SEVERE WX : High Wind Warning View Alerts

Why mainstream brands are embracing modest fashion

For many years -- especially after the attacks in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001 -- the fashion industr...

Posted: Oct 3, 2018 10:25 AM
Updated: Oct 3, 2018 10:26 AM

For many years -- especially after the attacks in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001 -- the fashion industry was deeply averse to being publicly associated with Muslims, whether as designers, models, consumers or influencers. That Muslim clients from the newly rich petro-economies of the Gulf provided essential support to European couture houses from the middle of the last century was insider knowledge only.

But fast-forward to the second decade of the 21st century, and a connection to Muslims is seen as an asset.

Arts and entertainment

Belief, religion and spirituality

Business and industry sectors

Business, economy and trade

Demographic groups

Diversity

Fashion design

Fashion shows

Fashion Week

Islam

Marketing and advertising

Muslim people

Population and demographics

Religious groups

Societal issues

Society

Holidays and observances

Ramadan

Global fashion brands from luxury to high street have woken up to the Islamic calendar. Around the world, brands run fashion promotions for Ramadan and Eid -- the "new Christmas." In London, luxury retailers gear up for the "Harrods Hajj," a seasonal pre-Ramadan influx of affluent Gulf shoppers.

Sometimes, fashion brands create a capsule collection from their existing ranges (DKNY led with a Ramadan campaign in their Gulf stores in 2014, for instance). And a specialist fashion-industry infrastructure has also grown globally -- now Muslim designers of modest wear have opportunities to show their work at the proliferating number of modest fashion weeks and fairs around the world.

In the mainstream luxury sector, online portal Net-a-Porter forged ahead with an Eid edit in 2015. Last year, new Dubai-based modest e-retailer The Modist showed sufficient confidence in a Muslim market to persuade high-end designers, such as London-based Mary Katrantzou, to produce exclusive modest designs.

Fashion imagery has changed, too. A decade ago, some modest clothing brands and magazines avoided showing faces -- or the human form at all -- in deference to some interpretations of Islamic teaching. Now, Muslim models who wear the headscarf, or hijab, are starring in ad campaigns and on the catwalk -- from the viral H&M video featuring hijab-wearing Londoner Mariah Idrissi, to Somali American Halima Aden, who has walked for Max Mara and Kanye West's Yeezy.

Drive for diversity

But visible religious diversity isn't happening in a vacuum. It is part of the industry's belated wake-up to its lack of ethnic and racial diversity, as well as to body size and to gender and sexual identities. Now, religion is being melded into the mix.

Take cosmetics company CoverGirl, for example, which once paved the way on racial and sexual diversity with brand ambassadors from Queen Latifah to Ellen DeGeneres. It is a sign of the times that, in January 2017, the company appointed American hijabi beauty blogger Nura Afia. Sephora, too, has showed hijabis in cosmetics marketing for its Fall 2017 campaign. Given that Islam is not an ethnicity, the diversity of the Muslim population offers a double win for brands seeking to make visible their commitment to all forms of social diversity.

More Muslims are finding ways to break into the fashion industry, but established names are also being more "out" about their Muslim heritage. Supermodel sisters Gigi and Bella Hadid have associated themselves publicly with Islamic causes. Bella has openly identified herself as Muslim and spoken of their Palestinian father's encouragement that they should be proud of their dual heritage. Gigi, a "proud" Palestinian, has shared on social media her cultural participation in Muslim festivals such as Eid with her then-boyfriend, Zayn Malik.

The Hadid sisters have used their celebrity status and Muslim identity to speak out against the perceived anti-immigrant and anti-Islam rhetoric of Donald Trump's presidential campaign and the legislative efforts to curb immigration and travel from Muslim-majority countries. In making themselves visible as Muslims, the Hadids -- whose personal styling and professional modeling assignments do not associate them with modest dressing -- immediately widened the perception of what a Muslim woman looks like.

