Friday, April 12, 2013

Review Alert:

"Batua" in Hindi, means purse. The items available on go far beyond that. While primarily catering to the Muslim audience with their exceptional variety of abayas, hijabs, and prayer rugs, they do offer ethnic fused handbags and shoes as well. Their selection of tunics and skirts can be enjoyed by anyone looking for a more modest style of clothing.
I've been a "window" shopper on their website for over a year. Last week I decided to place my first order when I saw this abaya go on sale. I've been eyeing it up for a long time and when I saw it was 55% off, I couldn't resist. I think it looks like a big hoodie.
After I added this item to my online shopping cart, I received a message that orders over $200 USD allowed for free shipping. Well, you don't have to tell this girl twice! Why spend only $40 when you can spend $200 and get free shipping!
So I spent some more time browsing the site, trying to control myself and chose items I feel are more "practical" for daily use and that won't cause the general public to laugh and point when they see me step out (we're a conservative crowd around here). After all, the whole purpose of wearing an Abaya is to deflect unwanted attention from the general public. Being a white girl in Southern India, that can prove to be a challenge.

I then came across this little gem. Another hooded abaya with purple embroidery on a satin lined hood. It reminded me of what boxers wear when they're walking to the ring. I thought, while subtle, it was really elegant, so I'd add it to my collection.
All of the abayas available on the website have the option to order a matching hijab (scarf) for a nominal fee. Some, like the Rihana Abaya above, even come with the optional headband as well as scarf and you can mix and match which combination you want. For example if you want only the headband, you have that option, if you want only the scarf, you have that option as well. If you want both, they'll package them with a nice discount. For the Rusda, I skipped the head wear as the picture shows just a white cap with a black hijab, and I figure I find something from my extensive collection of hijabi head wear that will match. Now, had they thrown a little band of purple in there, I would have been picking up the entire set for sure!

When I saw the Yasmeen Abaya, and this might sound a bit silly, considering it's traditional Islamic wear, but I thought it looked a bit sporty. I also thought it was be excellent for daily wear. Let me tell you, the photo on their website does not do this piece justice. It is so pretty in real life and completely feeds into my preference for simplicity. I was curious about this one though because they also offer a matching hijab, but it doesn't look like it has any color to it. Again, something with a little red and white boarder would have put me over the edge. Before adding it to my shopping cart, I thought I'd utilize the sites online chat feature and ask about the hijab. So I queued up and posted my question. I was very pleasantly greeted in Islamic fashion and my question was promptly answered. End conversation. About two minutes later, I got a notification that I had a new email. The chat conversation I had with the online representative had been emailed to me for my reference. I thought this was an excellent feature. I don't recall seeing this as a service offered by the big online retailers such as Amazon.
Finally, I was approaching the minimum required purchase amount to qualify for free shipping. I needed to add one more thing to my shopping cart though, and decided to go for something simple, yet a bit outside of your typical black. I found the Panel Embroidered Abaya. The name is a tad generic, and if you do a search on their website by it, you'll end up with five different hits. I liked the lighter color and thought it might be nice for summer. I also thought the hijab was fabulous (even though the model is wearing it in a not-so-cute style). So with this, I completed my order, and crossed the line to qualify for free shipping, by a mere $4. Not bad if you ask me.
Now here comes the tough part: Sizing. You'd think there wouldn't be much to consider size-wise when abaya shopping. The site provides a very detailed size chart and several "warnings" if you will, about carefully selecting your size. You're to go by your chest size. Well, I'm a pear, so I was nervous. I spent a bunch of time fooling around with a tape measure, checking my current abaya, my jeans, wrapping a scarf around my hips then measuring that. I was nervous. I noted that in many of the photos, the abayas worn by the models appear to have a more fitted look. I was afraid that I was one wrong measurement away from looking like a stuffed sausage. I decided that I'd better play it safe and order one size larger then the chart recommended, thinking I could always have it altered. Now onto the height portion of the measurement. I always thought I was 5'9" tall. Several years ago, when going for a fitting for a bridesmaid dress, I was told, I was in fact 5'8". An inch might not sound like much but when you're ordering stuff like this, you don't want to go wrong. The abaya style dictates that the hem hits the floor. While I feel my current abaya, seems to be long enough, whenever I see photos of myself in it, it always looks too short. So I paid an extra $3.90 per piece to have another 2 inches added to the length, making it a size for a 5'10 inch person. Again, my thought was that I could have it altered. You can always take away fabric, but you can never add to it, know what I'm sayin'?
My order was now complete. As we often have trouble getting things delivered here in India, I provided "special instructions" to let me know if they have faced any problems shipping to India previously, so that I could provide an address in the US as an alternate. After completing my order, I realized they were located in Delhi. Talk about not doing your research.
That was Tuesday April 2nd. Per their website, they request 5 days for processing. If you have some extra special requirement related to your order that will result in processing time taking more than 5 days, they promise to contact you. Shipping, they state, should take approximately 15 days. I was hopeful, that since they were located in India, the turn around time might be a tad less.
Today, just 9 days later, I received my order. I got a call from the courier asking me to come to their office as the box had split open during shipping, so they wouldn't be able to deliver it to my home. I swiftly went down and picked up my package, hoping nothing was missing. When I arrived home, I found the items to be very nicely packaged. Thankfully nothing had fallen out of the box. Queue the fashion parade.
My fears of looking like a sausage were replaced with the reality of looking like I was wearing a sleeping bag. Clearly I should have followed their size chart. The amount I spent in having extra length added, will be once again spent having the extra length removed. Once that's done, I'll decide if I want to have any darts put in to give it a tad bit of shape. I know the purpose is for it to be loose fitting and rather shapeless, but the extra large size I ordered to accommodate my hips, is not required on the top half of the dress.
The quality of all of the pieces is excellent. The site brags that most of their items are hand crafted, whether it be hand loomed, hand embroidered, or fully hand stitched. The colors are exactly as presented on the website. I was really pleased to find that the arm length on the dresses meets my needs, seeing as I come from a knuckle dragging tribe of long armed neanderthals. I hated the idea of having the items altered because they were so perfect just the way they came, other then being a bit larger then I would have preferred, but again, that's my fault.
Just out of curiosity, I jumped on their not-frequently-updated blog located here and I posed a question regarding whether the abayas worn by the models were altered or pinned in any way to provide a more form fitted look. I'm not upset about it, and I have no intentions of returning my purchases, but I was just curious. After posting, I received a message that my comment was "under consideration by the blog administrators." An hour later my phone rang. It was one of said administrators who told me he had reviewed my comment and thought it best to call me rather than reply on the site. He confirmed that for the sake of pictures, the dresses were altered and that it's best to follow the size chart in all cases. He asked me if I wanted to return my order in exchange for something in a different size or for a refund. I informed him I was happy with the products overall and would take them for alterations rather than returning them. I was pretty impressed with such a response in such a short amount of time. Their customer service whether it be over their live chat or phone is excellent. That just enhances the excellent selection and quality of their products.
Finally, I should add that in addition to my rather large order, they included a free gift. Always a sucker for the free gift, I was excited to find a medium sized coin purse included. I thought that was a really nice surprise.
I would highly recommend everyone checking out the site. Even if abayas and prayer rugs aren't your thing, they have a nice selection of handbags, shoes, tunics, and skirts and the prices are pretty reasonable. I have a lot more still on my wish list so if you're interested in ordering anything, please send me your email address as I'll qualify for $20 off my next purchase (which is a standard offer on their site and in no way related to this post) and I'm sure they'll be an added bonus for you too!

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