At the mention of modest wear, the first thing that would strike our mind is that the collection is made up of pieces that only Muslim women would wear. With the aim of breaking all stereotypes and giving everyone a chance to experience and be more open to the concept of modest wear in Malaysia, we had a chat with Sara Eiroa, Creative Director of The Modest Brand. In a nutshell, the brand’s modest athleisure collection that was recently launched can be worn by any woman (or anyone, really) and comes with a concept that goes beyond what our eyes can see.

Sara Eiroa, Creative Director of The Modest Brand

Can you share about your background with us?

“All my life, I’ve worked in fashion, and I was fortunate enough to have had the chance to work with Zara prior to this. I wanted to travel around the world and work on projects, so I initially took up the job offer at Zara to save money and make this dream come true. They hired me as a fitting model for a year which required me to be involved in the entire process of creating a garment. I had to be with the designers when they were designing and the buyers when it came to introducing the collection. The entire year was super enriching for me, and after working on a few projects with Zara, I received a scholarship that allowed me to travel around the world and do my internship at any Zara branch. I accepted the offer and travelled for six months before going to England to do my internship there. It was the best experience because prior to this, I learned about developing, creating and buying products, but from the internship, I learned how to place products in the market. I ended up getting attached to the company and was offered a position to manage the store in England. I did that for eight months before I officially started my career in the design and development team. In total, I spent nine years at Zara and went through very different positions where I learned how the whole process worked.”

So how did you end up in Malaysia?

“It’s very random because it was one of my biggest moments in Zara, but it was hectic and I saw an opportunity for me when my [then-] partner called. So, I took a sabbatical and Zara told me that I could leave my position and come back whenever I wanted. But you know how it is like in Malaysia, you come here for a year and suddenly you are here for a long time! It was during my sabbatical where I learned that I couldn’t be doing nothing – like, I couldn’t just go to the beach and do nothing, you know? So, I started getting involved in photography and other things which were my passion. As things were very uncertain during the pandemic, I applied for a few jobs and suddenly, I got an email from one of the founders of The Modest Brand. He told me that he didn’t think the job [I had applied for] was meant for me, but he really wanted to meet me to have a chat about something [else] that he had in mind. Upon doing my research, I found out that they had been working on cakes and flowers in the past, and during our first online meeting, there was an immediate click! The founders had a vision and were determined to fill the gap of clothes that has a demand but is missing from the market. They had knowledge in e-commerce, but they lacked the knowledge in fashion as they were jumping from one industry to another, and that’s where I came in and played a role in their company.”

What was the vision of the company as a whole?

“When it comes to dressing, different women have different standards, and for some reason, when it comes to modest wear, most of the time people decide to stick to the norm instead of introducing newer trends. Our main question was why and how can we make these outfits more fashionable by just changing some of the features of the outfit? The vision stirred more towards launching a brand that anyone can wear, and it caters to women who want to remain covered, albeit in a more fashionable way. There are women who choose to dress modestly and there is fashion. So, our aim was to merge the two elements and follow international trends, but accommodating the needs of the market at the same time.”

With that in mind, how and where did you get your inspiration to create this debut collection?

“One of the things I love in life started on one of my trips when I was young. I really liked understanding culture which includes different ways of living, ways to dress, etc. There is no one way in going about this, of course. For me, this opportunity was a drive to explore other cultures and understand them. My inspiration came from a lot of research, and although I’m not modest, I wanted to understand the wants and needs of people from other backgrounds, which was where it came from.”

In your opinion, what are some of the biggest misconceptions that people have about modest wear?

“One of it is that people who don’t wear modest outfits assume that people who wear them don’t have much of a personality, don’t have an option and are hidden. I’m not saying that everyone has this perception, but there are people who think this way and it might be imposed by a culture as we all have impositions from our culture. This reminds me of how I look at the hijab. Three years ago, before coming here, I shaved my head bald. It became such a big issue in my culture – especially for men, who were all asking how I could have done such a thing. I just felt comfortable doing it and didn’t think that it made me any less of a woman. In the same context of how people from my culture looked at the importance of my hair, that’s how people who wear hijabs think about the importance of it. It is all part of a culture. Modest women are taught and have chosen to not expose their body, but it doesn’t mean that they aren’t feminine. Just because she isn’t showing it off the way the rest of the world does, doesn’t mean that she isn’t feminine. She definitely has a say [in what she wears and wants to portray], and that’s the exact stereotype that we wanted to break through our collection.”

Who is the target audience that you’re aiming to reach through this brand?

“I’d say any woman who chooses to dress modestly. Women who love fashion and have chosen to be relaxed and would like to see newer trends of modest wear being introduced in the market for them.”

Can you tell us more about the eco-conscious concept of the brand?

“The world is going through a change, as the fashion industry is, too. For one, many of us need to change the dynamics of production, the materials that we use and other things as well. Our aim is to improve the process that’s involved – not just the production of the garment itself, but other factors like transportation, process of dyeing the clothes, packaging, etc. That is how we are working towards making an impact in society. Instead of selling ourselves as sustainable, we are working towards doing our best to make The Modest Brand as eco-conscious as possible.”

Are all the garments made in Malaysia?

“Truthfully, that was one of our biggest concerns, and we initially wanted to support local businesses as we were catering for a local market and wanted to produce everything in Malaysia itself. It was [meant to be] one of our initiatives to create an impact. However, when we started the brand, we were in a lockdown and thus, we had very few suppliers to work with. After the lockdown, these suppliers were all 100% full and so we considered starting the production in China first. As soon as Malaysian suppliers can provide [what we need], we agreed that we’d switch back. Given the timeline, we had no choice but to produce the garments [for our launch collection] in China.”

Please share with us more about your sizing chart.

“In total, we have five sizes, and one of the things that I truly appreciate is how the founders, Niklas and Max trusted me in [working out] the entire process of producing this line. We did our market research and found out that our target customers and women around the world who appreciated modest wear were not extra small, nor did they come in one size. Besides Malaysia, our target includes women from France, Germany, the Middle East and Indonesia. We didn’t introduce double XL because our designs are already oversized and fit more than one size. So, our largest size would be a 44 – European size (or 14 – US size). It is definitely inclusive, because when you tell a woman to wear tight clothes and show her belly just to be fashionable, that’s not considered being inclusive. Being modest is all about not having the need to show yourself, but looking feminine and trendy at the same time.”

What are some of your personal favourites from the launch collection that you can wear all day and to several events?

“That would be the palazzo pants and high-waisted pants which are very elegant! I find them suitable to be worn in different ways. You can wear the palazzo pants with heels, and it’ll look very sophisticated, or you can wear it with flats for a more relaxed, cool look.”

Where do you see The Modest Brand going within the first year of its launch?

“My priority is to create a strong community and it is the vision of everyone in this company to do the same. There are many communities who are waiting to see what we have to offer, and my aim is to see this shared vision within many communities as well. We would love to work on community-involved projects not just in Malaysia but other places too. After our launch here, we’re aiming to do something in Europe during summer, and we’ll be exploring all digital-based opportunities simultaneously.”

What is the one advice you’d give to young entrepreneurs out there who are searching for a breakthrough after the pandemic?

“To be honest, with the support from everyone in this group, I do feel like an entrepreneur here although I’m not the founder of this company. Niklas and Max trusted me in my experience in fashion and allowed me to take everything up a notch. When you give people that room to challenge themselves and do their best, that’s when their best prevails. My advice would be to surround yourself with the right people for the right role and capacity. It takes a team to create success – not just one individual alone.”

Shop The Modest Brand here.

Photography: The Modest Brand

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