Breakthrough? Saudi women train to sell lingerie

Using colorful bras donated by employees at Victoria's Secret, a group of 26 mostly Saudi women completed the first course of its kind to be offered in the kingdom — how to fit, stock and sell underwear — a training organisers hope will help boost a campaign to lift the ban on women selling underwear in the kingdom.



The graduates held a small ceremony at a college in the western seaport of Jiddah yesterday, capping 40 hours of instruction during which they learned to overcome their embarrassment at doing bra fittings, deal with customer complaints and display the stock in an appealing manner.

"It was a beautiful experience," said Faten Abdo, a 32-year-old coordinator in the offices of a lingerie company.

"The most shocking thing for me was the bra sizes," she added. "We didn't know how to get proper measurements before."

The 10-day course comes three months after a group of Saudi women launched a campaign to boycott lingerie stores until they employ women. Almost all the stores in the kingdom are staffed by men. The only exceptions are a few women-only boutiques, some of them inside popular shopping centres.

The restrictions are ironic in a country that goes to great lengths to segregate the sexes. Men and women, for instance, who are not close relatives cannot stand in the same line at fast-food outlets or even be in the same car together. Conservative clerics have strong influence on government and society, and they ban anything they believe might lead to women's emancipation, such as driving or voting.

But those pushing for saleswomen in lingerie stores say they were tired of discussing intimate details with male staff and enduring their scrutiny when they ask for a particular cup size.

Their aim is to push for implementation of a law that has been on the books since 2006 which says only female staff can be employed in women's apparel stores. The law has never been put into effect, partly due to hard-liners in the religious establishment who oppose employing women in mixed environments like malls.

Because of the mortification many women feel ordering bras, thongs and negligees, the lack of trained sales staff and the absence of fitting rooms — they're banned because the idea of a woman undressing in a public place is unthinkable — many women end up with the wrong underwear size.

The training was the idea of Suhair al-Qurashi, head of the private Dar al-Hekma College, according to Reem Asaad, a finance lecturer at the college and the main force behind the boycott campaign.

"She wanted the training to be a part of the solution because the industry was complaining that there's a lack of qualified (women) in the market who can run and manage lingerie stores," said Asaad. "So we covered fitting and technical issues, we covered selling and handling customer complaints."

The trainer was an Australian woman who had heard about the boycott campaign online and then offered to give the course.

A group of Victoria's Secret employees who also heard about the campaign on Facebook sent a box filled with colorful cotton bras to be used in the training, according to Asaad.

Suzanne al-Hindi, 33, one of 26 graduates, said she and the other women were "shy at first to play-role and do fittings on each other, but we got over it."

British consul-general in Jiddah Kate Rudd said she attended Tuesday's ceremony to show support for the idea that women should be allowed to play a more active role. "It was a small step, but perhaps from this little drop there will be bigger ripples," said Rudd.

News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
News
Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
newsThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Candidates with surnames that start with an A have an electoral advantage
newsVoters are biased towards names with letters near start of alphabet
Arts and Entertainment
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?