Model-of-the-moment Halima Aden fronts the campaign for the Contemporary Muslim Fashions exhibition currently taking place at the Fine Arts Museums in San Francisco. In one particularly striking image, she wears a hooded white windbreaker by British brand Under-Rapt.
"It's very strange how I was inspired by seeing Halima Aden walk the Yeezy runway at New York Fashion Week, and now such an influential role model for both the Muslim community and in fashion is wearing pieces from my collection," says Yasmin Sobeih, 28, the British-Egyptian founder of Under-Rapt, which launched last year and offers sustainably made activewear for modesty-conscious consumers.
The brand is known for its organic hooded tops, as well as leggings, relaxed jumpsuits, harem pants, T-shirts and raincoats, in addition to a design called the "skight" – a sporty skirt attached to tights. Sobeih explains how she is influenced by mainstream athleisure brands such as Yeezy, Fenty and Vetements. "They champion over-sized and relaxed silhouettes," she says. "Gender fluidity has been conveyed through fashion, and now we see that the guidelines to dress modestly mean that over-sized forms are no longer regarded as unfeminine or deemed unfashionable."
Sobeih studied fashion promotion, styling, and fashion buying and merchandising before working as a fashion buyer, then going on to start her own brand. She tells us that religion was her primary motivation in launching Under-Rapt, and that her muses were millennial Muslims looking for ways to balance their faith with fashion. "Social media has now created a worldwide community for the younger Muslim generation and we have seen modest fashion and lifestyle influencers surface," she says.
Sobeih saw a glaring hole in the retail market and sought to fill it – fast. “Organic sportswear and fashionable modest active wear are still relatively untapped markets, and Under-Rapt combines both of these concepts,” she says.
While Nike launched its sport hijab earlier this year, Sobeih conceptualised her own athletic hijab in 2015, while producing the business plan for her brand as part of her postgraduate studies at the London College of Fashion. “As a gym enthusiast, I noticed that many friends and family who preferred to cover when working out had the struggle of their hijabs falling off, plus being uncomfortably hot,” she says.
“I have included a separate sports hijab and a hooded base layer top that a ‘covered’ female would feel is appropriate and comfortable to wear when working out. The fitted design allows full coverage and keeps hair up tight during performance,” Sobeih says. She explains that the fabrics she uses are all eco-friendly, sweat-resistant and anti-bacterial, and can be comfortably worn under boxing or cycling helmets and scarves.
Being sustainable is a fundamental part of the ethos of Under-Rapt, Sobeih tells us, referencing a Business of Fashion report from January of this year, which stated that 66 per cent of global millennials are willing to spend more on brands that are sustainable. “I believe that if Under-Rapt is to inspire and encourage personal health, then this must start at the very core of our supply-chain and at the very core of our product,” Sobeih says. “By contributing to our environment and global welfare, we are ensuring that we are conforming to our consumer’s social, ethical and personal values.”
The designer is especially attuned to the needs of international consumers and retailers thanks to her experience in fashion buying. "Customers are no longer just impulse buyers, but consider where and how the product is made," she says.
Although Sobeih is based in the United Kingdom, she says most of her orders come from the Middle East and South East Asia, and she points out that while Muslim women are her target market, her clients choose to wear and style her garments in different ways. “Being Muslim is personal and can be interpreted differently among various cultures, traditions and demographics. Even the way females wear their headscarves differs in each culture and country,” she explains.
Sobeih is now working to further establish Under-Rapt's presence in London and Dubai, via her website, which offers worldwide delivery, and through physical stockists in both cities. "The consumer feedback and research that I have gathered to date shows that there is great opportunity for Under-Rapt to scale up in other relevant countries and to enter into further international markets such as Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Australia, South East Asia and the US, through store presence, because these markets are particularly lacking in fashionable Islamic sports clothing," she says.
And while her uniquely modest and sustainable performance wear can be credited for catapulting Sobeih’s brand to prominence globally, the designer reveals that she would like to eventually expand further into the healthy-lifestyle segment, rather than just being known as a fashion label. Her five-year plan for the business involves delving into other fitness product categories, and looking into ways that she can manufacture organic yoga mats and recycled waters, in addition to healthy, organic snack bars.
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