Many fashion companies and global brands have come into the firing line recently for using the hijab in their advertising campaigns.
Fashion brands like Dolce and Gabanna are jumping into what’s known as the ‘modest fashion’ market by introducing collections centred around the hijab, a head-covering worn by some Muslim women and abaya, a loose fitting robe often worn over clothing by Muslim women.
Modest fashion or modest wear is a term for fashion that complies with Islamic interpretations of modesty and ethics in design, production, and presentation. This generally means loose clothing which covers the body but uses colour, print and luxurious fabrics as forms of expression.
Some see it as empowerment: giving choice to women who previously had so little. Others criticise fashion houses and sportswear brands for allegedly commercialising a religion and exploiting the Muslim faith.
Not only are they promoting oppression as a fashion trend but they are exploiting a religion while doing it. https://t.co/8tpDhDvNCD
— 🇺🇸BonnieBlue🗽 (@ValkerBonnie) May 4, 2017
— Jane Doe (@Angery_Consumer) May 5, 2017
— Zaman Barobi🇧🇩 (@ZamanBarobi) May 5, 2017
— Simple Girls Store (@SimpleGRetail) May 1, 2017
Roda Abdi, 30, a designer of modest fashion from Nottingham, says ‘modest fashion’ is an opportunity to show that wearing a hijab is a choice.
“A woman should be able to decide what she wants to wear and how she wants to dress. I think that is the message we’re trying to show, that it’s empowering,” she says.
Abdi’s brand, Amirab, aims to give women a means to express themselves through clothes without compromising their beliefs. It offers high quality and lasting clothing that is both stylish and glamorous.
She says: “As a Muslim woman you have to cover your body, we can’t wear anything tight, sheer or that shows too much skin. Modest fashion allows us to look stylish and modern while being covered.”
Abdi, who has lived in Nottingham for 12 years, found shopping on the British high street challenging. Clothing didn’t always cover her body appropriately while it was difficult to find things to wear for all four seasons. She started her brand so that she could wear clothing that made her feel confident, rather than with the idea of exploiting her faith, she says.
“I decided to start Amirab when I struggled to find the clothes I wanted to wear to work. I worked five days a week and wanted to wear something stylish.”
And it appears she’s not alone. According to the Global Islamic Economy report, the modest fashion market is expected to be worth £226 billion by 2020. Unsurprising, then, that mainstream fashion houses wanted to capitalise on this gap in the market.
Of course, modest fashion is not only for Muslim women; many Christians and women of other faiths prefer to dress conservatively, rather than in the revealing and provocative fashion trends popular in western society .
With brands such as H&M, DKNY and Nike all creating modest ranges, combining western trends with conservative dressing, and Debenhams now stocking modest ranges, modest fashion has quickly become a huge part of the industry.
Such a radical entry into the market has led to events like February 2017’s Modest Fashion Week, helping to propel designers like Abdi on to the world stage.
“Modest fashion week was a platform that gave a huge opportunity for Muslim designers to showcase their designs,” says Abdi. “It was a great experience and got a lot of media attention which gave us an opportunity to show off what we create.”
The rise of this new set of Muslim fashionistas has been attributed to social media. Muslim fashion and beauty bloggers have an enormous following and are becoming a staple of many Instagram feeds. Influencers such as vlogger NabiilaBee add creativity into their fashion choices and are helping to give women the confidence to express themselves.
Abdi says: “Social media has been a real drive because young girls see bloggers and recognise that they want to dress stylishly but keep their modesty as well. Before social media many didn’t realise they could do both.”
Another advantage of bloggers is that they show the different interpretations of the idea of modesty: some women won’t wear trousers, some avoid bright colours and others believe modesty is more about how you carry yourself.
Bloggers, too, have been criticised for trivialising their faith, yet they are inspiring their millions of followers to have more confidence in themselves, and more fun with fashion.
Whether the commercialisation of the hijab is seen as exploitation or endorsing diversity, it is likely to become a more prominent feature of both designer and high-street collections.
It’s a positive step, says Abdi.
“This is the time for modest fashion to be seen on the high street.”