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Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Article of Faith and Fashion!

Here is another interesting article I found, linked from this other blog:

Hijab Style:

The picture is from Ari Versluis/ Muslim Girl Magazine

Muslim fashion designers moving beyond the traditional
By Robb Young

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Punks or ravers they certainly are not. Discrete and devout, their kind of fashion statement could not be further from the razor-sharp mohawks or day-glo accessories of those counter-culture types. But young Muslim entrepreneurs around the world are making their own fashion statements, modestly, challenging the status quo in their communities as well as stereotypes outside.

In an ever-influential global pop culture that idolizes the shortest of skirts and catwalks where flesh can overshadow fabric, Muslims from Sydney to Saudi Arabia who love fashion are taking matters into their own hands.

"When I first took up the hijab seven years ago it was a struggle to find any fashionable clothing. Dressing up was an ordeal to the point where I'd have to mix and match parts and pieces of clothing from several stores, just to come out with a single outfit," said Sarah Binhejaila, a Saudi who started the made-to-order brand Niyaah a year ago when she moved back to the Middle East after studying fashion abroad.

Instead of a two-layer system in which a uniform outer garment covers Western clothes, Binhejaila and other designers like her are creating alternate looks in a single layer that she calls "complete wear."

"Historically, Islamic clothing for women across the Arabian Peninsula was always rich in design, color and embroidery. But this rich history of Islamic tribal fashion was threatened to become extinct due to the enforcement of the black abaya," the long over-garment and matching head scarf, she said. "I'm attempting to revive that festive spirit by using the richness and appeal of modern fashion within the boundaries permissible by Islamic dress code."

The British designer Sophia Kara made just such a statement in Leicester, England, last year when she showed her line, Imaan Collections. One model wore a hooded abaya with a matching niqab, or face veil, in shocking pink over a salwar, or loose pants, printed with an ornate English floral motif.

Specialty fashion houses and companies starting distinct ranges intended for fashion-conscious women who observe hijab, which means either covering one's head or, more broadly, dressing modestly, is part of a much wider trend. Filling a market gap for products that either comply with Shariah law or that are simply more attractive to Muslim values is a niche that is attracting increasing numbers of manufacturers and retailers. Toys like the Fulla doll, a modest Barbie of sorts, and comic books with Islamic superheroes like "The 99" are as much a part of this sector as the traditional domains of Islamic finance and halal, or permissible, food.

"The hunt for the Islamic dollar at the retail end of the value chain is now starting to heat up. But it has a very long way to go until it is anywhere close to being fully realized," says Abdalhamid Evans, senior analyst at Imarat Consultants, a Malaysian marketing company that specializes in the global halal sector. "You can just about squeeze clothing into the broad concept of the halal market, in that clothing is an offering to the same consumer base as halal consumers - the same people who eat halal food and use Islamic financial services."

Kamarul Aznam, the Malaysian-based managing editor of the bimonthly Halal Journal, tracks everything from halal fashion to pharmaceuticals around the world and knows well the inherent difficulties in trying to quantify this market. "There is no such thing as an official statistic or trade data for the global Muslim fashion industry but there are guesstimates, which we use regularly," he says.

Assuming that 50 percent of the world's 1.6 billion Muslims dress modestly and that, conservatively, they spend $120 a year on such clothing, Aznam estimates that the global market is worth at least $96 billion a year.

"And as for non-Islamic countries such as the U.K. or France, since they have a higher purchasing power parity and clothes have a higher price tag, I would imagine it to be higher, spending up to $600 a year," he said. "Assuming the U.K. alone, which is home to around 1.5 million Muslims, the figure could be in the region of $90 million to $450 million a year."

At that rate, the 16 million Muslims in the European Union could create a clothing market worth $960 million to $4.8 billion a year.

Ausma Khan, chief editor for Muslim Girl, a young women's lifestyle magazine that was started last year in the United States, believes that dedicated brands would have added appeal for many Muslim consumers. "The potential to design for Muslim women and girls and to market to this audience is enormous," Khan said. "Imagine the clothes you see in most contemporary and popular fashion outlets - Muslim girls and women are buying them and then creatively filling in the gaps. But they would absolutely buy the same clothes with higher necklines, longer hemlines, a more voluminous fit and so on," she said.

Even in fashion sportswear and activewear, start-up companies like Hasema from Turkey and Ahiida from Australia have tickled market observers with the advent of functional Islamic swimwear. Aheda Zanetti, Ahiida's founder, trademarked her designs as the "Burqini," playing off the words bikini and burqa to describe her two-piece loose-fitting tracksuit.

