Behind their more modest street clothes, many women in Arab countries apparently are wearing North American lingerie as western companies expand into these markets.
With slightly lower hems and largely altered advertisements, Canadian lingerie retailer La Vie en Rose has made a splash in Arab countries.
About 10 per cent of the Montreal-based company’s annual revenue comes from its stores in Arab countries, and the company plans to expand to meet growing demands there, said Luc Poirier, the CFO and vice-president of international business.
“It was a bit surprising to see the growth compared to the Canadian market,” Poirier said.
“Still, we feel that women, whether Muslim or whatever the religion, like to be fashionable. So if there’s a demand there, we thought we should try to serve it as well as we do here in Canada.”
The lingerie retailer has 55 stores across the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is the company’s biggest Middle East customer, with 29 stories in that country alone. The company plans to add another six stores there and two more in Kuwait.
The company started exploring these markets five years ago and found an appetite for its products. By 2013, it plans to have stores in Oman, Bahrain, Qatar and Tunisia.
Many of La Vie en Rose’s shops in the Muslim world see sales volumes double that of comparable stores in North America, Poirier said.
About 90 per cent of La Vie en Rose’s Canadian collection is well-accepted in these countries, Poirier said, although the women prefer longer gowns. The company also produces a special series for Ramadan.
The stores, however, are quite different. In Saudi Arabian stores there are no change rooms. Until last July, only men could work in many of them, especially in Saudi Arabia. And the advertisements in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait can’t show models — just the lingerie.
But that hasn’t slowed the sales.
“These women are very fashion conscious. They know the trends, and retail has been growing at a very fast pace.”
There’s a common misconception that Muslim women aren’t fashionable or interested in glamorous clothing, said Alia Hogben, the executive director of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women. The demand for lingerie likely was always there, particularly in the wealthier Arab countries, Hogben said.
“Just because women cover up in public on the street doesn’t mean that they don’t dress up spectacularly underneath those clothes,” Hogben said.
“The philosophy is that women are not out there for the world to look at them, so they don’t dress for the general public. But for their family and friends, they dress beautifully. They have magnificent hairstyles, they wear magnificent jewelry and they love lingerie.”
Limited Brands, an international company whose stores include Bath and Body Works, Victoria’s Secret and La Senza, recently agreed to start working with a franchise operator in the Middle East, referring to the move as a “critical inroad” on the investor website.
“We have spent several years carefully researching, testing and vigorously vetting a multitude of means and locales for international growth. In the course of that purposeful work, we’ve identified the Middle East as a region we believe we can grow in and learn from,” the company said.
La Senza opened its first newly designed store in the Middle East last year.