Yasmin Sobeih was a student during the 2012 Olympic Games and noticed how the event was a turning point for Modest fashion and Islam, especially for athletes. She started developing an idea that brought fitness, fashion, and Islam together, moving to London shortly after to study Postgraduate Certificate Fashion: Buying and Merchandising at London College of Fashion. It was here where her course leader, Julie O’Sullivan, encouraged her to develop her brand UNDER-RAPT. She then launched a collection at London Modest Fashion Week 2017. We discuss her brand, incorporating sustainable and organic fabrics into her design and launching a business.
Hi, Yasmin, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
To sum me up – I am a fashion, fitness and food enthusiast with a love of diverse cultures, religion, and travelling. I’m passionate about travelling as each country offers distinctive and exciting history, art, tastes and traditions that ultimately influence my creative instincts and vision. I was born and raised in northern England. I’m a British Muslim from English and Egyptian heritage, I have been lucky enough to travel back and forth and explore both social and religious cultures and traditions, and with that I have always combined both personally and professionally Islamic traditions with western culture and influences.
Did you always want to go into fashion?
I’ve always had a fervent interest in fashion but wasn’t sure if it was my love of shopping! But since secondary school, I have studied and specialised in creative subjects, yet I have not come from a textiles and pattern cutting/design background. I graduated from University of Central Lancashire where I studied Fashion Promotion with Styling in 2012, which gave me the opportunity to explore many creative pathways such as fashion styling, visual merchandising, photography, and fashion imagery. I pursued this later in my work with styling and a career in fashion buying which then lead to me completing a course at LCF.
We are really excited to see more of your brand UNDER-RAPT. Can you tell us about the concept and how you started it?
I have always been interested in combining Islamic traditions with western influences. A few years back I dreamed about working for an international brand and pursuing a career in buying, focusing on the Gulf market. I actually combined the concept of modest Sportswear and fashion in my final year project and then I revisited this concept by focusing heavily on the market and putting a business plan together for my postgraduate. It was then that I realised the huge potential and gap in the market for a trend focused, modest sportswear and athlesiure brand. Now we have Modest Fashion Week and we see models like Halima Aden walk for Yeezy season 5, so modest fashion is growing significantly. We see females dressed head to toe on the high-street wearing hijabs in the most stylish way. This is not only Muslims. Wearing a turban or headscarf goes back to Audery Hepburn and early YSL fashion campaigns with the likes of influential celebrities such as Rihanna, Alicia Keys and J-Lo following.
UNDER-RAPT merges the idea of modest culture and traditions with Western lifestyles. As sportswear is not only emerging for athletics but for everyday use. We wear our leggings to the gym then wear them out for coffee with friends, it’s a global trend and women worldwide are embracing modern lifestyles triggered with access to international fashion brands and their ability to constantly connect and be inspired by social media platforms. UNDER-RAPT merges the latest sport and loungewear trends with modest wear. I visit trade shows to forecast future trends such as next season colours, shapes, and print. The collection features oversized forms and shapes, which is very on trend for this season. This means the collection coincides with Muslim values, whilst delivering to those who want to dress modestly and/or dress fashionably. The collection is designed so it can be layered or can be bought as separates, so there is something in the collection for everyone.
By encouraging healthier lifestyles, UNDER-RAPT also promotes sustainability, sourcing eco-friendly and ethical fabric. The fabric used in our designs is designed to be breathable, sweat resistant and hygienic – suitable for sports and athleisure. I believe that if we want to promote healthier lifestyles we should start from the core of the supply chain by sourcing sustainably.
Did you think there was a niche in the market for UNDER-RAPT or that no one was doing accessible modest Sportswear well?
After a great amount of market research, I couldn’t find another brand like UNDER-RAPT. There are brands that specialise in modest sportswear yet they do not have that fashion element, and then there are high street and specialised sportswear brands that have the fashion element but do not cater or specialise for the modest market. Recognising this niche meant that UNDER-RAPT could cater to their preferences and needs whilst becoming a fashion and commercial brand. Therefore my focus was to combine both fashion and Sportswear for the modest market.
I didn’t want to limit my audience or consumer – there are women who aren’t necessarily Muslim but don’t feel comfortable being exposed and wearing tight clothes when working out and and then there are Muslims who are discouraged to work out because they feel uncomfortable when they are sweating in all their layers or their hijab is constantly falling off.
