As a fitness and healthy lifestyle buff, designer Yasmin Sobeih is one of the lucky few who has been combining two passions together since she founded UNDER-RÂPT. Once the English/Egyptian noticed a gap in the market for modest athleisure, her mission was clear: create one that breaks the fashion norms and inspires a hearty lifestyle. What’s more, as well as finding exciting, practical, ageless and shape-inclusive pieces each season, women wearing them are thrilled to find they’re donning eco-friendly fabrics that are ethically made.
During our chat to Sobeih, who got her post-graduate degree from the London College of Fashion, she talks about how the modesty movement is accelerating way beyond the Muslim market. The entrepreneurial fashion buyer and stylist, who has always been intrigued with how fashion and lifestyles are becoming more integrated in today’s modern societies, also touches on incorporating sustainability practices and ‘fast fashion’.
How would you describe the fashion ‘era’ we currently inhabit?
There aren’t any guidelines or uniform interpretation of what is deemed as ‘fashionable’ in today’s fashion ‘era.’ Through the changing faces of fashion, there is much more freedom to express individual style and alternative fashion. Long gone are the days when men and women were expected to dress a particular way; our fashion ‘era’ does not abide by rules, we wear what we like and what we feel good in. We live in integrated societies and that is why we see fashion merge with culture, religion and traditions that can’t be judged or misunderstood.
Modest fashion has been described as one of the most important trends of our decade. You are based out of Europe, have you witnessed this trend grow? Where do you think it will go?
When conducting market research prior to the launch of UNDER-RÂPT in 2015, I saw a gap in the market for modest fashion and sportswear and although it seemed a niche, I realised that, with Islam being the second largest religion in the world, the modest fashion market was a hugely untapped opportunity.
There was demand for products that would meet this demographic’s modern lifestyle and their cultural and social requirements.
Today, a modest fashion week runs alongside London Fashion Week and, with models such as Halima Aden being the first ‘covered’ model to walk the Yeezy season 5 New York Fashion Week show and feature on the cover of “Vogue” magazine, the demand and growth in modest fashion and diversity is being acknowledged. Things have changed, and designers are now criticised if they do not showcase models of diverse ethnicities, religions and shapes.
The modesty movement is also gaining traction way beyond the Muslim market. As the modest fashion market is now evaluated at over USD 300 billion, I have noticed a significant growth in the number of hijabi models walking the runways, and world-famous designers such as Marc Jacobs and Dior are acknowledging this evolving ‘modesty movement’.
Additionally, since launching UNDER-RÂPT, brands such as Nike have introduced their ‘Sport Hijab’ with heavy investment on marketing and promotion. With the BBC reporting Modest Fashion on prime time UK television and western fashion designers, e-commerce retailers and social media platforms inspiring the integration of fashion, culture and trends, I believe this is the start of a modest fashion revolution and that we will see it continue to evolve worldwide.
Tell us a bit about UNDER-RÂPT. How did it come about?
As a fitness and healthy lifestyle enthusiast, I realised friends and family who preferred to cover when working out were either uncomfortable with their hijab constantly falling off or extremely hot with heavy fabric and the layering of clothes.
Through my cultural background and my passion for fabric technology and fashion design innovation, I identified an evident gap in the global retail marketplace for a sustainable ‘modest’ athleisure women’s wear brand, yet it was not until my post-grad course that I applied this overall concept and put my passions into practice. That’s when UNDER-RÂPT was born.
My ambition is to create a lifestyle women’s wear brand that breaks the fashion norms, and do so in a sustainable way. I put a lot of attention into blending ethical and organic fabrics with unique product design, as I believe that to inspire women globally to live healthier lifestyles, it must start at the core of the product. By sourcing eco-friendly fabrics that are kind to the skin, sweat-resistant and hygienic, we can not only increase personal health and enhance performance, but also help protect our planet.
Modesty is linked to beliefs, values and ethics. Increasingly, people are concerned about bringing more ethics into their products. What do you think brands can do to become more ethical, and how have you gone about incorporating sustainability practices at UNDER-RÂPT?
While the demand for a trend-driven modest athleisure wear brand is increasing, there is also a shortage of dedicated sustainable and ethical labels available in the market from specialist sportswear brands to high-street fashion retailers who offer ‘active wear’ lines.
