The Rise of Modest Fashion in the West

Modest Fashion, A Thing of the Future? 

Growing up as a ‘traditionally submissiveMuslim woman in the UK, I was constantly bombarded with Western fashion lines that didn’t cater to my religious needs. This lead to an over expenditure in different items of clothing pieced together to make a fully-covered and loose wardrobe. Far from being the minimalist Muslim, my love of fashion and not being able to find something suitable lead to piles of clothes that didn’t really get used.

Sufficed to say, I wasn’t the only one who noticed that there was a blaring gap in the fashion market.

The Modest Fashion Movement 

Summer AlBarcha giving influence to Muslim women on modesty
Summer AlBarcha giving influence to Muslim women on modesty

A collaboration of Muslim instagrammers and vloggers – ranging from a background of fashion design, make-up artistry and in some cases, hijab styling – vented their frustration about the lack of diversity of fashion in the West.

To help young Muslim women like myself, some created Instagram profiles posting images of modest ensembles, while others recorded ‘how to make your own‘ videos; videos explaining how to make and create your own modest attire as an attempt to ease the fashion-lovers frustration in not being able to find outfits from mainstream retail shops.

Other Muslim women – similar to the creators of the modest line ‘Aab‘ –  developed clothing lines exclusively based on modest fashion, aiming them to Muslim women in the West.

The collaboration of both Muslim designers and social media users sparked a movement in current fashion trends, helping in further shifting the ideologies of what is viewed as the latest fashion.

19-year-old Summer Albarcha shared her own photographs of modest outfits over Instagram and quickly built up a fan base. Starting in the year 2012, she now has over 200,000 followers that are regularly influenced by clothing from mainstream and high-street fashion brands that she has pieced together.

Speaking to Business of Fashion, she shared her opinion about modest fashion. “I really think religious dressing doesn’t have to look backwards or uniform,  everyone has a different conception of what modesty is to them”.

 A Profitable Renaissance 

With a sudden interest in modest clothing by mainstream fashion lines, added to the list of Muslim instagrammers and vloggers that have made modest fashion current, it wasn’t until the numbers started to show about how big this industry really is.

Figures show that by 2019, the Muslim fashion industry will gross up to £327 billion. The amount Muslim women spend on clothes says much more about an existing gap in the market that is now slowly being saturated by mainstream designers who recognize that there is a need for modest fashion.

The modest fashion market – currently estimated to be worth £96 billion – is now being represented in western clothing lines across the mainstream fashion spectrum.

Untitled 3This means that high-street fashion brands like Pret-A-Porter and D&G are releasing modest fashion wear in order to profit from a billion pound market between other modest fashion designers. Others are now following suit after realising that they are missing out on earning from a Muslim community that is so eager in spending.

Shelina Janmohamed – who is the vice president of and Islamic branding practice Ogilvy Noor – said to the Business of Fashion that “there are varying estimates of the Muslim population, but what we use is 1.8 billion, of which about 43 percent, so just shy of 800 million, are under 25”.

“Not only do you have more Muslims to target, but they are increasing in numbers faster and they are young. And, contrary to a lot of expectations, they are interested in brands and they are interested in asserting some kind of individuality through what they purchase”.

Breaking and Making Ideology Through Fashion 

As fashion is now being influenced by a religion of modesty, the Muslim vloggers who helped push this modest fashion movement are also aware that they are portraying themselves as representatives of Muslim women.

These women have empowered other Muslims to be brave enough to say that they fully practice the faith of Islam, observe the head-covering while admitting that they have a love for fashion.

In doing so, they have broken the ideology of the Muslim woman who -according to the media – has no say in what she wears and in the religion itself.

Though these women are coming under constant scrutiny – both my Muslims and by non-Muslims through islamophobic attacks – are increasingly being noticed in within the fashion world.

These women – who are centered around fashion – are doing much more for the community than some may realise.

Apart from releasing their own fashion lines to the public and having an influence over western shops to release modest clothes to cater to the Muslim market, they have been able to break ideologies created by the media. They have supplied the public with another opinion on what Muslim women really stand for.

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Becoming a Muslim Vlogger; The Likes and Threats

As the world opens up to modest fashion and Islamic clothing, no one is pushing the agenda of this upcoming and covered way of dress more than young Muslim Vloggers who with every subscriber are becoming increasingly well-known.

