Canadian retailer La Vie en Rose has discovered an unexpectedly strong demand for its frilly, sexy lingerie among Muslims and is planning a major expansion in Arab countries.
Beneath their abayas and veils, women in Arab countries are apparently wearing the same risque lingerie as women in Canada.
Saudi women are “very fashion conscious,” said vice-president Luc Poirier. “The only notable difference in styles is in nightgowns, which are longer for our Arab clients, below the knees.”
The Montreal-based company already earns 10 percent of its Can$150 million in annual revenues from 55 stores in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Lebanon, Jordan, Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Kazakhstan.
But it is expected to triple its store count in the Middle East as part of a major expansion over the next three years, spurred on by recent political changes in the region and with the help of its partner Al Hokair Group.
At a glance, Saudi Arabia may seem like a difficult market for sexy feminine undergarments. Adherence to a strict conservative dress code defined by Islam and tribal customs prohibit women from showing any skin in public, making advertising problematic.
In stores, only men are currently allowed to work as sales clerks and there are no changing rooms for women to try on lingerie.
This is starting to change, noted Poirier. Women in Saudi Arabia will soon be allowed to vote in local elections, as well as work in a broader range of jobs, including retailing. This will mean La Vie en Rose can finally recruit female sales clerks to serve a mostly female clientele in the country.
The company’s next store opening is set for Tunisia, where a revolutionary wave began with the self-immolation of a fruit vendor in protest of police corruption and ill treatment, and spread throughout the Arab world this year.