For your summer closet, how about Wide-legged Zimmerman pants? An Oscar de la Renta caftan? A linen-burlap maxi dress with golden cuffs?

If these items sound niche or ad hoc to you, think again. Major players in the fashion industry are marketing to the traditionally overlooked Muslim consumer, especially as Ramadan gets going this month. Giorgio Armani and Tommy Hilfiger are just two of many A-list designers who've introduced Ramadan-themed pieces to their collections. Last year, design firm DKNY also launched a Ramadan series, and in May of this year, Spanish designer Mango followed suit.

Given the global prevalence of Islam, it's a smart move. There are roughly two billion Muslims worldwide, nine million of whom are located in North America alone, according to a recent study by the American Muslim Consumer Consortium. That translates into roughly $100 billion in U.S. spending alone. What's more, Islam is projected to surpass Christianity as the world's largest religion by the second half of this century.

The month-long Muslim holiday of Ramadan, which ends this year on July 17th, is a time for fasting, prayer, and giving thanks. It's also a major spending opportunity that many have likened to Christmas. 

Smaller brands can stand to take a cue from their corporate counterparts by marketing directly to their Muslim consumers. However, it's very important to strategize in a way that is thoughtful and considerate.

To best capitalize on the spending power of Ramadan, here's what you need to keep in mind: 

1. Understand the holiday itself.

Ramadan at its very core is about self-improvement and giving back to the greater good, so it's important that you don't get too ostentatious with what you're selling, and how you're selling it. 

2. Timing is key.

"Some [brands] don't realize that Ramadan is 30 days of fasting," says Fareeha Molvi, a Muslim-American brand strategist. 

"Yes, there are a lot of social occasions attached to that, but the real Christmas equivalent comes at the end," she says, referring to the three-day ceremony at the end of holiday (Eid al-Fitr), when men and women cash out for new clothes and gifts.

What's more, Muslim consumers are likely to be more active early in the morning -- between the hours of 4 a.m. and 7 a.m., for instance, after the "suhoor "morning feast. Earlier in the day is the best time to push social media campaigns, as opposed to later in afternoon or evenings, when Ramadan observers celebrate after sunset. 

3. Know your target consumer.

Melanie Elturk, founder and CEO at the Muslim e-commerce fashion retailer Haute Hijab, thinks brands could benefit from being subtler with their advertising. 

"Ramadan is a really blessed and holy month for us," she said, "I think we get a little put off when different companies are too consumeristic with us, because we're supposed to be spiritually devout."

She adds that Muslim values are often different from how they're portrayed by the large, well-known brands. "For us, as Muslim women, there are certain obvious guidelines to keep in mind. We cover our bodies from head to toe," she says, noting that fashions pegged to Ramadan are more free flowing. Pants, dresses, and skirts remain more on the conservative side. 

The same goes for advertising. "If a company puts up an ad of a woman who looks very seductive or very done up, that's going to come off adversely to the Muslim community. Those images go against what we believe in, like modesty and humility," Elturk said.

4. Avoid stereotypes.

Steer clear of themes that reduce the Muslim community to a single stereotype. "The thing with Ramadan is that it's celebrated by such a diverse world population. There's no one motif that encompasses it for everyone," says Molvi. 

Images traditionally associated with the Middle East -- such as camels, deserts, or mosaich imagery -- aren't necessarily going to be effective. "I'm from Los Angeles," Molvi quips, "I've never celebrated Ramadan in the desert with camels."  

Published on: Jun 26, 2015