Many fashion retailers and designers have been exposed because of their lack of corporate responsibility in ethical labouring and sustainable sourcing. After such controversies, customers are no longer just impulse buyers but consider where and how the product is made. International retail buyers, media publicists and fashion influencers recognise this shift and now seek original brands that have a more transparent supply-chain.
As a lifestyle brand, UNDER-RÂPT aims to inspire personal health and wellbeing and so, strongly believes that this must start at the core of its product. Whilst style is uncompromised, UNDER-RÂPT uses Tencel® and Modal ® fabrics that have been ecologically and sustainably sourced. All of UNDER-RÂPT’s products have licensed swing tags attached. These fabrics are moisture-absorbent, breathable and kind to the skin. It is within UNDER-RÂPT’s deepest interest to adhere to ethical and sustainable trading throughout the supply-chain and ensure to always uphold responsibility in ethical and moral manufacturing.
Who is your favourite contemporary fashion designer (well-known or up and coming)? Who are the designers / brands that inspire you?
UNDER-RÂPT has been influenced by brands such as Yeezy, Fenty and Vetements that champion over-sized and relaxed silhouettes. Gender fluidity is largely expressed through fashion, and the modest guidelines mean that over-sized forms are no longer regarded as unfeminine or deemed ‘unfashionable’ but instead are an expression of individuality, and that is how we will see modest wear continue to evolve and become more mainstream.
I was once asked the question, ‘Which other sportswear brand do you compare UNDER-RÂPT to?’ and that’s when I knew that UNDER-RÂPT was unique. Although I admire the healthy lifestyle concept and ‘fashionable’ high-tech sportswear aesthetic of brands Sweaty Betty and Lululemon and aspire to reach such global success, I recognised that none of them offer sustainable products nor dedicated modest active wear.
Are fashion and culture connected? How so?
Yes, of course, the ease and freedom to travel worldwide means that designers are constantly inspired by assorted cultural dress, beautiful traditional architecture, new fabrics and even exciting dishes, all of which can inspire an entire collection.
With the influences of multi-channeling, retail globalisation and social media, fashion and trends are becoming more integrated and designers are considering a much broader consumer base. Women globally are now merging western fashion and trends with social ethos, personal values, culture and traditions to express themselves.
At a time of ‘fast fashion’, modest fashion seems to counterbalance the act and be less seasonal, more timeless. Do you embrace current trends? How do you incorporate them within your modest designs?
As fabric is specially made for UNDER-RÂPT, ‘fast fashion’ is not applicable to our brand’s aesthetic.
Instead, to keep collections refreshing, I visit fashion tradeshows and depict innovative organic fabrics and combine this with trend-driven silhouettes, in-season colours and the latest detailing such as waterproof decorative taping, the latest zip technology or lightweight embellishments. We want our consumers to find something new and exciting in our collection each season that nods towards current trends but is practical, resourceful and ageless.
UNDER-RÂPT showcased at the Pret-A-Cover Buyers Lane, a revolutionary modest fashion event that took place in City Walk 2, from March 28 to April 2.
What is your favourite piece from your last collection?
My favourite piece from the last collection is the “Organic Raincoat.” The raincoat is designed to suit all weather seasons/conditions to appeal to our global consumers. It is waterproof and windproof to protect against those colder and rainy days, yet it’s organic lightweight and cooling fabric makes it perfect for running/working out and for warmer days like summer festivals. I like my creations to suit women of all shapes, sizes and age range and so, I have designed the raincoat so that it can be worn oversized or more fitted with an elastic waist and hood draw cords. It is available in a stone grey colour that is transitional and stylish all year round, so it is a real investment piece.
What is your motto in life?
‘The world is your oyster.’ It is not through wealth and superior education but through seizing opportunities, doing something you love or find interesting can make our life experiences great. We need to be resourceful, I think our best experiences come from when we can adapt to new environments and embrace new opportunities; it helps us make the most of each day.
Why do you think Dubai is the perfect place for the revolutionary Pret-A-Cover Buyers Lane?
Dubai brings together such diverse societies and ethnicities and therefore it is a world-renowned hub for the latest fashion and trends that appeal to a broad international consumer base. As modest fashion can be interpreted differently amongst varied cultures and religions, the Pret-A-Cover Buyers Lane provides a platform for designers from all over the world to engage with a global audience.