Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Muslim Jeans by Italian Designer Raise Ire in the Middle East

May 15 (Bloomberg) -- Luca Corradi learned his trade designing $300 skirts for MaxMara in Milan. Now he wants to make a fortune selling $35 jeans for Muslims in Cairo.
Corradi's denim pants have features such as added stretch for kneeling during prayer. Al Quds Srl, the company based in northeast Italy that makes the jeans, plans to put half a million pairs on sale in eight Middle Eastern countries by September.
``These are simple jeans for everyday life, designed with the idea of prayer in mind, but not just that,'' Corradi, 47, said in a telephone interview from Karachi, Pakistan, where Al Quds started producing the trousers for Europe in November.
Al Quds, named after the Arabic term for Jerusalem, is joining western companies such as Nike Inc. in selling clothing to the world's 1.2 billion Muslims. The combined economy of the Gulf States alone is worth $3 trillion, about two-thirds more than Italy. Some Muslims say the companies are seeking to profit from their faith, rather than cater to their needs.
``Let's be honest, people only market to Muslims when they want the dollars,'' Imam Mahdi Bray, executive director of the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation, said in a telephone interview from Washington D.C. ``Many of the deeply observant may have a problem with this concept.''
The Italian company markets the trousers as ``the jeans of choice for Islam,'' according to the Al Quds Web site. Nike has also tried to tap the Muslim market with a line of sports hijabs, or head-coverings, that don't hamper movement.
Al Quds has sold 10,000 pairs since they went on sale in Europe in March at retailers such as France's Carrefour SA, the continent's largest supermarket operator.
The pants were inspired by Al Quds President Giorgio Lotta, who saw a photograph of a mosque during prayer crowded with worshippers in jeans. He then contacted Corradi.
The jeans have a high waist and wider legs to make kneeling more comfortable and boast larger pockets that can hold watches, rings and other accessories that are removed during ablutions. The logo is in Arabic characters, and the seams are in green, the holy color of Islam, which requires prayer five times a day.
``This is a type of exploitation of religion, of a place and a belief that is sacred for Muslims,'' SMT Wasti, a spokesman for the U.K. Islamic Mission, said in an interview. ``It's a way to prey on the sympathy of Muslims,'' he said.
Not so, according to Ahmed Ogaiz, 29, a manager at Exxon Mobil Corp. He plans to buy a pair as soon as they are available in his native Egypt.
Moving Quickly
The idea ``is genius,'' Ogaiz said in a telephone interview from Cairo. ``An item of clothing with such an emphasis on cultural awareness would sell like crazy here.''
Al Quds is based in the city of Udine, northeast of Venice, and plans to add a second manufacturing plant in Kuwait to supply the Middle East, Susanna Cavalli, product manager director for the company, said in a telephone interview.
``We knew the idea was good, but we didn't think things would move so quickly,'' she said while returning from Kuwait.
Al Quds enlisted the help of Seattle-based consultants ITCGulf, which markets to Gulf States, the U.S. and Canada. The two companies agreed in April to produce and distribute the jeans in eight Middle Eastern countries. The next target is North America and its 7.5 million-strong Muslim community.
``In the Gulf region people are very big fans of fashion,'' Rizwan Samad, 45, president of ITCGulf, said in an interview. ``And in particular of Italian products.''
To contact the reporter on this story:
Alessandra Migliaccio in Rome at amigliaccio@bloomberg.net.
Sheyam Ghieth in Rome at sghieth@bloomberg.net
Last Updated: May 14, 2006 19:18 EDT

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