Written by root. Posted in FEATURES


Published on April 28, 2016 with No Comments

Modesty goes mainstream.


Fashion for the faithful. Clothes for the conservative. However way you see it, there is no denying that modest fashion has entered the mainstream. Where bare skin and barely-there-outfits once ruled the runways, today high necklines and long hemlines are hogging the headlines.

Early this year, Italian fashion house Dolce and Gabbana unveiled a capsule collection targeted at the lucrative Gulf market. It included hijabs and abayas; the latter’s loose silhouette a far cry from the usual figure-hugging and skin-baring styles that often grace Hollywood’s red carpet. UNIQLO, the Japanese clothing company, once again collaborated with UK-born Muslim blogger Hana Tajima after last year’s successful modest wear campaign. Its S/S 2016 collection features kebayas, long dresses and moisture-wicking inner hijabs. Other brands, such as H&M (who featured hijab-wearing Maria Hidrissi in its ad campaign video), DKNY and Tommy Hilfiger have all jumped on the modest wear bandwagon, signalling the beginning of a serious shift towards covered-up chic. In the high end of the designer pool, pieces from the Olsen twins’ luxe brand, The Row, and the current layering trends of long over long – cue Yohji Yamamoto – show that modesty is in vogue.

What is fuelling the demand for modest fashion wear is perhaps the market and influence of largely young, confident
Muslims globally. Ogilvy Noor, an Islamic marketing agency, estimated there are nearly 800 million Muslims younger than 25. Briefly, that’s a lot of spending power. Meanwhile, the Muslim fashion industry is estimated to be worth US$230bn according to the 2015-2016 State of the Global Islamic Economy Report. By 2019, that industry is projected to grow to US$327bn. While the numbers do not indicate actual Islamic fashion spending, there are suggestions that modest fashion wear is the key driver to the market.

Yet, the market for modest fashion has gone largely untapped.

Anas Sillwood, founder of the e-commerce site Shukr, says, “Prior to 2015 the main players in the industry were mainly just small, local businesses. 2015 was the year that saw modest fashion go more mainstream and there has been a lot of press about it, and mainstream companies have started to produce for this market.”

While brands like the aforementioned DKNY, Mango and Zara offered their collection exclusively for the Middle Eastern market and only in Ramadhan, Sillwood, who describes most of Shukr’s styles as “contemporary casuals that allow Muslims living in the West to comfortably fit into society without seeming like cultural misfits”, offers clothing choices all year round. Elegant gowns in delicate embroideries, tasteful abayas in eco-friendly Tencel and linen, and various tops and dresses made from forward-thinking blends such as cotton and bamboo all appeal to those seeking to balance faith and fashion.

Zeti Abu Talib operates a modest fashion online business in Malaysia through her brand, Radyaa. She says, “Previously, the market targeted Muslims aged 45 and above. There was limited choice for the younger generation who, while they are aware of the need to dress according to their faith, also wanted a more modern and stylish look.”

But to pigeonhole modest fashion as exclusively Muslim-specific would be an injustice to the industry. Modest fashion is inclusive, appeals to more than just Muslims and reaches beyond the faithful core. The sensibility and practicality of the clothes cuts across categories and defies classification, regardless of whether a person is dressing for faith or genuinely prefers conservative and modest dress. Perhaps not surprisingly, Sillwood says that 10 percent of Shukr sales actually come from orthodox Christians and Jews.

“The trend of wearing less and less and having a Kardashian be a role model for my daughter is not an ideal scenario for me,” says Nazatul Abdullah, a longtime admirer of Shukr fashion. “Modest fashion empowers young women to feel good and be true to themselves. They can forge their own identity and be the best they can be without worrying about being sexualised and without trading on sex appeal. You know that you got somewhere because of your own merits and not your physical attributes.” And, in a world where fashion can be both cold and cruel, modest wear provides a return to authenticity and fulfillment.

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