Kuala Lumpur (KL) has a reputation as a shopping haven – named by CNN as number four in the world – in no small part due to the vast fashion choices available at every price point.
Alongside street markets, traditional apparel areas and wholesale vendors, KL is home to some of the world’s largest shopping malls where most of the top fashion names are represented. Luxury leaders such as Louis Vuitton, Burberry and Versace all have flagship stores, and the penetration of global fast fashion brands, including Uniqlo, H&M, Zara and Mango, continues to rise.
Store-based retail still dominates, but online business is fast growing, creating a clothing market revenue in Malaysia that is expected to rise to US$155 million this year. The textile and apparel industry is one of the top ten largest export earners for the country.
Modest wear leads the way
One major driver has been the country’s global role in the growing popularity of modest fashion. Modest wear expresses contemporary fashion but in a way that is geared to the needs of Muslim women, offering style and diversity.
The global market is worth US$44 billion as of 2015, and apparel giants have begun to embrace this promising segment. Dolce & Gabbana, DKNY, Tommy Hilfiger, Zara, Mango and Uniqlo have all brought out special modest collections, while Nike launched the Pro Hijab for athletes last year.
Malaysia has been an early leader, growing its local market and expanding internationally. According to the Malaysia External Trade Development Corp (Matrade), the recent year-on-year growths in the fashion industry’s export figures are being driven by the demand for modest Islamic styles around the world.
Entertainment figures and local designers have become trendsetters leveraging social media for success in the fashion business. Actress Noor Neelofa Mohd Noor’s Naelofar Hijab recorded sales worth RM50 million in its first year of operation in 2015, and has been known to attract stampedes at new style launches.
"The brand has changed from selling the hijab as a product, to a lifestyle or as an experience," Neelofa told the Singapore Straits Times.
"We fully utilise social media in marketing Naelofar Hijab. I think this is our best strategy. We reach so many people via my personal Instagram and also Naelofar Hijab's Instagram accounts," she said.
Malaysian designers, including Mimpikita and Ainee Suhaidi, have taken their creativity in modest wear beyond the country’s borders, gracing runways at London Fashion Week, Vancouver Fashion Week and Istanbul Modest Fashion Week.
A growing contemporary fashion capital
Kuala Lumpur’s multicultural mix has also served as the inspiration for contemporary fashion of every stripe that is experiencing a growth period as the city stamps its mark as a regional fashion destination.
Last week, fashion lovers and industry leaders flocked to the latest KL Fashion Week (KLFW2018). The event, held since the early 2000s, features both international and domestic labels. Since 2013, it has functioned as a ready-to-wear showcase, and a major platform for local designers to position KL as a thriving fashion capital.
Every year, KLFW brings in more than 150,000 people over five days at Pavilion Kuala Lumpur to witness cutting-edge designs premiering for the first time.
Neelofa herself walked down the catwalk on the opening day wearing Max Mara, and Mimpikita sent down a collection that highlighted the essence of Malaysian traditions while exuding a sense of modernity, including some examples of modest wear.
“We have never faltered in moving towards the goal of continually developing the retail landscape for our local designers,” says Andrew Tan, founder of KLFW.
“Ultimately, I believe we have succeeded enough to make KLFW one of the most prominent and influential fashion platforms not only in Malaysia, but South-East Asia,” he adds.
These sentiments are echoed by the designers at KLFW2018. “It’s our third year with KLFW as this event is so in line with our mission to grow the local fashion industry,” enthuses Vivy Yusof, co-founder of FashionValet, and a modest fashion icon in her own right.
“For designers, participating in KLFW is crucial, as it is the biggest fashion week in Malaysia and one of the biggest in the region. You gain so much exposure and invaluable experience from it,” muses designer Jimmy Lim.
At the same time, Kuala Lumpur’s downtown shopping belt continues to expand and improve, linking the upcoming Tun Razak Exchange through to Bukit Bintang and KLCC, enhancing the city’s already formidable reputation for shopping.
It seems a sure thing that the city’s fashion star will shine even brighter in the near future.