Photo: Raskidah Ali (Malaysia Islamic Investment Chamber of Commerce), Franka Soeria (Markamarie Global), Ismail Semin (Markamarie Global), Sharon M. Zillah (Markamarie Malaysia), and Salina Kassim (IIUM Institute of Islamic Finance and Banking) at the launch of 'Fund the Founders' programme in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on February 21, 2020. Photo supplied by Markamarie Malaysia.

Islamic Lifestyle

New ‘Fund the Founders’ incubator programme launched to help modest fashion brands compete on global stage


KUALA LUMPUR - Even the strongest homegrown modest fashion brands are struggling, and if they don’t get funding, are at risk of losing out to mainstream global names cashing in on a booming segment.

That is according to Indonesian modest fashion consultant Franka Soeria, who was in Kuala Lumpur on Friday to drum up publicity for her incubator for modest fashion designers and brands.

“A lot of famous modest fashion brands out there are actually very weak, though they have very good potential to grow,” Franka told Salaam Gateway.

What is missing in many small designers is the business and marketing nous to go with their talent, leaving start-ups struggling without a solid foundation to build on.

By not quickly realising their potential, fledgling brands also leave themselves open to the threat of global fashion titans muscling in on their territory.

“Fashion is like art and most designers are actually artists. Their brands can be very famous, but when I see their finances, it’s very bad,” said Franka.

“They keep on coming to me to help connect them to investors. And they keep on coming, even the very famous ones, who I thought were strong, well-known names, but they are not strong.”

For the most part, banks and financial institutions are reticent to invest in modest fashion, a field many are unfamiliar with.

They are also wary about finding a business that might struggle when an international brand enters the niche, as Nike did in 2017 with its Pro Hijab.

Franka recalls one of the first Indonesian sports hijab brands that had been in the market for five years before Nike made its play.

“They were the pioneers, the first ones; but now sales are bad and they are thinking of giving up.

“It is very easy for someone with 100 stores or a global name to add modest fashion lines. If you dont care about these first innovators, in the end it is just another market,” she said.

The co-founder of the #Markamarie consultancy and online store is championing an approach similar to an incubator in the technology industry, whereby modest fashion start-ups learn from professionals about logistics, management and marketing, and introduced to financiers.

In summer, #Markamarie will run the Fund the Founders incubator programme for 20 selected modest fashion designers and brands. These will be mentored by experts, shown how to pitch to investors and their plans will be assessed by banks. Two will emerge to receive funding.

Full details and a confirmed date will be released later. The programme has its roots in an Indonesian government-backed initiative.

“We talked to designers and brands and heard from them that they need to be mentored, they needed to find ways to elevate their businesses and they needed to be connected to investors. So we put together a programme in partnership with [Indonesia’s] Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy,” said Franka.

“We are expanding to Malaysia, bringing the concept over here. Fashion and finance are a long way apart. Modest fashion is now a trend. People treat it as entertainment, but it should be business.”

#Markamarie is the first foreign partner brought in by the newly-formed Malaysia Islamic Investment Chamber of Commerce (MIICC), through its role to bring Islamic investment into Malaysia.

Raskidah Ali, the chamber’s honorary chairperson, said #Markamarie Malaysia will organise MIICC’s Asia Islamic Finance and Investment Industry Awards (AIFIA) and present other programmes as part of these in Kuala Lumpur in September.

The awards aim to encourage more investors to enter the Islamic economy and recognise institutions that are open to taking a risk on start-ups.

“Modest fashion is the fastest growing segment of the halal economy, and in Malaysia in particular, it is booming,” Raskidah told Salaam Gateway.

“But businesses are still struggling. The main issue is funding. That is why we will have this Fund the Founders programme, because it will get more people involved, and that will help the economy.”

(Reporting by Richard Whitehead; Editing by Emmy Abdul Alim emmy.abdulalim@salaamgateway.com)

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Richard Whitehead