The positive response from the public of these women has been overwhelming, and has in turn helped these young women on their way to becoming entrepreneurs of their own businesses. Some – after being endorsed by fashion labels and make-up brands – have been able to explore their own taste in fashion by designing and releasing their own brands to the public. They have been able to take full advantage of social media by using different platforms as free marketing tools whilst their brands grow.

However, as these Muslim vloggers climb to fame over the internet, they also open up their own worlds up to a string of hate comments, public scrutiny and even cyber-bullying.

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A taster of what is to come from Dina Tokio’s online fashion store

One of the first women to start her own YouTube channel was Dina Tokio. Now married and mum of one, she began her online career by putting together regular and everyday outfits for Muslim women. She has now launched her own jewellery line and is set to open her own online clothing brand.

Now with almost 400,000 subscribers on YouTube, she regularly blogs about fashion, make-up. She has lately taken to blogging about motherhood; a topic which has reached out to a completely new market among Muslim women.

She also appeared in BBC Three documentaries My Hijab and Me and Muslim Beauty Pageant and Me.

During one of her documentaries, she opens up about how the community are always posting hate comments on her social media. “And the sad thing is, they’re all from Muslims”.

Dina – who recently hit back at the hate comments she received – used YouTube to name and shame some of the people who left her these comments on social media.

In the video, Dina and her husband address someone who left a hate comment about their daughter of six months. “People wonder why I don’t wanna put pictures of Hana on the internet, ‘cus you get psychos like that. I don’t even have anything to say to that”.

Akeedah AlKauther, professional Make-Up Artist and Vlogger from Manchester, opened up about criticism from the public.

She speaks of how she regularly comes under scrutiny from the Muslim community for “wearing make-up and being too open” in-front of the camera.

“I think there is a line that needs to be drawn, but everyone’s different. What I think is okay in Islam is probably not okay for someone else. You definitely have to be strong enough to deal with hate comments if vlogging is something you want to pursue”.

Akeedah has been vlogging now for a year, and is “fairly new to it” yet speaks of the harsh reality of how some – mainly her friends and family – think it is sinful in Islam for a woman to wear make-up and show herself to the public via social media.

MumMillion, Make-Up Artist and Blogger also opened up about hate comments she has received over Instagram. “Unfortunately the comments I’ve received have been from an Islamic Reminders Account”.

Make-Up Artist MumMillion, and her daughter LookAMillion
Make-Up Artist MumMillion, and her daughter LookAMillion

“What’s particularly sad is that it’s from fellow Muslims who think I shouldn’t be on social media and that I’m sinning. Some comments have mentioned my daughter and how much of a bad role model I am to her”.

Nasar Ishfaq, Imam and Islamic teacher from Manchester, voiced his views on cyber-bullying towards Muslim women.

“Muslim vloggers are taking part at the infant stage of developing a Muslim narrative that comes from the Western Muslim community itself. What the outside world is seeing and reading from these comments on social media – both positive and negative – reflect the diverse opinion base of the Muslim public”.

“The division between young and old is not so decisive but what is behind both for and against comments is the varying ideologies, cultures, traditions and theologies of the British Muslim Community”.

He also gave insight into what Islam says about abuse.

“Much of the abuse is personal yet fronted by an ‘Islamic perspective’. However what commenters fail to realise is that personal attack and abuse by inflicting both verbal and physical harm and attacking the dignity of another person is strictly prohibited by the Prophet Muhammed“.

Mr Ishfaq – who regularly speaks out about women in Islam – talks about scholarly opinions of the Islamic dress for Muslim women in Islam.

“The scholarly Muslim community has always taken the approach that female expressions of beauty – whether through make-up and clothing – is discouraged and in some instances prohibited such as exposing of anything other than the face and the hands and the feet”.

“They also explained the principles such as the clothe should not express the bodily figure of a person and should not be transparent such that their skin can be seen through it”.

“Whilst this is the dominant scholarly view based upon the sacred texts of the Quran and the Hadith (statements of the Prophet Muhammed), a minority of contemporary Muslim scholars feel that cultural norms should be allowed to define aspects of what is considered modest in make-up and clothing styles, yet they still maintain that the rule of the head-scarf extending to cover the chest area should still be adhered to”.