'Think halal, act local'

As niche modest brands cross over into the mainstream and as mainstream fashion and lifestyle sectors target Muslim consumers, it will be harder to reconcile community with competition. To date, the sector has been notable for an etiquette of respect and of collaboration in supporting others to foster modest fashion and its related values.

With "home-grown" designers from within the Muslim community now facing competition from global brands -- whether Dolce & Gabbana's abayas or Nike's Pro Hijab -- the competition is more marked as the stakes have become higher. A global modest fashion infrastructure of competing modest fashion weeks, fairs, and expos has grown out of what were once low-key, community-run gatherings.

This growth has created new opportunities in the fashion industry for Muslims and for those who understand Muslim cultures. The upward-spiraling estimates of Muslim spending on fashion and on modest fashion don't come out of nowhere: The transition from avoiding Muslim consumers to wooing them has been fostered by professional marketers who have identified Muslims as a global consumer segment.

In early 2018, British retailer Marks & Spencer (M&S) decided to include "modest outfits" as an online search category and received quite a few negative responses. When M&S had started to sell burkinis two years before, the controversy was about the garment. This time, the garments -- selected from existing lines -- were not the problem: it was the terminology.

Lots of women commenters welcomed longer sleeves or higher necklines (as suitable for occupation or age). Less welcome was the inference that other forms of dress -- and the women who wear them -- are immodest. As some guessed, it was search engine optimization rather than religious ideology that drove the decision: M&S confirmed that "'modest fashion' is an increasingly popular search term."

Transitioning from marketing kiss of death to valuable commercial category through the jangle of cash registers, the language of modesty is now fully monetized. But if mainstream fashion brands continue to chase Muslim consumers, as the market matures brands will need to listen to marketing experts who advise them to learn to "think halal, act local."

"Contemporary Muslim Fashions," published by Prestel, is available now. An exhibition of the same name, curated by the author, is showing at the de Young Museum in San Francisco until Jan. 6, 2019.

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 2988326

Reported Deaths: 33589
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles101466213848
San Bernardino2512131560
Riverside2394122517
San Diego2117872103
Orange2108132367
Santa Clara926251065
Kern84644565
Fresno81294932
Sacramento791221080
Alameda66583757
Ventura60368412
San Joaquin56642748
Contra Costa51573446
Stanislaus42337739
Tulare40655501
Monterey35418250
San Mateo31805294
San Francisco28853254
Imperial25140463
Solano24732105
Santa Barbara24149231
Sonoma23607234
Merced23492296
Kings19125133
Placer16995173
San Luis Obispo15466128
Madera13193130
Santa Cruz12026113
Marin11482153
Yolo10406131
Shasta9594117
Butte9359121
El Dorado757544
Sutter756077
Napa735639
Lassen509413
San Benito488243
Yuba481827
Tehama397142
Tuolumne330438
Nevada314473
Mendocino307631
Amador298629
Lake250428
Humboldt229424
Glenn189419
Colusa16919
Calaveras159623
Siskiyou140813
Mono10834
Inyo92429
Del Norte8532
Plumas5735
Modoc3793
Mariposa3444
Trinity3024
Alpine730
Sierra700
Unassigned00
Chico
Partly Cloudy
61° wxIcon
Hi: 71° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 61°
Oroville
Clear
61° wxIcon
Hi: 71° Lo: 60°
Feels Like: 61°
Chico
Clear
64° wxIcon
Hi: 66° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 64°
Red Bluff
Clear
66° wxIcon
Hi: 45° Lo: 28°
Feels Like: 66°
Red Bluff
Clear
66° wxIcon
Hi: 69° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 66°
Chico
Clear
64° wxIcon
Hi: 71° Lo: 61°
Feels Like: 64°
Very gusty winds, dry weather, and warm temperatures are ahead for your Martin Luther King Jr. Day today. We'll be very windy, but not as warm on Tuesday. Lighter winds, cooler temperatures, and the potential for wet weather will return in your extended forecast.
KHSL Severe
KHSL Radar
KHSL Temperatures

Community Events