Muslim Fashion Goes Mainstream – From Black Burqas to Flowery Hijabs

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Black burqas and burkinis, these are the stereotypes of Muslim fashion. Even a few years ago, it would have been unimaginable to see hijabs taking over runways.

However, at New York Fashion Week this September, Indonesian designer Anniesa Hasibuan made history by showing the first-ever collection featuring hijabs in every look.

In May, the first Modest Fashion Week was held in Istanbul, Turkey. The next Modest Fashion Week will be taking place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, this December.

Bringing it closer to home, the first-ever New England Muslim Festival was held in Malden on Sept. 25, featuring a station for visitors to try on a hijab.

“I feel people believe that being Muslim means you are limited in how you are allowed to express yourself, and that’s fundamentally untrue. Hair is just one way to express yourself, but you can express yourself in the way you cover it as well,” said sophomore Dana Dworkin, a member of the Fashion and Retail Society at Northeastern University.

According to the 2015-2016 State of the Global Islamic Economic Report, Muslim consumers spent approximately $230 billion on clothing in a year.

This spending is projected to grow to $327 billion by 2019, which is larger than the current clothing markets of the United Kingdom ($107 billion), Germany ($99 billion) and India ($96 billion) combined.

Graphic courtesy of Salaam Gateway.

Graphic courtesy of Salaam Gateway.

Most of the newer Muslim clothing stores are based online in order to reach people globally. One online store, SHUKR, sells women’s clothing ranging from $20 to $40 for a hijab and $140 to $230 for a gown.

“SHUKR’s products were initially aimed at meeting the needs of Muslim communities living in North America and in Europe where, especially after 9/11, there was a desperate need for contemporary Islamic clothing that was appropriate for Muslims living in the West,” managing partner Anas Sillwood stated in a company statement.

The clothing range was soon appreciated by members of other religious communities, including conservative Christians and Jews.

Haute Hijab, another online clothing store, features style guides, articles and tutorials in their blog.

Founder and CEO Melanie Elturk created the site in 2010 when there weren’t any hijabi icons for young Muslim women to look up to. She was inspired by hemlines and silhouettes from fashion icons such as Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly and Jacqueline Kennedy.

“This was never just about selling clothes and making money. I wanted to be a part of the solution for girls who are struggling to reconcile their identities,” Elturk said. “I didn’t have any Muslim role models to look up to. There are now so many and I want to put those girls in the spotlight.”

Founder and CEO of Haute Hijab Melanie Elturk combines pumps from JustFab with J.Crew boyfriend jeans, creating a Western, yet conservative, look. Photo courtesy of Haute Hijab.

Founder and CEO of Haute Hijab Melanie Elturk combines pumps from JustFab with J.Crew boyfriend jeans, creating a Western, yet conservative, look. Photo courtesy of Haute Hijab.

A number of Western companies have recently introduced Muslim clothing lines, including Zara, DKNY and Dolce and Gabbana.

To support this trend, the Islamic Fashion and Design Council is working with these companies to form a Pret-A-Cover department that specializes in selling Muslim clothing within these stores.

Founded by Alia Khan just under two years ago, the IFDC has nine offices worldwide and a strong media presence with their YouTube account called Modest Channel.

“What’s nice about modest fashion is that there is no such lingo as trends,” Khan said. “It can be very liberating for the designers.”

This growth in modest fashion isn’t limited to women. Khan sees men’s fashion as the natural next step, especially as women do most of the shopping in these conservative cultures. Khan doesn’t expect the recent terrorist attacks and rising global xenophobia to slow down growth.

“I don’t think anyone knows xenophobia more than the French—banning this and that,” Khan said. “At the end of the day, with the burkini, sales soared. On the whole, people are good and will support each other. The lesson we can say is be who you are, be committed to who you are, and as long as you know that is the truth you have nothing to be afraid of.”

Chairwoman of the Islamic Fashion and Design Council Alia Khan discusses the launch of Cover Magazine at a luncheon in Dubai. Photo courtesy of IFDC.

Chairwoman of the Islamic Fashion and Design Council Alia Khan discusses the launch of Cover Magazine at a luncheon in Dubai. Photo courtesy of IFDC.

This lack of deterrence due to xenophobia is something Frances McSherry, a Northeastern professor and professional costume designer who has developed garments for the New York City Opera and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, agrees with.

“This trend is not based on a whim,” McSherry said. “I think with the burkini, it was all reactionary. With familiarity, there will be less of a deal about foreign ideas.”

Not everyone agrees that there should be a Muslim fashion industry at all. According to the New York Times, a small group of conservative Muslims protested during Modest Fashion Show in Istanbul. One man lamented that God’s instructions had become “a tool for the immorality called fashion.”

Shelina Janmohamed, author of “Love In A Headscarf,” said to the Telegraph that hijabs are worn for religious reasons and that these should not be forgotten.

“Today’s fashion industry is about consumerism and objectification—buy, buy, buy and be judged by what you wear,” Janmohamed said. “Muslim fashion is teetering between asserting a Muslim woman’s right to be beautiful and well-turned out, and buying more stuff than you need, and being judged by your clothes—both of which are the opposite of Islamic values.”

In addition, the trend hasn’t reached every tier of the fashion sector yet. At College Fashion Week, hosted by Her Campus on Sept. 24 at the Revere Hotel in Boston, T-shirts, flowery dresses and hats were all the rage, but Muslim attire was nowhere to be seen.

That being said, some designers at the event were beginning to reach out to a new demographic.

CEO and founder of My Social Canvas, a New York-based social enterprise fashion brand, Lisa Mayer recently partnered with Art of Hope to support Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Artwork made by the refugees, such as drawings, paintings and letters, are incorporated into merchandise to be sold in the U.S.

“At the end of the day, we’re looking at exciting things ahead,” Khan said. “I encourage students to look more into the Islamic economy and the benefits and values based in this way of life.”

Photo credit: AP/Lefteris Pitarakis

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