The difficulty in wearing the hijab in the west are often well-known among the young Muslim woman who wears it out in public. In a society that already views hijab as the cloth of oppression, the hijabi vlogger is now coming on camera to break these stereotypes constructed by the Western media by portraying themselves as women who are in charge of themselves, businesses and house-holds.

The same Muslim women are increasingly putting themselves on the front-line to a Western public in order to answer some basic questions about the headscarf and the religion itself.

As the Western and multi-cultural society in the UK accepts this movement from Muslim women, they are then being degraded by fellow Muslims who feel it is their responsibility to tell women what to wear and how to behave.

Dina told the BBC “for some reason, I get a lot of hate and girls like me will because we look ‘too good’, so you want me to look like crap so that everyone can go ‘ew’, and then you’ll be happy will you? That makes no sense”

“Everything that I do in my life and share online, I like to think helps to change the perspective of what the mainstream media thinks Muslim women are like, when in fact its pretty simple, we’re awesome”.

Aab: How a Modest Fashion Line is Breaking into the Mainstream Market

For Muslim women living in the west, buying fashionable clothes to fit their religious needs has always been difficult to do. Staying with the latest fashion trend has meant spending more on separate items of clothing in order to look good and be covered at the same time.

Realising that there was a gap in the market, owners of the modest fashion label ‘Aab‘ saw a niche in the market and began designing clothes for “women who love fashion but want to wear it in a modest manner”.

The designers of the brand – who want to remain anonymous to not be identified with the brandwanted to create “an alternative” to what was already being sold in the mainstream market.

“Aab was born out of a desire to create high-end quality garments taking inspiration from current catwalk trends and incorporating these trends into a collection”.

The clothing line has now become an alternative not only to mainstream fashion, but a change from the traditional long black dress worn by women in many Muslim countries.

“We believed in ourselves and what we set out to do, and were confident that the need for this product would get credibility and acceptance”.

Speaking on how much influence the religion of Islam has had on their clothing line, they stated that “modesty is a key element of our religion and we try to provide modest clothing catering for the Muslim and non-Muslim market”.

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Aab’s retail store at The Broadway, Bradford

After a successful first opening of their retail store in London in March 2015, the brand was approached by mainstream shopping centre Westfield, who asked them to open a second store at their latest project mall The Broadway. Not long after the opening of their first store did they open up the second store in December 2015 at The Broadway, which catered to the wider Muslim-populated area of Bradford.

Muslim women of all ages flocked to the second store opening from all over the UK. The brand also took the opportunity to launch their own jewellery line along with new season wardrobes. Before the opening of store, the fashion line itself branched out into separate collections which included work-wear, occasion pieces and vacation outfits. Since then, the store has been receiving mainstream recognition as a mainstream modest fashion brand.

Realising the potential amount to gain, mainstream high-fashion brands have now started creating ‘Muslim friendly’ attire for the practicing women who wants to keep themselves covered. Designer labels such as D&G and Tommy Hilfiger have all created clothes for the Muslim market, and H&M – realising the potential in the market – used a Muslim model for one of their advert campaigns to better reach out to the Muslim market.

LookaMillion – famous Vlogger and Make-up Artist- was invited to attend the store opening at the Broadway commented that the clothing is “very current” and “very in with modern-day-wear”. The YouTuber – who is very well known to Muslim women – was asked to do live hijab-tutorials at the store for the attendees.

“I came today with two other vloggers, Nabiilabee and HijabHills to represent the brand as a brand ambassador and just came to meet and greet the guests of the event and socialise”.

Israr Ahmed, the Retail Director for Aab – also explained the team’s ambitions.

Israr said they wanted to make the brand feel more mainstream. “We decided against putting a hijab on our model for Aab and using these photographs to go up in the store”.

The Aab team also decided against putting hijabs on the mannequins in the shop window.

“We’ve opened a shop in a mainstream shopping centre and instead of just aiming for Muslim women, we are aiming toward all women who are looking for an alternative in the latest fashion trends”.

The store was recently contacted by Dubai Mall based in the United Arab Emirates and was asked to open up their first store in the mall. Both owners of the brand stated that “this is a period of extensive growth, and we aim to have more of an international presence and look forward to rolling this out”.