The modest fashion industry has often been described as a potential minefield. But talk, invariably, centres around women. So what about the men?
That’s exactly the answer three Paris entrepreneurs sought while on holiday in the UAE in 2012.
Childhood friends Imel Bitout, Faysal and Kevin (who prefer we only use their first names) had the idea for their beachwear clothing brand Rajoul, which means ‘men’ in Arabic, while on a beach in Dubai. Noticing that some men were struggling to cover their awra, the part of the body from the navel to the knee, they decided to come up with a solution that was both practical and that looked good.
Upon their return to Paris, the trio immediately set to work. Bitout quit his managerial job to take a chunk of the responsibility and, 18 months later, the first Islamic boardshort for men was born. Called AwraSwim, the collection recently launched in the UAE.
The Directory caught up with Bitout to talk about modest fashion, the future of Rajoul and why he thinks brands like his are so important.
Take us back to the beginning of Rajoul.
This idea was born from a simple statement: Modesty in Islam doesn’t only concern women. Muslim men also have an awra, the part of the body going from the navel to the knee, which is required to be covered in any situation.
What convinced you this could be a good business proposition?
Firstly, the universality of Islam and the fact that the Islamic dress code applies to every Muslim, from Argentina, Dubai to Indonesia. Then I would say our travels after Dubai from Asia to America and many exchanges with Muslims from all around the world, confirmed our belief that covering the awra to swim is a major problem unsolved by a dedicated fashion solution. We collected feedback via market study, which took us one year, and were eventually convinced Rajoul was not only a good but mostly useful business proposition.
Was it difficult to get started?
We faced many challenges as every entrepreneur but that’s what is exciting. The first one was financial: we had to save and then invest all our personal money to finance the design and manufacture of our first collection. The second one was more juridical: we internationally registered our trademark and the design of our AwraSwim, which meant hours and hours of administrative procedures. Finally, I would say that maybe our biggest challenge was more linked with the product development: we really wanted to answer to the massive market demand we observed in young Muslim men for clothing respecting Islamic dress code requirements in a cool and fashionable way.
Did you have to get approvals from some kind of religious body so it follows the Islamic code of dressing?
There is no “Halal certification” for fashion. But we wanted to make things right so we met imams and specialists of Islam in order to ask them if our product was following the Islamic dress code.
They approved and encouraged our product to show that Islamic clothing can be trendy and respectful.
Why did you choose Dubai and the UAE to launch your product?
We launched our web store in April 2013 and deliver worldwide. We chose the UAE to launch physically in stores because we saw from online sales that we had a lot of demand in the Gulf area.
Dubai aims to become a global hub for Islamic economy and I’m convinced this is the perfect showcase for latest Islamic fashion trends. Moreover, I have to underline that today around 15 per cent of our clients online are non–Muslim.
The AwraSwim retails at Dh350. How did you decide on pricing?
Of course we studied closely the market and the price of our competitors but our positioning was very clear: we wanted to put our product in the middle range of the market.
What other products and designs are you planning to launch?
Our vision is more qualitative than quantitative. We are going step by step. Our objective was firstly to answer the biggest need of our market, which is the covering of men’s modesty for watersports, with a highly qualitative product since we are only working with 100 per cent French suppliers. We have a lot of designs and projects in stock but we are a young start-up so it takes a little bit of time.
Go get yours:
Rajoul is available at Adventure HQ stores in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. For more on the brand, go to rajoulstore.com.