Turkey fashions a slice of international Muslim lifestyle market

By bne IntelliNews December 16, 2010

Justin Vela in Istanbul -

As the global Muslim population grows, businesses in Turkey and across Europe are seeking to capitalize on the so-called "international Muslim lifestyle market." From media to tourism to halal food products, this still relatively untapped market is ripe for investment and, also, paints a moderate picture of Europe's Muslims.

A term coined by the business strategy publication DinarStandard, the "international Muslim lifestyle market" is another designation for the "halal lifestyle market," the "Muslim consumer market" and the "Muslim-friendly market." Nomenclature aside, industry sectors and products are influenced by the identities of consumers and their personal and religious beliefs. The "international Muslim lifestyle market" encompasses Muslims with buying power that practice a way of life conducted with an adherence to values such as God consciousness, dietary law, modesty and social responsibility. "The Muslim consumer's lifestyle, at varying degrees, yet increasingly, is driven by faith-based values," says Rafi-uddin Shikoh, managing director of DinarStandard. "These faith-based values become a key driver of emotional connectivity with Muslims that brands are starting to realize."

With approximately 1.6bn Muslims worldwide, about 49m of whom are in Europe, the current value of the Muslim lifestyle market is estimated at $2 trillion. In comparison, the global organic food market was worth about $60bn in 2009.

As a large producer of clothes and media products aimed at Muslims, Turkey is one country in particular that stands to benefit from the growth of this market.

Turkish TV shows and movies are increasingly popular in the Middle East and Gulf states, because they bring up issues not usually talked about in the Muslim world, such as pre-marital sex and birth out of wedlock. These issues are discussed from a Muslim perspective and audiences have reacted positively to seeing an example of a prosperous, Europeanised country where the majority of people practice Islam. This drives up the value of Turkish products and increases its soft-power capabilities in the region. Following the trend, Istanbul is hosting an increasing number of Islamic fashion shows and there is an uptick in Islamic banking, with Kuveyt Turk Katilim Bankasi issuing the first sukuk bond in August.

Kuveyt Turk Bank is now taking its Islamic-banking experience outside the country to Germany and Kazakhstan.

Mass Muslim market

Muslims are estimated to make up 25% of the world's population, a figure that is supposed to increase by one percentage point each decade, according to a study published in June by the International Journal of Environmental Science and Development. The global Muslim population is also younger compared to the world's overall population and is increasingly asserting their Muslim identity. According to Shikoh, this translates into an increased demand for more Muslim consumer brands. "Muslims are a very attractive and untapped consumer market," says Mohamed El-Fatatry, founder and CEO of Muxlim.com, a Muslim-oriented social networking site. "Certain segments like lifestyle products, media, etc. are certainly untapped, whereas food and financial services have more momentum. In general, the market is at its infancy and it will experience big growth over the coming years."

Along with providing a service similar to Facebook, Muxlim also offers blogs that feature, for example, halal recipes, a Saudi artist promoting digital paintings, international sports coverage, and various reviews, news and audio podcasts from an Islamic perspective. The site also advertises Muslim-friendly brands, such as hotels that have women only pools, prayer rooms and no alcohol.

A special focus is given to the halal food market, which this year was valued at an estimated $600bn. In Islam, food is classified as either halal (allowed) or haram (forbidden). Haram products sometimes end up in mass-produced foods such as bouillon, spice mixtures and gelatin. Alcohol is sometimes used in preservatives. Even glue packaging might be made with animal fat. This produces the need for products that have been certified as halal before Muslim consumers will buy them.

Sufficiently modest clothing is another big market, especially for women. In Turkey, Istanbul-based Islamic sportswear and swimwear company Hashema is preparing to expand its exports to more international retailers. "We export to approximately 20 countries, all the Gulf countries," says Turan Kisa, the export manager for Hashema. "In Europe, [exports go to] England, Germany and France. [Also] Canada and Trinidad. Of the non-Gulf countries, we export the most to Canada."

Hashema has three stores in Turkey and distributes its products to 45 retailers around the country. The female swimwear, which is composed of a three-piece suit including pants, scarf and body-cover, comes out in a new design every year. The male swimwear is less demanding: Islam simply requires men to cover their knees. Evocative of the class shift seen in Turkey in recent years, most of the expensive lycra swimwear is ordered online, to be worn by the new class of Islamic bourgeoisie, commonly referred to as "Anatolian Tigers."

"You can see the future now for exports, Kisa says. "The domestic market is always good."

The flip side of the coin

With a population's growth, corresponding fears appear. The current wave of Islamophobia is a result of immigration perhaps just as much as terrorism. While most experts consider an increased "clash of cultures" over the next years a definite, the overall consumer trends of Muslims in Europe and Turkey allay some of the more astringent fears. "I think Muxlim strongly highlighted Muslims as a lifestyle segment and consumer market, as opposed to a religious and political group that is very worrisome," says El-Fatatry.

Much of the debate concerning the growth of, in particular, Europe's Muslim population is centered on the socio-political aspects of the community, rather than its economic or consumer aspects. El-Fatatry believes that focus is misplaced. "By identifying Muslims as valuable consumers, it becomes clear to both mainstream companies and consumers that there is mutual prosperity and goodwill based on shared interests," he says.

Putting some faith in the market, El-Fatatry says that once more companies recognized the importance of Muslims as a growing lucrative segment of society, a ripple effect may cause them to be portrayed in a more positive light. "Most Muslim consumers are not, contrary to popular opinion, driven by strong political or religions tendencies," El-Fatatry says. "They are rather regular consumers who have needs, go about their lives and are very brand loyal."

Turkey fashions a slice of international Muslim lifestyle market

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