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Designers embrace untapped Islamic fashion market

In January of this year, Dolce & Gabbana launched a collection of hijabs and abayas in the label’s signature style. The bold move is part of a growing global trend in the commercialisation of Islamic fashion.

Fast fashion companies, Uniqlo and H&M, have also featured hijab-wearing models in their advertising campaigns in 2015. Online retailers, Net-a-Porter and Moda Operandi, have created “Ramadan Edits” featuring “modest fashion”.

At home, the industry trend is being welcomed with open arms within the Australian community. Wiwid Howat, an Australian Muslim fashion blogger, is excited by the opportunities presented by  this fashion trend.

“I really admire the campaign and glad it’s finally happening! A well-respected brand like Dolce & Gabbana made a collection of hijabs and, as a Muslim woman who wears a headscarf, I am really proud.

“Sometimes I find that people forget that Muslims can also wear jeans and t-shirts from Zara, Urban Outfitters and H&M. There is a misconception that Muslim women always go to the "Muslim store," which is funny but it also bothers me. I'm very proud that people are finally taking notice and I can't wait to see other brands like Chanel and Balmain launching similar collections.”

Forbes magazine reported that Muslim women were the next big untapped fashion market and estimated it will be worth $484 billion by 2019. In light of this potential, it’s no wonder brands continue to cater for the Muslim female consumer.

“The largest sector within the modest fashion is not ‘Muslim countries,’ it is actually Muslims living in Western countries, the first being Turkey."

– Hija Stylist, Zulfiye Tufa

Many of these collections are not yet available to customers in Western countries, with the major markets for “modest fashion” being the Middle East and Asia. But Australian bloggers and Instagrammers are taking things into their own hands, creating their own “modest fashion” styles and even creating their own Muslim fashion brands.

Sydney-based Zulfiye Tufa is known as The Hijab Stylist. She is excited by the trend but is also wary of buying into crass commercialism.

“The largest sector within the modest fashion is not ‘Muslim countries,’ it is actually Muslims living in Western countries, the first being Turkey.

“So we definitely are a large untapped market and I think that if designers cater to us, it’s great but I do worry about the ramifications of exploiting a certain group of people or a certain religious attire to bring in money because then you lose sight of why we wear a scarf and possibly even change the culture that surrounds the hijab and what it is meant to be. To lose the soul of it would be really disappointing.”

Tufa is concerned there may be a cultural cost associated with the global rise of Islamic fashion.., with designers exploiting the trend for profit at the expense of the cultural and religious aspects of the hijab and abaya. She thinks this could be a problem in the future, but for now the Muslim community is embracing the trend.

“I think Muslims being fashionable and adopting a fashion twist hasn’t been viewed negatively by the community. I’m doing that myself and I’m finding that I get a lot of support from the community. It’s only when you cross the boundaries and the hijab becomes something sexual which is inappropriate and that’s what people have issues with.”

Writer Randa Abdel-Fattah said there are no rules for how Muslim women should dress.

“There is this idea that there is a uniform way to dress as a Muslim woman. But religious dress has been interpreted in various ways, based on context, and in a way that assumes the richness and diversity of cultural expression. So you’ll find that the way Indonesian or Malaysian or Saudi Muslim women interpret veiling all differ. I think that you can’t see it in a cultural vacuum.”

With this in mind, it is no wonder Muslim fashion has been interpreted on many levels by designers globally. Dolce & Gabbana tends to opt for bright colours and prints.. “Ramadan Edits”, which is marketed on popular e-commerce platforms such as Net-a-Porter and Moda Operandi, simply offer a selection of styles in mainstream collections that suit modest needs, without having to design an entirely new collection.

Wherever the trend is heading, it is definitely one to watch for the new breed of Muslim fashionistas.

The Point

Leading designers embrace Islamic “modest fashion”

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