In an era of crop tops, the return of low rise jeans and generally barely there clothing trends, where do you even start looking for stylish covering clothes? Newcomer to the market Les the Brand has been hard at work for almost a year and has already managed to build a large community, but founders Leyla Mazouz and Esma Hmadouch are dreaming big. "The next goal is to be in the stores of Dutch department store De Bijenkorf, [owned by Selfridges Group]" the entrepreneurs behind the modest fashion brand told FashionUnited.
Modest fashion is the name given to a style of clothing that revolves around clothes that cover up. This is a style that can be worn for religious or cultural reasons, but also simply because of feeling more comfortable in covering the body. For Mazouz and Hmadouch, it is also about appearance. For example, a woman with a lot of make-up on but wearing covering clothes and possibly a headscarf is not necessarily modest to them. "However, a blonde woman, without headscarf and make-up, with a turtleneck is a lot more modest, for instance."
As modest fashion stylists, Mazouz and Hmadouch saw the frustrations of women who want to cover themselves more, but don't know which brands to turn to and how to style items. "From our own experience, we saw a gap in the market," the two explained during a video call with FashionUnited. "Of course modest items can be found at other brands, but it's not so easy yet. We know many women who would like to dress modestly, but because there is no offer that suits their needs or style, they don't do it. And it does something to your self-confidence if you can't dress how you would like."
Les the Brand is therefore modest in every way. It means the clothing items conceal one’s figure, the colour palette is calm and the items are covering in varying degrees. "One woman wants a skirt down to the floor, while the other thinks over the knee is enough," the founders explained.
The brand's overall style is elegant and sophisticated. But modest for Hmadouch and Mazouz also means that the brand is trying to keep its impact on the world low, so the brand is consciously making strides. For example, they are now doing this by working with more sustainable fabrics such as vegan silk (made from cellulose fibres treated with cuprammonium salt).
The two women also set out to visit the factories they work with. "This way we know the collection is made by adults, who also have normal working hours with breaks, and not by children."
Les the Brand offers modest fashion for the modern woman
What makes Les the Brand innovative is the way that the brand offers clothes for the modern Western woman. For example, we don't offer headscarves or abayas, like many other successful modest fashion brands do. "We offer something for the woman of today. Often when big brands release a modest fashion collection, they look at what women in, say, the Middle East wear, where it is hot. But we are based in the Netherlands where it rains most of the time and I have to cycle to work. Then I don't wear a kaftan," Mazouz explained. Hmadouch jumps in: "It is often thought that modest fashion is a cultural thing, but we also just dress accordingly. We also just take our child to school, like everyone else is used to doing, but we just show less skin."
With their clothes, Mazouz and Hmadouch want to give women the tools to look modest yet stylish themselves. "A bit like a Betty Crocker baking mix," Mazouz notes with a wink. "You get all the ingredients, but at the end of the day you still feel like you baked your own cupcakes." Above all, they want the women who wear Les the Brand to look stylish. "Our items always make you look slimmer and taller because of the cut. With other brands, the styling can sometimes look slouchy because they style a lot of layers on top of each other. Trousers, with a skirt, with socks, a turtleneck and a cardigan. That's where brands miss the mark, that's not how women want to look, we don't wear that."
Modest fashion: Les the Brand goes for a stylish and sophisticated look
To reach even more women, the brand is already stepping into wholesale. The brand works with its collections according to the normal fashion seasons of spring-summer and fall-winter. "That we as a young brand are already thinking about this step now is of course crazy," says Hmadouch. "But we have many women who would prefer to drop by to try on the items." That is why Les the Brand was also at fashion fair Modefabriek in January, where they were invited by the organisers to be on the Young Entrepreneurs platform. "If we hadn't been invited, we probably would have signed up ourselves next year," he says.
"It was a really good experience. We got to know many people, including many other entrepreneurs with whom we were able to exchange stories." Yet Modefabriek also felt like a confrontation for the two founders. "People sometimes have the idea that modest fashion is something cultural, that it is only for Muslims, for example. Then they would look at the brand and at us and you could see them thinking: We do indeed see longer items. It's not necessarily something negative, but it is a threshold. People think about whether they want to be associated with us and our brand," Mazouz and Hmadouch said, both Muslim women.
"I can understand it," adds Hmadouch. "Suppose you find a gothic brand and it offers a really nice coat. Then you might think, 'Nice coat, but it's not a brand we want to be associated with.'" Mazouz also cites the example of Marks & Spencer, which opened a modest fashion section on its website a few years ago. "They received reactions that the retailer was helping to oppress women by offering modest fashion. Behind those reactions was a completely different ideology. There is still a lot of ignorance."
"That's why we want to be at Bijenkorf stores too," Hmadouch said. "It can pull people over the threshold." At Dutch fashion fair Modefabriek, there were also reactions from retailers surprised by the fashion brand's collection. "Oh, but we can handle that too!" were some of the puzzled responses. "We don't deny that the Muslim woman is a big part of our target market, but everyone can handle it," Hmadouch explained. Therefore, the next milestone for the brand will hopefully be department store De Bijenkorf.
"Through De Bijenkorf, we can then also meet the right boutiques," she says. In markets outside the Netherlands, such as Belgium and Germany, for example, the two entrepreneurs also want to gain exposure through a major department store and in that way be seen again by other retailers.
Ultimately, Les the Brand wants to help modest women feel confident and dress stylishly. They do not see other brands as their competition. "Nobody wants to walk in just one brand. People like variety and there is enough room for everyone. Besides: How great is it when we, modest fashion women, are represented in the right way?"
This article was originally published on FashionUnited.NL. Translation and editing from Dutch into English: Veerle Versteeg.