"I think the Islamic fashion market is going to explode in the coming years. There are signs of it already," said Gulsen Aydemir, editor of Modest Flair, a U.S.-based Web site that sources style trends and news for its Muslim readers.

"Muslim women's clothing has moved forward in leaps and bounds in only a few years in terms of both comfort and style. The most important change, in my opinion, has been moving away from bland, thick, polyester gowns called jilbabs, which were uncomfortable in hot weather and hard against the skin," she said. "But now, you can find Muslim clothing offered in every possible color and some that is chic and stylish, but still upholding the modest requirements of our faith."

The fact that Western-style runway shows have caught on as fashion weeks have mushroomed across Muslim countries also brings the worlds of designer fashion and Islamic requirements much closer to home. In addition to fashion weeks in Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey and other relatively liberal-leaning countries, there is change elsewhere too.

Even Iran, where the religious police closed similar events in the past, woke up to the idea last year, staging its first Tehran Fashion Week to promote Islamic dress (and not just sober cloaks like the chador). War-torn Afghanistan also held its first shows last year after the initial retreat of the Taliban regime, where designers like Zolaykha Sherzad and Isabella Ghidoni collaborated to swap the all-enveloping contours of the burqa for less restrictive looks, like the salwar qamiz, or two-piece pantsuit, and embellished robes with head scarves but not necessarily face veils.

While small Islamic fashion shows are cropping up in as varied locations as Leicester, England; Berlin; and Atlanta, the entrepreneur Raja Rezza Shah is poised to take the concept global. As director of the Islamic Fashion Festival, Shah pioneered the event for designers to exhibit collections specifically for the Islamic market. "We started in Kuala Lumpur, then Jakarta, so obviously the aesthetic has strong influences from here but next year we will also be in Dubai and Abu Dhabi," he said. "Eventually we want to make a presence in Europe and America."

Malaysian and Indonesian designers, like Itang Yunas, Herman Nuari and Ida Royani, design only Islamic wear while the others participating in the festival are part of the wider fashion fraternity in those countries where Islamic-wear is just one range of their collections. Not all of the designers showing at the festival are necessarily Muslim themselves but, Shah says, what unites them is taking the Islamic fashion business seriously.

"At Dubai International Fashion Week, we have not targeted any particular sector, but rather seek out all designers who are interested in showcasing their work to a larger audience," said Nayla Yared, spokeswoman for the event, which had its first show this summer. "We have had designers like Suhaila Alyamani and Noora Hefzi who have collections which conform to both traditional values and Islamic tenets. Another young designer, Rabia Z, works exclusively on Islamic fashion."

Besides transforming traditional outer garments like the burqa, jilbab and abaya into more practical, individualistic versions through the use of new textiles, colors, prints and embellishments, other designers are ready to start stretching an Islamic outfit's loose silhouette. Some are even prepared to begin styling separates and accessorizing in unconventional ways.

But just how elastic one's perception of modesty is, however, depends on an individual's interpretation of Muslim doctrine and it is this variation that fuels debate among both designers and consumers in Muslim communities. As a result, the question of covering one's head is still a flash point in countries like Turkey and France today, as is covering one's face with the niqab in Britain and the Netherlands.

'We believe that minimum and basic Islamic dressing begins with the covering of the head. The less skin and shape exposed the better. But we provide a range of design from the minimum to the maximum covering, based on the different levels of understanding and readiness," Shah said. "Our tagline is, 'Discover the beauty of modesty' and not 'Cover up or you'll go to hell.' It's about women experimenting with ways to feel happy about themselves while holding on proudly to their faith."

Aydemir defines it as loose clothing that covers everything except the hands, face and sometimes the feet. "Muslim women want to dress modestly in a way that is still in sync with the styles of the cultures they live in. Those living in non-Muslim countries don't want to hide their Muslim identity and, at the same time, they don't want to completely stick out in a crowd," she said. "It's a tricky niche, but if you know what you're doing, the sky's the limit."

Khan's view of modesty is broader, but she agrees about the local dimension: "In North America, for example, the majority of Muslim women who would self-identify as Muslim, do not wear a head scarf. But you'll certainly never see them in a belly-baring top or a miniskirt either. That's what designers need to understand to really capture the potential of the Muslim market."


Copyright © 2008 The International Herald Tribune |


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