The modest fashion movement has been catching up with the momentum for quite some time. We read stories about modest fashion brands springing up now and then. However, a modest swimwear brand for men had been unheard of so far. But, now, times have changed.
It was the first time we heard about Zusaura, modest swimwear for men which was launched in London in May by a British Pakistani, Mr. Amir Latifi. Both he and his wife, Yasmin Latifi, are adding a new dimension to the modest fashion sector with their brand Zusaura – a swimwear label for men that combines faith with functionality and style.
Amir was raised in Abu Dhabi as a young boy and has a background in the oilfield services sector, while his wife, Yasmin, is a doctor. “The idea for Zusaura took seed when we were on holiday in Dubai in 2012 and could not find swimwear for myself that met our faith and taste needs,” he tells us.
“This, judging from the attire of other male swimmers on that holiday, seemed to be a shared problem – there were lots of men wearing ad-hoc ensembles of T-shirts with oversized and ill-fitting boardshorts, while at the pool or beach.”
The two set out to design below-the-knee boardshorts and colorful rash vests using Portuguese and Italian-made swimwear fabrics.
Amir says it was essential that the label’s designs complied with modesty guidelines for Muslim men. He explains that to embody “haya”, the Islamic principle of modesty, both men and women have certain codes of body coverage to adhere to.
The ‘awrah’ for men is defined as the area from the navel to the knee. They had to follow the rule while designing the swimwear.
“In terms of dress, this manifests as a requirement for Muslim men to cover their ‘awrah’, or intimate parts of the body,” he says.
Nuriddin Knight, an author in New York and a Yakeen Institute fellow who often speaks about feminism and gender roles in Islam, says the traditional implementations of modesty, as seen from the example of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and early Muslims, surpass the textual requirements, and that men need not comply with just the bare minimum (covering from naval to knee). “Men, as well as women, should consider that modesty is and always has been a valuable part of their faith,” she says.
Knight says mainstream menswear today consists of sagging trousers, tight muscle tees, and flamboyant attire that may not be considered modest according to traditional Islamic thought. “Men should also be cautious of the kind of attention that they are attracting,” she says.
‘Meeting Islamic Dress Requirements’
Zusaura thus fills a clear gap in the men’s swimwear market, according to Amir. “While [existing] ensembles can be put together to attempt to meet Islamic dress requirements for men, they generally fail on one specific point or another. For instance, where a pair of swim shorts and the top could be employed, most swim shorts do not cover the knees, let alone reach them. On the other hand, where coverage of the awrah is met – like wetsuits for example – they fail on the requirement to be loose-fitting,” he says.
By 2014, while both working full-time and raising three young children, the Latifis produced their first sample, and in 2015, they established Zusaura as a company. Four years later, Amir left his job to concentrate on the label full-time and launched its e-commerce platform this May.
Adding a humanitarian angel
But selling fashion was not enough – in line with the Islamic principles that first sparked the birth of the brand, the Latifis wanted to embed a humanitarian angle into their business. “To further demonstrate our stand on social justice, we committed to donating 20% of our profit to the UK registered charities – of which half will be directed for domestic efforts in keeping with our Islamic value of helping the communities in which we live, with the remaining half for international efforts,” says Amir.
While it may have been inspired by their religious beliefs, the Latifis are not looking to be pigeonholed as solely an Islamic brand. “We were decidedly discerning when choosing the tag line for our brand to be ‘cultured swimwear for men’. We believe this choice of wording better projects the numerous positive attributes the Islamic concept of haya conveys,” says Amir. “We do not seek to proselytize in any manner; indeed our faith stipulates that there is no compulsion in religion.”
As female modest swimwear styles such as burkinis are, sometimes worn by non-Muslims (even Lindsey Lohan is a fan), the Latifis believe their brand may attract non-religious consumers too – namely because it protects the skin from sun exposure.
“We believe the ethical stands we have taken thus far, and which we will build upon in the future, will resonate with consumers, across demographics, and perhaps particularly with millennials,” says Latifi. “Youth generally act as agents for change and our brand name somewhat cryptically reflects that – the ‘zus’ being the first letters of our children’s given names, to represent that our efforts are for their generation’s future, more so than ours. As with all parents, what we do, is for their future.”
Many UAE residents are sharing the news of Zusaura’s launch over their community Facebook and WhatsApp groups. “As a mother of four boys, I always found it strange that no modest swimwear was available for males, while there have been multiple up-and-coming modest swimwear options for females,” says Dubai resident and senior field coordinator for non-profit Hands on Hope, Mai Assaf.
“It’s time to change that narrative, because the existing paradigm that implies only females need to dress modesty in our tradition, is inaccurate. Modesty is extolled in all traditional faiths and as a spiritual practice, it opens one up to liberation, which extends beyond the physical form.”
Assaf points out that swimming is one of the reported Sunnah (customs of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) involving sports in Islam. “If wearing more modest swimwear encourages one to take on this activity, then all the power to them,” she says.