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Exploring The World of Modest Muslim Fashion

Muslim fashion is having a moment right now. In recent years the modest fashion market is experiencing rapid growth, since there are 1.8 billion Muslims to cater in this sector. And that includes consumers who dress modestly for religious, cultural, or stylistic reasons. According to the State of the Global Islamic Economy Report 2020/21, the modest fashion industry is valued at USD 277 billion and is projected to reach USD 311 billion by 2024. Key markets for modest fashion include Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia, with notable growth expected in countries like Indonesia.

Shelina Janmohamed, vice president of Ogilvy Islamic Marketing, notes that the modest fashion industry initially started as a grassroots movement driven by young Muslim women seeking to express their Muslim identity. Over time, the sector has grown beyond traditional items like the hijab to encompass a wider range of loose-fitting and less revealing clothing styles. By 2050, Muslims are expected to reach 31% of the world population. Two third of them are under the age of 30, a massively potential market for fashion brands looking to expand their reach to Gen Z and millennials who increasingly make their purchasing decisions based on brands’ social and political beliefs.

Western labels are also joining this modest Muslim fashion market trend. High-street brands like Mango and Uniqlo have recently launched Ramadan collections, joining luxury labels such as Dolce & Gabbana and DKNY in catering to the modest fashion market. The high-end online retailer Net-a-Porter also runs an annual “modest edit” featuring exclusive designs from renowned designers like Oscar de la Renta, Jenny Packham, and Dubai-based SemSem. Sporting brands Nike and Adidas have entered the market as well, both offering sports hijabs.

Magazines and runways are becoming more inclusive. In 2017, Halima Aden, an American of Somali descent, became the first hijabi woman to appear on the cover of Vogue. Last year, an H&M campaign featured its first hijab-wearing model, Mariah Idrissi. Additionally, hijabi models are increasingly sought after for mainstream global fashion shows. 

Emerging designers from Muslim-majority countries, inspired by the rich textile arts of Islamic cultures, are also contributing to the market's growth. These designers blend traditional elements with contemporary fashion trends, creating unique and modern interpretations of modest attire. For instance, Jakarta-based designer Itang Yunasz incorporates classic ikat designs and traditional Indonesian costumes into his collections, reimagining them with modern patterns and accessories. This fusion of old and new appeals to a broad audience, further driving the market's expansion.

(Indonesian brand Jenahara's collection at Jakarta Fashion Week 2021. Image Source: Jakarta Fashion Week/Dachri Megantara)

Although the modest fashion market in general is experiencing growth, there’s an absence of luxury options in the market. For TikTok influencer Maha Gondal for example, finding premium brands that offer modest clothing is an ongoing challenge. The 25-year-old has chosen not to shop at major luxury brands, instead opting for independent designer brands. “It’s definitely hard to shop as a Muslim person,” she says in an article by Vogue Business. “I think luxury houses are really lacking — yes, they are becoming more diverse and are trying to be more inclusive, but they’re still very Muslim limited.”

According to the market intelligence platform Edited, Louis Vuitton and Dolce & Gabbana are the only notable luxury brands in the UK and US to label products as “hijab,” “head coverings,” or “headscarves.” Only a few luxury brands explicitly market “hijab” or “head coverings,” even though they offer scarves long enough to cover the hair, ears, and neck. But despite the limited number of brands offering these products, the availability of head covering options has increased by 47% year-on-year.

Rawdah Mohamed, a Somali-Norwegian model who recently walked the runway for Max Mara and praised the brand for its inclusivity, believes luxury brands must put in more effort to understand the Muslim consumer. “I think [luxury brands] are not including consumers in their conversations. Sometimes it looks like they haven’t done any research. They’ve made a collection just to tick the box and say ‘we catered to the Muslim woman’ when they actually haven’t,” says Mohamed in an interview with Vogue. 

Mohamed believes these brands don't include Muslim consumers in their planning. Some collections can seem like just token gestures, just to say they included Muslim women. Some brands even confuse Ramadan, the holy month of fasting, with Eid, the celebratory period when Muslims often dress their best. This lack of understanding leads many Muslim women to buy modest clothing, like abayas and hijabs, from local designers who cater to their needs. There's a growing frustration among Muslim women seeing the same uninspired collections from luxury brands.

Aaliya Mia, an associate at DinarStandard, said non-Muslim majority countries such as India and the US presented a significant opportunity for modest wear with both ranking within the top 10 highest Muslim consumer spend amounts. “As mainstream retailers seek to become increasingly inclusive, we can expect to see more modest wear ranges included in stores with good opportunities for collaborations between modest wear brands and mainstream retailers,” said Mia in an interview with Salaam Gateway, presenting the SGIE 2022 report for Modest Fashion sector. “Modest wear, in general, could see greater inclusion for plus-size and differently-abled consumers, while textile developments will lead to new hijab and modest wear products specifically tailored for different purposes such as personal protection equipment or sporting codes.”

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