Being a non-believer, I tend to tread lightly when discussing religious garments, in worries of offending anyone due to my lack of knowledge on the topic. Nonetheless, it saddens me to admit that nowadays, wearing garments and clothing that clearly identify one’s religion attracts a disproportionate backlash. Out of the variety of religious garments that adorn the bodies of men and women, hijabs, burkas and abayas often seem to generate the most controversy. In spite of its prevalence amongst women, this type of apparel is does not usually attract the attention of Western high fashion, although it should. Designers from the West that create the most luxurious and elegant collections should also cater to those from opposite ends of the world.
Not only would it diversify the fashion industry, but it would be beneficiary for business as well. It’s no secret that Muslim women have been some of the most valuable customers to designer labels, spending obscene amounts of money on high fashion apparel. Fortune Magazine reports that in 2013, Muslims spent around $266 billion solely on attire, exceeding Japan and Italy combined. They predicted that the figure would amount to $484 billion by 2019. Also, back in 2011, Reuters stated that Arab women were believed to be the largest buyers of haute couture.
In 2016, Dolce and Gabbana capitalized on the benefits of inclusivity, revealing a new line of hijabs and abayas in a successful attempt to cater to the Muslim market. This line evoked excitement to Muslim women with a taste for high fashion, as it maintained the style of every other Dolce and Gabbana collection while preserving modesty. Although the Italian fashion house did adopt diversity, and while a few other brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, DKNY, Oscar de la Renta, DKNY, Mango, and Monique Lhuillier have followed suit, many designer brands still remain blind to the Muslim market.
At New York Fashion Week in 2016, Muslim designer Anniesa Hasibuan made history in adorning every model with a unique, luxury hijab. Not only was the newcomer the first Indonesian designer to be invited to the event, she was also the first to present a collection of hijabs on the runway. Receiving a standing ovation for her success, Hasibuan brought Islamic fashion into the mainstream. Her show was a huge leap forward in what is becoming known as the modesty movement of fashion.
As much as these designers have received praise for their embracing of diversity, they have also received a great amount of criticism. Conservative Muslim groups claim that the hijabs and abayas designed by fashion designers are too modernized, and as a result are not Islamic enough. Dr. Eva Nisa, professor of Islamic studies at Victoria University, stated that the essence of Muslim dressing is to preserve modesty and decency. She expressed the belief that Muslim women must dress in a way that does not attract the attention of men. With this reasoning, Muslim fashion designers are not always considered in a positive light.
Although this critique is understandable, I do not believe that it holds a candle to the cause of bringing such long-overdue diversity to the fashion industry. Hijabs and abayas are not only religious symbols, but also a part of many Muslim women’s identity. Not only have these collections struck Muslim women, but also non-believers and those of different faith.
In light of recent events, many veiled women have voiced their fear of being targeted in public. It is no secret that dozens of women have been and continue to be harassed for wearing the traditional Muslim headscarf. Perhaps bringing these garments into the fashion industry may change the perspectives of many from believing that they are tools of oppression into believing that they are symbols of modesty, expression and solidarity. As these designer garments are introduced into the mainstream fashion, they may bring a sense of comfort and confidence to Muslim women. The inclusion of this Islamic apparel in high fashion promotes the acceptance of Muslim women in Western society.
In my belief, introducing religious garments into the high fashion industry can only be an advantage. Of course, there are those that disagree, but bringing diversity into an industry where it is long overdue trumps all. In a world where Islamic attire causes intense debate and evokes feelings of prejudice and hate, fashion designers should unite to bring this apparel into a positive light, and normalize garments which should have never been considered otherwise in the first place.