Author: 
Barbara Ferguson, [email protected]
Publication Date: 
Wed, 2011-09-21 15:17

Outside Washington, in the D.C. suburbs, Muslim immigrants and their families reside, having moved in from around the globe to settle in the D.C. area.
So, dressing well as a modest Muslim woman is a priority for many here in the D.C. area, but also throughout the United States. High-end and moderately priced modest women’s clothing have become part of an increasingly sophisticated effort to market and sell to Muslim Americans — a community that represents over $200 billion a year in spending.
In response to this demand, Muslim women’s boutiques have become quite popular in the area. Modern Mary is run by Seema Sahin and is located near Tyson’s Corner, near Washington, D.C.
PrimoModa is an online boutique run by Zeena Altalib who takes local customers by appointment only in Potomac Falls, Va.
Altalib, who grew up in Mosul, Iraq, told Arab News in a phone interview that she has loved fashion design since she was a child. Her mother taught her to sew, she said, and she and her mother often sewed together. She said she began making clothes for her dolls, but soon this progressed to clothes for herself.
Altalib and her family moved to Virginia when she was 16 where she graduated from the Islamic Saudi Academy in Alexandria, Virginia. She opted to go to college in the area and obtained her bachelor’s degree in communications at George Mason University. After working in the corporate world for a year, Altalib returned to GM for her master’s degree in education where she specialized in instructional technology. While working for her master’s degree, Altalib said she learned a lot about e-commerce and online business, all of which have proved essential to her success today.
In 2005, she had her first child, and said it was “extremely difficult to find stylish modest clothing in 2005 in the mainstream market.” So, she decided to make and distribute Muslim clothes.
“At first, I got ready-made products from Muslim designers in other countries. I received great feedback, and then, because of my background in design and technology, I decided to take it online so I could reach a wider audience around the US and the world.”
When asked how much her company has grown since 2005, Altalib said it’s grown dramatically. “It’s been profitable since the beginning, and the company is growing well,” she said.
She now has two boys ages five and eight who, along with her husband, give her a lot of support and take a genuine interest in what she creates.
Currently about 75 percent of her business is national and 25 percent is international. “Internationally, most of my business comes from Europe: England, France and even the Czech Republic and other European countries.” Her main business from Muslim countries is from Malaysia, Singapore and the Middle East. She also has some business from the Gulf, with most of her customers coming from Dubai and Qatar.
Altalib distributes her clothes in some boutiques and on her online store, and she also attends various exhibitions. “I go to ISNA (Islamic Society of North America) conference every year and also attend the Islam Expo in London.” She said she also participates in various fashion shows at various centers around the US, “which you can find on YouTube.”
Non-Muslims also buy her clothing because “the outfits are stylish and trendy. Just because ladies want clothes that are cut modestly, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t interested in being stylish,” she said.
Even some conservative Jews and Christians buy her clothing. “I’ve received a lot of comments and e-mails from Jewish and Christian ladies who have bought my clothes. They thank me and tell me that they’re Christian and Jewish,” said Altalib.
“The objective of the company from the beginning was to offer modest clothing,” she added, obviously proud that her clothes appeal to all women. “We’re moving to make our presentation of clothes even more universal.”
From her large assortment of modest clothing, Altalib did not hesitate when asked about the most popular product she sells: Swimwear and sportswear. She said one of the main reasons why non-Muslims are also attracted to her clothes is because she carries modest swimsuits.
“Swimsuits have been very popular because a modest swimsuit is very difficult to find. Our suits are made of high-quality material and have good designs, which is why they have become very popular. I do my own designs and also have other vendors who help.”
She added: “Conservative non-Muslims have also been interested in these swimsuits and exercise clothes for conservative reasons and also health reasons, as they offer protection from ultraviolet sun rays.
“The trend is moving to coverage from the sun to protect form skin cancer. Women are moving to that naturally because of the threat from the sun. People who are aware of that choose to use full-coverage swimwear,” she said, adding: “Also body image issues are important for people who feel they’re a bit overweight.”
Altalib said she is encouraged by the multi-cultural and multi-denominational appeal of her clothes. “Once, a priest sent me an e-mail and said he was excited that we were offering these kinds of clothing. The market is out there; there are a lot of women who are looking for this kind of clothing but can’t find it.”
PrimoModa has already become a brand name in the Muslim market, said Altalib. “My goal in the future, insha’Allah, is for it to become a brand that is available in the mainstream market and distributed in department stores. I want to give all conservative women the option stylishly.”

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