Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 3rd 2017 Contents A24 life
guardian.co.tt Saturday, June 3, 2017
When Ruba Zai uploaded her
first video online, the Nether-
lands-based Afghan student just
wanted to share with other Mus-
lim girls and women how she styled
her headscarf. She had no idea that
her "hijab tutorials" would be an
internet hit, watched by hundreds
of thousands worldwide.
The 23-year-old now blogs full-time,
sharing ideas for how to look trendy
yet covered-up with a million Insta-
gram followers. Zai had tapped into
a fast-growing market for so-called
"modest fashion," fuelled by young,
style-savvy Muslim women from Lon-
don to Malaysia who have long felt their
needs ignored by mainstream designers.
"I just couldn't relate at all to the
clothes you see in the mainstream
brands," she said from her home in
"When we first started talking about
our style on social media, there was
no interest in the fashion world in this
group of people: 'They're just Muslims,
why should we target them?'"
Big brands have been waking up to
that call, and covered-up chic is a niche
that's slowly making its way into main-
stream fashion. From exclusive design-
ers to fast-fashion chains, retailers are
trying to court millions of Muslim con-
sumers---especially around the month
of Ramadan, which started last week,
when many Muslims buy new clothes
and dress up. In 2014, US fashion house
DKNY was one of the first Western
brands to launch a Ramadan collection
aimed at wealthy Arab shoppers.
Since then several others have fol-
lowed suit. Dolce&Gabbana has been
selling a luxury collection of abayas---
long, loose robe-like dresses---and
matching headscarves since 2016 in
the Middle East, Paris and London. At
the more affordable end of the market,
Spanish chain Mango is also promoting
a Ramadan collection of tunics, kaftans
and maxi dresses for the second year.
Earlier this year Nike became the first
major brand to launch a "pro hijab," a
headscarf made in high-tech fabrics
aimed at female Muslim athletes. Even
Marks and Spencer, that stalwart British
department store known for cardigans
and practical shoes, launched a burki-
ni---a full-body swimsuit---last summer.
But perhaps the most visible sign yet
that mainstream fashion is embracing
the Muslim market was when design
houses Max Mara and Alberta Ferretti
starred hijab-wearing Somali-American
model Halima Aden on their catwalks
for Milan Fashion Week, one of the in-
dustry's most prestigious events.
"Mainstream fashion is now talking
about modest fashion as a thing. Ten
years ago, if you were a brand coming
from a religious background and tried to
sell it in a department store, calling it a
modest or Muslim brand would be a kiss
of death," said Reina Lewis, a professor
at the London College of Fashion who
has written two books about the topic.
While the majority of those inter-
ested in covered-up fashion are young,
cosmopolitan Muslim women, "the
term 'modesty' emerged in the niche
market as a useful one because it's not
faith-specific," Lewis added.
Nazmin Alim, a designer who found-
ed London-based modest fashion brand
Aab a decade ago, says she used to have
to buy fabric herself and visit a tailor to
get smart work wear that still adhered
to her faith's modesty edicts.
"Long skirts may have a slit, tops may
be sleeveless," she said.
"We understood then that, do you
know what? The people who wanted
this kind of clothing, they are hungry
This month, Alim's collection of
trendy jumpsuits, kimonos and knee-
length hoodies---as well as more tradi-
tional abayas and headscarves---is being
sold at Debenhams, a British depart-
ment store that says it's the first of its
competitors to add hijabs to its aisles.
The fashion industry's attempts at
carving a corner of this market ha-
ven't been without criticism, espe-
cially in France, where the banning of
headscarves and burkinis amid racial
tensions and security fears have fuelled
a heated debate.
Laurence Rossignol, the former
French minister for families, children
and women, was reported saying last
year that major brands that promote
Islamic dress were "irresponsible" and
that such garments "promote the con-
finement of women's bodies."
Zai and Alim maintain, however, that
for women like them, it's all about re-
specting individual choice.
"We all make choices---some people
like to wear gothic, some people like
what we're offering," Alim said.
"I don't see why anyone's style should
be singled out."
"I try to stay away from the political
debate," said Zai, who said she decided
to cover her head three years ago after a
period of religious reflection.
"I don't think a group of men---the
people you see (in government) are all
these old men---can tell people what's
allowed, what's not allowed. They're
saying Muslim women are oppressed,
but they're doing the same." (AP)
Some of the clothing available at the aab boutiq
store in Upton Park in London. AP PHOTO
Big brands waking up to modest fashion
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