The Fashion Industry Is Starting to Embrace Muslims, But Is This for …

Political statements were aplenty at New York fashion week this season, most notably in the forms of Planned Parenthood pins, feminist slogan tees, and even the hijab.

Fashion is no stranger to self-expression. After possibly the most charged election cycle in recent history, designers and models alike have leveraged the runway as a platform to voice their opinions. At NYFW, designer Mara Hoffman enlisted Muslim-American activist Linda Sarsour to open her show, while Somalian-American model Halima Aden made her runway debut at Yeezy Season 5. The hijab—a symbol of faith—has been adopted as one of resistance against the current administration’s anti-immigration policy and xenophobic rhetoric. But is fashion’s embrace of the movement a passing fad, influenced by current events, or is it a sign of true inclusivity of Muslims in the beauty and fashion industries?

“I think the industry was already heading in the direction [of inclusivity], the political climate just sped up the pace this season,” says Maria Alia, a Muslim influencer and a face of Uniqlo’s spring campaign who attended NYFW for the third time.

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Indeed, the recognition of Muslim women as a force in fashion has been palpable in recent years. Brands such as DKNY, Mango, and more recently, Dolce Gabbana and Uniqlo, have delivered one-off collections tailored to Muslim women. This month we saw the launch of Vogue Arabia (despite mixed reviews from the Muslim community regarding the decision to feature a hijab-clad Gigi Hadid on the cover), as well as the first International Modest fashion week hosted in Istanbul. According to the 2015-2016 State of the Global Islamic Economy Report, Muslims spent $230 billion on clothing–a figure that the industry would be remiss not to notice.

“We are just as fashion-forward and indulge in the same shopping habits as any other fashionista,” says Marwa Atik, founder and designer of VELA, a line of on-trend headscarves based in Southern California.

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The hijab and modest fashion scene originally grew out of a glaring lack of modest clothing from mainstream retailers. Atik started VELA in 2009 to address this very issue. “[My designs] have allowed many young women to express themselves in fashion,” she says. “Over the years, it developed a whole army of girls who began to think creatively in terms of wardrobe, blogged their personal style and voiced their opinion publicly.”

Today, the Internet is a wealth of inspiration by and for Muslim women who meld personal style with their religious beliefs. Some of these social media stars reach millions of followers, often from all over the world. For big brands, catering to Muslim women is now as easy as partnering with these influencers. A prime example is CoverGirl, which recently chose beauty vlogger Nura Afia as its first Muslim face.

But does any of this actually constitute genuine understanding of Muslims by the fashion set? Only to a certain extent. Including hijab on the runway runs the risk of becoming a convenient shorthand for representing Muslim women. On one hand, it has increased the visibility of Muslim designers and talent who previously felt their hijabs would not be accepted. But on the other, it flattens a diverse community of Muslim women, in which many do not cover their hair, into a monolith. After all, one of fashion’s greatest models, Iman, is also a Muslim woman who has been in the industry for decades. Yet she is not readily associated with the image of Muslim women put forth by these initiatives.

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Hijab-clad models walking at Anniesa Hasibuan’s show during New York fashion week.

In some ways, these venues have enabled Muslim women to reclaim their own narrative and educate the world on who they really are. “I don’t want [negative media images of Muslims] representing me because I’m not that. And I know the majority aren’t that,” says Halima Aden, who also made appearances at Max Mara and Alberta Ferretti this season. As for Indonesian designer Anniesa Hasibuan, who recently presented a show featuring hijab-clad immigrant and second-generation models, she sees fashion week as an opportunity to present herself beyond just a Muslim woman who wears a hijab. “Other designers did not see my designs as a religious statement, but they see it [just] as art,” she says.

Fashion, for all its diversity challenges, has always served as a sort of refuge for those who diverge from what’s considered mainstream. At a time when it is necessary for the country to come together, perhaps the industry can serve as a unifying force for people from different walks of life. Atik describes watching Aden, a black Muslim woman, walk the runway as an emotional experience. “She represents the three things that are currently the hardest things to be during this time, and that’s what makes her so special,” she says, “It does not matter if the girl wears a hijab or not—you can still connect and relate to her.”

If fashion stays its current course, then it seems we are off to a good start.


More on the diverse Muslim community:

  1. Why I Proudly Wore My Hijab to a Trump Rally
  2. Meet Halima Aden, the First Muslim Model to Walk in Fashion Week With a Hijab
  3. Nike Encourages Arab Women to Defy Expectations With This Ad

We shot this before Trump won, and here’s why we posted it:

Article source: http://www.allure.com/story/fashion-industry-muslims-inclusivity

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