Modest fashion has become a buzzword in the past decade or so. It has influenced fashion fans, religious and secular alike. Brands like Nike, Uniqlo, Liberty, Tommy Hilfiger, and Dolce & Gabbana have started offering modest clothing lines to attract the lucrative market of Muslim consumers everywhere. But, is it all Islamic in nature?
Textile designers of modest fashion clothing are pushing the boundaries of Sharia compliance to attract Muslim consumers. While trying to do so, they often make modest fashion models look sexy. These designers do not seem to understand the true spirit of what the importance of modest fashion clothing is in the life of a Muslim woman and what the word “modest” actually means for a Muslim. Are we seeing a crisis in the modest fashion industry?
Being Muslims, we can’t ignore the new trends in this industry. We need to keep an eye on what is going in the industry and whether these trends need to change so that modest clothing lines become not only become shariah-compliant but also become truly modest in nature.
The Economist touched upon this topic in one of their articles republished below. Some of us may find some relevance to what we have been thinking about the modest fashion industry and its overall impact on Muslim consumers in general.
ISLAMIC fashion websites can be pretty drab. KhaleejiAbaya.com, an outlet based in Teesside, North England, plies its selection of faceless black coverings under the somewhat overstated slogan “effortlessly elegant”. Alongside, its website carries a health warning on the “dangers of al-Cabarrus”, the impermissible exposure of beauty.
Defying such prudishness, leading Muslim designers recently took part in London Fashion Week, a global showcase of threads, to prove that what they called “Modest Fashion” could be as sleek as a bedtime story from a Thousand and One Nights.
The organizers avoided the word sexy, since that would be un-Islamic, explained one. But their models on the catwalk wore make-up, nail polish, and figure-hugging costumes. Some had veils, though these tended to slip from their heads as they strutted to techno beats. Abayas were embellished with leather straps, transforming nun-like uniforms, said the publicity, into “edgy urban wear perfect for warrior princesses”.
Nearby, cosmetics companies plied alcohol-free perfume and lipsticks free of animal fat, which made the products halal, though still viewed by some clerics as not sharia-compliant for being flirtatious.
Islamic fashion could be big business. Worldwide, Muslims spend close to $300bn a year on clothes and shoes, only a bit less than America does, though only a fraction goes on fashion. In Western countries, at least, observant Muslim, Jewish or Christian women who want to cover their flesh often mix-and-match from collections that care little for modesty. That could change.
Earlier this year, Debenhams, a British department store, began running an Islamic line. Tommy Hilfiger and Mango, two high-street outlets, have both launched Ramadan collections for Middle Eastern clientele. An Islamic modeling agency called Under Wraps has launched in America. Cities from Basra to Auckland host Muslim fashion shows. And since Saudi Arabia, the Muslim world’s most conservative state, began letting women add dashes of color to their black abayas, design has mushroomed.
Yet as they push to enter the mainstream, Muslim fashionistas are struggling to balance the demands of Islamic law with those of a style-driven market. One Saudi woman, who leads a secular life in London, found it hypocritical. “They are wearing pajamas as if they are dressed for going to bed,” she sniffed. “Modesty make-up is a contradiction in terms.” Another questioned why the addition of headscarves made tight jeans “Islamic”. There is, it seems, a way to go.