Page last updated at 11:59 GMT, Thursday, 5 June 2008 12:59 UK

A marriage of modesty and style

Sophia Kara dressing a model in her designs
Sophia Kara's clothes fuse western fashion with Islamic modesty

"Frumpy" clothing for Muslim women have inspired a Leicester designer aiming to fill a gap in the market.

Sophia Kara, 35, from Leicester said she steered away from the traditional clothing because she was "always so scared of wearing this black frumpy garment".

After her marriage, when she decided to adopt dressing modestly as part of her life, she began designing her own garments that appealed to her aesthetic nature.

"I thought, oh my god I cannot wear this because this is not me. It just was not my identity at all," she said.

"That is why I started designing - something that suited me, that I was more confident in."

Now those designs, made by her Imaan Collections label, are being sold in US, and her international clientele stretches from France, Germany and the Netherlands to South Africa and Canada.

I brought the jilbab into the new era
Designer Sophia Kara

She said she was inspired to provide a new look that "fuses western fashion with modesty".

Mrs Kara's online business is the result of her fascination with fashion as a child.

"I remember cutting fabrics and making my own clothes with my mother's help when I was about nine or 10 years old," she said.

She honed her skills through short courses that required home study and apprenticeships with designers, and opened her own business in March 2006.

Apart from casual garments and seasonal collections, her designs include a selection of corporate wear for the large number of professional customers - working women who want a marriage of smart with modesty in their outfits.

Mrs Kara designs "modern Islamic clothing for Muslim women", "contemporary clothing" that "fuses western fashion - the cuts, colours, fabrics" with "the modesty for Islamic attire - more voluminous fits, lower hemlines, smaller necklines".

Modern jilbab

While dark colours are still the more popular variety, younger women are becoming braver in the colour choice, especially when they go on holiday, she said.

All that was available for women when she was younger were the black jilbabs, the full length loose garments that cover the body, and the accompanying black headscarves.

"I brought the jilbab into the new era," she said.

Model wearing Sophia Kara's design
Mrs Kara's clientele stretches across Europe and North America

Her designs also include hijabs (headscarves) and other garments.

It was the experience of seeing a young woman in a Leicester supermarket wearing her creation that pleased Mrs Kara the most.

"It was exactly that customer I had in mind, that would be wearing my garment," she said.

There are other designers who are catching on to the trend - one in London and another in the US - but Mrs Kara said they are few and far between.

After six years of "modernising the jilbab", her company Imaan Collections has notched up several successes, including a recent showing at Illinois.

Mrs Kara's target customer is young, trendy and fashionable but wants to retain her modesty.

In fact, some of them are not even Muslim, she said, but women who want to "hide their lumps and bumps".

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