Being a non-believer, I tend to tread lightly when discussing religious garments, in worries of offending anyone due to my lack of knowledge on the topic. Despite that, I will admit it saddens me that nowadays wearing garments and clothing that clearly identify one’s religion attracts a disproportionate backlash. Out of the variety of religious garments that adorn the bodies of men and women, hijabs, burkas and abayas often seem to be the most controversial. In spite of its prevalence amongst women, this type of apparel is usually not what comes to mind when western high fashion is of interest, although it should. Designers from the West that create the most luxurious and elegant collections should also cater to those from opposite ends of the world.
Not only would it diversify the fashion industry, but it would be beneficial for business as well. It’s no secret that Muslim women have been some of the most valuable customers to designer labels, as Fortune magazine had reported that in 2013, Muslims spent around $266 billion solely on attire, exceeding Japan and Italy combined. They predicted that the figure would amount to $484 billion by 2019. Also, back in 2011, Reuters stated that Arab women were believed to be the largest buyers of haute couture.
In 2016, Dolce and Gabbana used inclusiveness to their benefit, as they revealed a line of hijabs and abayas, in a successful attempt to cater to the Muslim market. To Muslim women with a taste for high fashion, this line evoked excitement as it maintained the style of every other Dolce and Gabbana collection, while preserving modesty. Although the Italian fashion house did adopt a more diverse view, and while a few other brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, DKNY, Oscar de la Renta, DKNY, Mango and Monique Lhuillier followed suit, many designer brands still remain blind to the Muslim market.
At New York fashion week in 2016, Muslim designer Anniesa Hasibuan made history as she adorned the tops of every model with a unique, luxury made hijab. Not only was the newcomer the first Indonesian designer to be invited to the event, but was also the first to present a collection of hijabs on the runway. Receiving a standing ovation for her success, Anniesa brought Islamic fashion into the mainstream. Her show was a huge leap forward in what is being known as the “modesty” movement in fashion.
As much as these designers have received praise for their diversity and inclusion, they have also received a great amount of criticism. Conservative Muslim groups claim that the hijabs and abayas designed by fashion designers are too modernized, and as a result are not Islamic enough. Dr. Eva Nisa, professor of Islamic studies at Victoria University, stated that the essence of Muslim dressing is to preserve modesty and decency. Nisa expressed the belief that Muslim women must dress in a way that does not attract attention from men. As a result of this, Muslim fashion designers are not always considered in a positive light, having believed to go against a kind of religious doctrine.
Although it is understandable as to why some may criticize high-end Islamic fashion, I do not believe that the reason holds a candle to bringing such diversity to the fashion industry that’s long overdue. Hijabs and abayas are not only religious symbols, but also a part of the identity of many Muslim women. Not only have these collections struck Muslim women, but also non–believers, and those of different faiths.
In light of recent events, many women have voiced their fear of wearing their hijab out in public. After all, dozens of women have been and continue to be harassed for wearing the traditional Muslim headscarf. Perhaps bringing these garments into the fashion industry may change the perspectives of many from believing that they are tools of oppression into believing that they are symbols of modesty, expression and solidarity. As these designer garments are introduced into the mainstream fashion, they may bring a sense of comfort and confidence to Muslim women. Ultimately, I believe that the inclusion of this Islamic apparel in high fashion promotes the acceptance of Muslim women in Western society.
In my belief, introducing religious garments into the high fashion industry is mutually advantageous. Of course there are those that disagree, but bringing diversity into an industry where it is long overdue trumps all. In a world where Islamic attire causes intense debate and evokes feelings of discrimination and hate, fashion designers should unite with a minority to bring this apparel into a positive light, to normalize garments which should have never been considered as anything otherwise.
-Namya Tandon, Contributor