Cover girls: Ridge designer makes demure clothes for Muslim women

Cover girls: Ridge designer makes demure clothes for Muslim women
Photo by Georgine Benvenuto

It’s a modest success.

A Bay Ridge woman has turned frustration into inspiration, starting a body-covering clothing line for Muslim women after struggling to find fashionable threads that still leave a little to the imagination. The Egyptian-born, Bensonhurst-raised founder of Urban Modesty said she got the idea because her only other options were donning stuffy traditional garb or cobbling together a hodgepodge of Western clothes.“Finding an outfit for any occasion is always a nightmare — my peers, friends, young women, older women, they all had the same problem,” said Sherihan Moustafa. “You either dress very traditionally, or you try to put something together by layering clothes from five different stores.”

Moustafa, a 29-year-old City College economics grad and self-described fashionista, stitched together Urban Modesty in 2013 after she took an entrepreneurial business class. She has no formal fashion training, but designs the pieces herself before sending patterns to China for production, she said. Moustafa hit the market with eight designs, but now offers more than 70 tops, bottoms, dresses, gowns, and cover-ups — in addition to kids’ digs and jewelry. Most pieces sell for $25–$70, but formal gowns can go for up to $230.

The store is a godsend, according to one shopper who picked up some threads at the Arab American Bazaar in Bay Ridge last weekend.

“I saw those long dresses that I do not see in stores, I always felt I should have a piece like that in my closet, but I did not know how to get it,” said Bay Ridgite Abeer Assad.Moustafa relied on word-of-mouth among friends and family in Bay Ridge to spread her brand early on. New Yorkers are still the biggest buyers, but frequent trips to Islamic conventions outside the city have helped spread the word nationally.

She recently made progress in the Great White North during a showcase in Toronto, she said.

“We walked in with six laundry bags full of clothes and walked out with one half-full,” she said.

Moustafa has carved out a niche in a growing industry — Muslims spent roughly $230 billion on clothing worldwide in 2014, and that figure could grow to $327 billion by the end of the decade, according to Dinar Standard’s Global Islamic Economy Report. Not all of that is on modest fashion, but the top brands Dinar Standard highlights in the report make demure duds.

Next, she’s taking on the major retailers, and hoping to expand her reach outside of the Muslim community, she said.

“We have cover-ups that you can throw over jeans or whatever you want, so [non-Muslims] have bought those too,” she said. “It’s cute and trendy and now if you look, Forever 21 sells a maxi dress cover-up as well, that’s who we are competing with.”

Reach reporter Dennis Lynch at (718) 260–2508 or e-mail him at dlync[email protected]local.com.