From Istanbul to London and Dubai to New York, in the last decade, the modest fashion industry is beginning to gain recognition by mainstream brands in the West. After the world's largest online modest fashion retailer, Modanisa debuted their annual fashion week in Istanbul last year, London Modest Fashion Week (LMFW) hit the catwalks at Olympia London during the Easter weekend last month.
LMFW unified leading global influencers including the first hijab-wearing IMG model, Halima Aden, opening the first show of the weekend.
Aden felt that the modest fashion industry "is breaking stereotypes because a lot of people think Muslim women are somehow weak and submissive or oppressed and that's the complete opposite. Look at all these female designers who are rocking it in this business and are entrepreneurs who work so hard, and look at all these beautiful models that were here today. All of them are very strong women and I think that if more people see that side of Muslim women, it can only be good for us."
Head of Marketing for Modanisa.com, Selvi Esenkal explained the challenge of having to cater for such a diverse range of consumers, "we sell to over 75 countries worldwide such as the Middle-East where women's hijab styles are more open to showing their hair, whilst in Turkey the styles are more conservative so women will wear a bonnet underneath to ensure their hair is fully covered...it can be hard and difficult to offer and meet the needs of every woman...which is why it's important to have insights from local designers in that area, to be able to suit the needs of Muslim women in that area."
The growth of the modest fashion industry has increased with more mainstream brands such as, Nike, Debenhams, D&G and DKNY beginning to take interest into catering for consumers of modest fashion. However, CEO of Modanisa, Kerim Türe feels the industry still has a way to go, "the mistake of mainstream fashion is seeing modest fashion as a uniform or ethnic clothing." Türe said, "Muslim fashion and Muslim clothing is not a uniform...it's more than that. What we see here are great women, open-minded, willful, strong women showing the world that they care about fashion and they have a great sense of style."
Offering a professional platform to exalt modest fashion designers in London was no coincidence. Organiser of LMFW, Franka Soeria said, "London is one of the trendiest places for modest fashion" in the West with a large supportive community. British modest fashion has its own character and style because "the modest community is living in a Muslim minority country, so they make the fashion more functional as apposed to fashion being more about art", explained Soeria.
Recently starring in BBC Three's documentary 'New York Hijabis', British modest fashion icon, Nabiila Bee explained this phenomenon, "social media is allowing everyone to mix; with social media people are seeing different styles and taking inspiration."
Alongside LMFW, panelist discussions including bloggers and modest fashion industry experts reviewed modest fashion trends around the globe. Panelist and British modest fashion blogger, Sebinah Hussain addressed Muslim-majority countries in the East are already modest in their cultural dress but as Muslim women living in the West, "if you're a working woman it's impractical if you're jumping in and out of the tube wearing a long abaya."
There was a general consensus amongst panelists that Muslim modest fashion is deeper because as much as it is about looking good and feeling good, it is also about one's identity as a faith-conscious Muslim woman.
With vast differences between Eastern and Western styles, modest fashion trends can vary considerably between Western countries. Founder and CEO of US based online retailer Haute Hijab, Melanie Elturk said, "here in the UK you guys like your muted colours; the camels, the blacks, the neutrals, the beiges and blush pinks. We're bright and bold in America, we like prints. Elturk explained that every Muslim populated region has its own preference, whether it's Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Australia or China, the hijab is interpreted by the culture and the region. Thus, resulting in the vast differences of fashions, designs, materials and silhouettes.
British modest fashion designers have noticed the huge gap in the market for modest fashion in the UK. Emerging designer of Pillar, found that "designs are appreciated more [in the UK] compared to abroad, compared to in Dubai or the UAE as it comes from there and it already seems natural. Here people are searching for [modest fashion] and looking for it."
Awarded best UK modest fashion designer at LMFW, Saiqa Majeed expressed that as a designer balancing the East and the West in her work "comes naturally" because "being British born but also Asian with my parents being Pakistani...I think that I am blessed that I have a bit of everything so I can take the best of all the cultures."
The community of Muslim women around the world is widespread. Limiting the manner in which the majority of Muslim women are portrayed to dress in black burqas or abayas is something that LMFW has exemplified to be an oversimplification. It's time for mainstream brands to recognise this and collaborate with modest-wear consumers to make sure they get it right and give modest fashion the platform that it deserves.