When you think London Fashion Week, burkinis and hijabs don’t immediately come to mind, but this year London saw its inaugural Modest Fashion Week last weekend. The first event of its kind in London, we went along to the Saatchi Gallery to discover what exactly modest fashion was and how British and international Muslim communities have found a positive way to express themselves in a way that’s true to their cultural heritage.
It was a timely event as the global Muslim community contends with how it is represented by Western culture and perceived through stereotypes, while also facing an internal debate of how it would like to represent itself. It is highly conscious of the role its ambassadors play, from hijabi YouTube celebrities, to fashion designers and sportspeople, with responses ranging from heartfelt appreciation to fiery condemnation.
The core of the conversation over the two days of LMFW’s modest wear shows and panel discussions was not establishing exactly what modest fashion meant and how they reconciled it with their faith, but rather the representation of a community of fashion-led Muslims that had thus far only seen validation in social media.
Fashion can be modest
To many, the concepts of modesty and fashion are mutually exclusive. However, the Muslim women who attended LMFW were there to demonstrate and validate their own beliefs that this wasn’t the case. Dina Torkia, a British-Egyptian Muslim YouTuber (with over 1 million followers on Instagram) was a key sponsor of the event, and said in an interview with Blogosphere magazine, “I want to show that you can coincide faith with fashion and that there are Muslim women who actually represent that.”
One of the 40 designers present was London-raised Bushra Shaikh, founder of Islamic fashion brand iiLa, who had become fed up of having to adapt what she found on the high street to suit her religious beliefs. She said, “You’re never going to please everyone, you just have to dress in a way that makes you comfortable with your faith and yourself.”
Representing a new consumer culture
The key issue that Bushra Shaikh found in Muslim fashion in the UK and the West was lack of representation, “Young Muslim girls don’t see themselves represented on the high street. They don’t see headscarves on the manikins in Zara’s shop windows, so they feel like they don’t exist.”
This sentiment was echoed by Dr Reina Lewis, editor of Modest Fashion: Styling Bodies, Mediating Faith, during a panel on rising Muslim entrepreneurship at LMFW, “Western mainstream brands are waking up to this [Muslim] consumer segment which has previously been disregarded by consumer culture.”
Shelina Janmohamed, a British writer and VP of Ogilvy Noor, said, “We have started to see the growth of a new generation of consumers who are proud of their faith and heritage – I call them Generation M. The digital space allows them to connect with other Muslims and reinforce their identities, with bloggers creating a new cultural lifestyle.”
Now that fashionable Muslims are seeing representation and validation of their beliefs beyond their Instagram feed, the question is where modest fashion and Muslim concepts of beauty will evolve.
Tapping into the Muslim market
As Western brands are becoming more conscious of Muslim demands, they will have to be aware of the huge diversity among the Muslim community. This is evident, for example, in the multitude of ways in which the headscarf is worn across the world, as was seen in the fashion show itself.
Brands will have to understand that catering to Muslims doesn’t just mean giving them sleeves and skirts of the appropriate length, but adhering to their values in everything from supply chain to ethical labour and what happens to products when they reach the end of their useful life.
The future of modest fashion
Women today are redefining the rules in the face of criticism of fellow Muslims, content to please only themselves and their immediate contemporaries. It is possible that the demand for modest fashion will grow with the proportion of the world Muslim population, as well appealing to other faiths and non-religious women who look for different styles at different stages in their lives. We could also see the trend towards modesty influencing the mainstream conversation around body image.
The question is, as representation of Muslim consumer culture grows, will Muslims have to do some soul-searching and define exactly what it is that bridges the realms of faith and fashion? Neither they nor brands targeting them have yet to exactly define what sits between faith and fashion that allows them to reconcile being a fashion-forward Muslim. A brand that is able to do so may win the hearts and minds of millions.
Trends in Muslim beauty
Butterfly London will be talking about the complexities of Halal Beauty on Day 3 at in-cosmetics conference on April 6, don’t miss it! http://www.in-cosmetics.com/en/education/cosmetics-marketing-trends/
Megan Powell, Consultant, 24.02.2017