Designer Opens One Of Nation’s First Islamic Boutiques Inside Mall

By Bethany Rodgers
Orlando Sentinel

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Last year, a headline in Fortune magazine declared Muslim women, “the next big untapped fashion market.” With that in mind, Florida designer Lisa Vogl has been ahead of the curve for some time now selling her muslim apparel online. Tomorrow, she is going a step further when she celebrates the grand opening of a store at the Orlando Fashion Square mall. Local Muslims and industry analysts say the store will break ground nationally as one of the first Islamic fashion boutiques to arrive in a mainstream U.S. mall. Women in business making history!

Orlando Sentinel

As her model ducks behind the frond of an ornamental plant for a modest-but-speedy headscarf change, designer Lisa Vogl sorts through a duffel bag stuffed with the hijabs she still has to photograph.

Intricate latticework prints. Viscose and cotton fabrics tinted in dusty rose. Gray streaks rippling across a white background. Her model reemerges and snaps into position outside the Grand Bohemian Hotel in downtown Orlando, and Vogl meets her with a staccato of camera clicks.

“All right, switch!” the Windermere resident said after getting her shot. Another headscarf emerges from its cellophane wrapper. No time to waste for Vogl, an entrepreneur in the booming Muslim apparel industry who until now has sold her Verona Collection in an online boutique.

On Saturday, she’ll celebrate the grand opening of a Verona Collection store at Orlando Fashion Square mall, where, for the first time, Florida shoppers can browse her designs in person. Local Muslims and an industry analysts say the store will break ground nationally as one of the first Islamic fashion boutiques to arrive in a mainstream U.S. mall.

“It’s something that Muslim women need,” Vogl said. “We’re constantly trying to cover according to our religion, but yet we want to be fashionable.”

Vogl converted to Islam in 2011 while enrolled in a photography program, her eye on a career in fashion. Initially, she thought her religious beliefs stood at odds with her aspirations, until she stumbled on the world of Muslim apparel.

Her online boutique has grown from selling a handful of simple designs to a whole line of flowing dresses, ruffled cardigans and extra-long tops that ship worldwide from distribution hubs in the U.S. and Europe.

The emergence of her Verona line coincides with a surge in Islamic purchasing power.

Muslim consumers shelled out an estimated $230 billion on clothing in 2014, or 11 percent of the global total, according the State of the Global Islamic Economy Report by Thomson Reuters and DinarStandard. By 2019, Muslim spending on garments and shoes could be closing in on a half-trillion dollars, the study shows.

Last year, a headline in Fortune magazine declared Muslim women, “the next big untapped fashion market.”

Designers are taking the hint.

In 2014, DKNY launched a line of flowing dresses and long skirts for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Luxury fashion house Dolce & Gabbana shook up the design world earlier this year with a lace-filled collection of abayas and hijabs.

But having more affordable options at the local mall changes the shopping landscape for Orlando’s burgeoning Muslim population, which stood at about 28,000 in 2010, said Fatima Sadaf Saied, president of the Muslim Women’s Organization.

Saied said when she was growing up in Miami, many Islamic women would trek once or twice a year to massive conventions in Chicago or Washington, D.C., to find clothes. Now, they more often shop over the Internet, but that means forgoing the ability to touch fabrics or test an outfit in the fitting room mirror.

Others scour the stores in what can be a fruitless search for the right top.

“You really never find anything that goes below the booty,” said Vogl’s business partner, Nadine Abu-Jubara.

But as the amount of fabric in a top or dress increases, so does the risk of ending up with something resembling a “big potato bag,” she added.

“The word ‘frumpy’ kind of comes to mind. We don’t want to be frumpy,” the Orlando resident said.

Abu-Jubara felt the need for non-revealing workout clothes while striving to lose 65 pounds a few years ago. Often, she’d resort to wearing men’s shirts to exercise.

Now, she’s in charge of developing Verona’s active wear and is working with Vogl to design swimsuits. She said what’s currently on the market — full-body bathing suits called “burkinis” –too often come with unattractive hoods that create a squid-like look.

Vogl gave her Verona collection an Italian-origin name to reflect its Western aesthetic and said it appeals to Muslims who have grown up in the U.S. or Europe.

Verona model Rayyan Sokkarie, an 18-year-old wearing a thick flourish of eyeliner and a nose ring, is one of these target customers. Sokkarie, who also runs a fashion Instagram account with nearly 76,000 followers, said she and other Muslim students at the University of Central Florida are eager for Verona’s doors to open.

“I go to regular stores like every other 18-year-old, like Forever 21 and Charlotte Russe, but sometimes in the summertime, everything is crop tops,” Sokkarie said. “What am I supposed to do?”

Vogl and Abu-Jubara hope their new store will project a positive image at a time when Islamic fashion and public perception seem especially intertwined. Women who wear a headscarf are particularly vulnerable to Islamophobia because their Muslim faith is on display, Vogl said.

Only a few weeks ago, Vogl said she was at a stoplight, her two children in the car, when a man began yelling expletives at her.

But sandwiched between The Limited and Dillard’s, the 1,000-square-foot Verona store will have the potential to attract Muslim and non-Muslim shoppers alike and to dispel stereotypes through its fashion-forward designs, local Islamic women say.
“Beautiful is beautiful. It crosses lines,” Saied said.

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