Modest Fashion: The Next Marketing Magnet?
For someone immersed in the Muslim community, modest attire is not a new phenomenon. My grandmother and many of her sisters run successful modest clothing businesses. They are tailors who possess more scarves than humanly possible. My mother herself designed and created her own hand-made abayas* for a long period of time. I even recall a period where she would complain that people were copying her style. Modest fashion was an unquestioned staple in my life and in lives of Muslim women around me, it was reclamation of our identity and connectivity — but more importantly, it was an entity we controlled and created.
While the older generation of Muslim women sought inspiration and produced garments for themselves, the new generation of young Muslim women turn to social media and fashion labels to accommodate their needs. Modest fashion became an easy demographic to capitalise upon considering the high demand not only from Muslim customers, but many other demographics jumping on the ‘modest fashion’ bandwagon that has dominated the current fashion zeitgeist.
I’m aware that I might have a sceptical or cynical undertone but that’s because I’m not truly convinced that the growth of modest fashion in the western world is synonymous with genuine acceptance of Muslim women’s ideals of liberation. The fashion world still operates in a larger capitalist one, seeking out niches and new demographics. It’s easy to feel that we are just the next profitable thing.
Speaking with more nuance, the growth of retailers that have finally begun stocking modest clothing have birthed a tighter competitive market for home-grown businesses, such as those of my grandmother’s sisters and similar companies created by and for Muslim women. Again, the benefit of being in a capitalist construct is that this will drive prices lower for Muslim consumers but not at the loss of local business owners.
On a more positive note, the rise of modest fashion has seen more Muslim fashion designers and entrepreneurs gaining a larger platform to produce clothing with a full understanding of the lived experience of Muslim women and their day-to-day activities. It has recalibrated the market from treating modest fashion as a mere money-making enterprise by placing Muslim women at the forefront of the change. This is notwithstanding the many times the hijab* has been exploited as a ‘controversial statement’ to grace the covers of magazines by individuals more interested in its bold marketability.
In all honesty, while I truly enjoy modest fashion, the styling and the variety of hijab choices, it is more than just fashion. It is representation, a reminder of my faith and a means of empowerment, and I desperately want the conversation to shift from what Muslim women wear to why Muslim women wear it. Discourse is more important than design, for me at least. If there are to be more retailers and companies seeking to embrace modest fashion it is important to distinguish the many different types of Muslims that exist, to hire consultants and to do research. If we’re really being honest, a richer understanding of your target market will probably lead to you having deeper pockets as well.
*abayas- a full-length, loose robe-like dress worn by some muslim women.
*hijab- a religious head-covering worn by some muslim women in public.