The feedback I gathered was that modest women buying sportswear clothes were spending more on buying layers or buying new sportswear every few months as the quality wasn’t as good, rather than just having a product which was tailored to suit their needs which also offered higher quality and affordable prices.
How do you think your degree helped you?
I was a fashion buying assistant before going onto PG Cert: Fashion Buying and Merchandising. I’ve disliked Excel spreadsheets and mathematics until I began to love them when I connected it with fashion buying. Being a good buyer means that you have to understand and work closely with merchandisers. Although the course was intense it has helped significantly. It is how UNDER-RAPT surfaced and I was able to turn my passion from a business plan into real life. I was able to implement key merchandising and marketing practices that complimented my buying knowledge to enhance my understanding of the overall supply-chain.
Can you describe your design style and aesthetic in five words…
Timeless, practical, comfortable, global and stylist.
You’re also the first modest Sportswear fashion brand that uses only sustainable and organic fabrics. What made you want to do this and how does the developing process work you?
Having found a gap in the market for fashion led modest sports and athlesiure wear, I then realised that there wasn’t another brand using high-tech performance enhancing, sustainable fabrics and therefore this became a huge focus and USP to UNDER-RAPT. I understood that sourcing organic fabrics would be more time consuming and less available to produce and manufacture, but UNDER-RAPT is a healthy lifestyle brand, and therefore it was of significance that I implement this into my designs to not only encourage personal hygiene and contribute to our planet but ensure it coincides with consumers personal and social ethical morals and values. The fabric in my designs has sweat resistant, cooling and hygienic components which means that professional athletes from runners to boxers to gymnasts, both Muslim and non-Muslim can wear the collection. For instance, one product in the collection is a ‘hooded base layer,’ it can be worn as a hijab or simply to keep hair up tight, either way it is sweat-resistant and breathable – ideal for both. The combination of trend focused modest sports and athlesiure blended with sustainable fabrics makes UNDER-RAPT the first global ethical modest sports and loungewear brand.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned so far as a brand founder and director?
That it is possible and achievable to turn your passion into a business. I got caught up in the idea that I would work my way up as a buyer for a fashion brand. I hadn’t even considered starting my own business. And even though starting my own brand was a risk and at times when you aren’t getting responses it can feel disheartening but when your collection starts to come together and you are receiving great positive response then it’s a great feeling. It doesn’t feel like work. The biggest lesson I’ve learnt is that you have to be patient, keep working hard even if it’s behind closed doors. Believe in yourself and constantly plan your time effectively as having your own fashion brand and business means you are the buyer, merchandiser, logistics manager and everything else in-between, you are always making mistakes but the beauty of that is that you learn along the way and have the ability to adjust and amend to improve your brand.
Could you tell us a little bit about your show in London recently?
Modest Fashion Week teamed up with The Muslim Lifestyle Show in London this year – I decided this event would be my ‘big launch’. Everyone from international fashion bloggers, retail buyers, models and the general public are welcomed at the event so there was great potential to expose UNDER-RAPT. I exhibited over the two-day event and showcased the collection on the catwalk alongside 38 other international designers.
I was the only modest sportswear brand to exhibit and to participate in the fashion show so a lot of attention and focus was on UNDER-RAPT. The response I received was over-whelming, the interest from customers and industry professionals such as retail buyers, journalists and other designers was amazing. I have received a great amount of interest and support, and since the show UNDER-RAPT has gained a lot of recognition. It was such a fantastic experience and really highlighted the growth and demand in the fashion retail market for modest wear. I can’t wait for next year!
Are you living for the moment or do you have a five-year plan?
In fashion you always have to plan! You are constantly planning new collections at least 6 months in advance. So I can’t say that I am living for the moment and of course I want to see UNDER-RAPT grow, so I am constantly looking and planning ways to evolve. I was recently asked which brand do you aspire UNDER-RAPT to be like? and I couldn’t answer as there is not another brand like UNDER-RAPT for me to compare to. However, my main focus is the product looking for new ways to keep innovating and evolving with sustainable fabrics, modest Sportswear and potentially growing my product range.
UNDER-RAPT will begin selling products online from the end of May 2017.
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