Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Itqan - 'Perfection' Drives SHUKR's Fashionable Islamic Clothing Line

This is where I do my shopping lately... The only regular store is in Damascus. It's a pretty small shop and doesn't usually have everything you see online. For the most part of it, it has a good collection that I LOVE...

By Sajjad Chowdhry
Posted, January 31, 2006

In the business world the bottom-line is everything. Business leaders usually ask, "If I do X versus Y, how much money will I make, or will it lead to increased brand equity or a more efficient operation which will make me more money, etc.?"

But a growing number of business people are also asking questions like, "What is the social impact of my business?", "How many jobs will I create?", "Are my employees satisfied and do they thrive in the work environment created for them?" For many Muslim entrepreneurs who are asking such questions, the basis of their business planning is Islam-- informing their internal and external business policies by drawing freely from Islamic sources.

One such company making its mark is Shukr Islamic Clothing which provides the underserved Muslim market in the West with high quality clothing, based on both traditional Islamic and contemporary Western designs.

Its online and direct mail operations serve the Muslim communities in the UK and the USA.

The company's concept took form about 6 years ago when a British man named Anas Sillwood was looking for a part time job to support himself. He, along with a group of students studying in Damascus, was inspired to create a line of clothing for Muslims rooted in Islamic sensibilities yet not outwardly too ethnic (Pakistani, Arab, etc.).

Many, or most, of these students were European or American converts to Islam. The Shukr team wanted to create " quality, fashionable Islamic clothing" that was relevant to their own cultural frameworks which they could wear without getting surprised looks from people on the subway or walking down the street.

Diverse backgrounds

While members of the Shukr team all shared their new experiences in Damascus their backgrounds varied considerably. Their common interest in Islam and in creating an Islamic clothing line with modern sensibilities gave them the ability to bring all of their experiences forward in order to make Shukr a strong concept and a successful venture.

They also all used their experiences from their lives before accepting Islam to make Shukr as modern and relevant a project as possible.

While Mr. Sillwood studied the social sciences at the famed London School of Economics others brought corporate experience to the venture. One prominent member of the team was a college drop out who became an international model walking the runways and catwalks of Milan , Paris , and New York while modeling for Vogue and other top icons of the fashion world.

This experience in particular gave the Shukr team a distinct competitive edge in understanding what kinds of concepts and styles the conventional fashion world was using and for what reasons. In other words this gave the team a benchmark to create Islamic styles that are just as fashionable as the West yet practical for Muslims which are also elegant and stylish.

The Objective and the Responsibility

As one of the founding members of the company told us, "We did not want to export other styles like Shalwar Kameez. We wanted to create viable options for people who had taken on a new identity." Their concept strives to speak the Islamic modesty with the sophistication and elegance of the West.

As their concept took form, the Shukr team decided that as socially responsible and aware people one of their prime motivations and goals in operating this business would be to give something back to the communities in which they lived in Damascus. In short, they wanted to give thanks to the people with whom they lived. Hence the name Shukr which is the Arabic word for Thanks.

Since members of the team were studying the Islamic sciences they chose to base this Thanks in the Qur'anic ayah which says, "If you give thanks, I shall certainly increase you." (Qur'an 14:7). So Shukr decided that all of its production would be handled in Damascus . From a business perspective it certainly did not hurt that Damascus has been known through the centuries for its high quality textiles and garments industries. And from a CSR perspective the Shukr team gave thanks to their community by returning something to them in the form of jobs and opportunity. The name also helps to reinforce the concept in their customers - human beings need to always be thankful for what God has bestowed on them.

Seeking God's Pleasure

Before the Shukr team set out to build its operation, its members all decided on one principle - that their ultimate motivation would be the pleasure of God.

Before the Shukr team set out to build its operation, its members all decided on one principle - that their ultimate motivation would be the pleasure of God. In its own particular sense as a fashion design house the Shukr team drew on particular hadith to guide them in the proper direction. For example, a hadith from the collection of Muslim states, "Allah is beautiful and He loves beauty." In another hadith from the collection of Tirmidhee, "Allah loves to witness the traces of His bounties upon his servant." These ahadith spur the Shukr team to create items of beauty for their customers to wear and express their Muslim identity.

Appealing to God Consciousness

This idea extends into their marketing concepts as well. While their garments are sold on the basis of their look, practicality, or fabric, one of their other key selling points is that the dress of a Muslim speaks to a higher goal in pleasing God rather than pleasing one's peers.

The Shukr team quotes a verse from the Qur'an to support this approach which reads, "Children of Adam, dress well whenever you are at worship." (Qur'an 7:31). They emphasize modesty as a hallmark of the Muslim character which they are helping uphold as a core value with their fashions and style.

To remind its customers that they are mainly dressing for God rather than other people the company does not photograph their models' faces. The aim is to emphasize the clothing and not the image of the person wearing the clothes.

Perfection as an Objective backing a Money Back Guarantee

Because the Shukr team strives to produce the highest quality clothing they are driven by another prophetic tradition which states, "Verily God loves that when one of you does something, that he perfect it."

As the company's website declares, "The SHUKR philosophy is founded upon the concept of itqan, perfection. which translates into a concern for quality, and this is what SHUKR is striving for in its product range." Customers who are not satisfied with their purchase can return the products for a full refund within 20 days of purchase.

From Bazaars to Catwalks

While the company has mostly participated in bazaar like environments to promote their clothing lines they also interestingly organized a fashion show complete with a catwalk at the annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). The show held separate sessions for men and women but a representative of the company did indicate to us that catwalks showcasing male fashions may be opened up for women to attend as well since their research shows that women tend to buy more for men than men buy for women.

The Future for Shukr

The Shukr team is currently planning their future strategies. The company currently has offices in the United States and the UK . When asked if the company has considered approaching Western fashion houses with their original designs, a member of the team replied that they will take things incrementally in this regard. In the meantime the plan is to increase their exposure and increase sales - objectives that every business owner can appreciate.

Their existence is proof positive that the ethical and legal considerations of Islam can inform the process of modern day business decision making.

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