in their overall modest style. It is not only about selling them one or two items but also putting together a full modest look that fits their budget, aesthetic and the occasion they’re shopping for.”
“This is mainly what we have in mind as the next step for Nomad Story. We want to help our customers put together full modest looks and find their own true style. Moreover, since we carry emerging brands, we’re thinking up of ways for customers to try before they commit.”
Choices for modest wear have always been there, but they have never been compiled in a way where it is easily accessible for women and girls, especially in the West. Luckily, brands like Nomad Story aim to make modest fashion available to women around the world.
*This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.