Madeeha Najeeb discusses the lack of modest wear options available on the UK high street and how businesses are failing to address an important gap in the market.
Let me tell you all about modest wear, straight from the heart of a Muslim girl. The majority of Muslim women around the world cover their whole body with a loose dress and head covering. The former is commonly known as a abaya or jilbab and the latter as a hijab or scarf. Now, don’t get a girl wrong—modest wear is not just about an abaya or a jilbab. A broad definition would be dressing to cover up the body with loosefitting form clothing.
Just like many other women around the world, regardless of their religion or culture, we Muslim women love to shop. With such a high global population, it would be justified to state that Muslims are among the largest consumers of goods around the world, yet it took decades for modest wear to reach the mainstream brands.
A handful of brands from the USA have a few pieces here and there in their clothing lines, and recently a few brands here in the UK have added a few pieces of modest wear to their ranges. The irony? It has taken brands all this time to make us feel included, and yet it still feels half-hearted. M&S and Sports Direct have been carrying a couple of designs of burkinis for quite some time now, while Debenhams announced that they carry a line of hijabs (which frankly I have failed to find on their website), and finally H&M came out with a modest wear range last year which included just a few pieces with long sleeves, loose hems, and unfortunately bad colour and fabric choices.
As a fashion fan, I have been following a few modest fashion bloggers for years now and I can state this with full confidence: they use overseas brands to fill this gap in the market. A couple of overseas brands have started to become very famous in the past few months, like Modanisa, a Turkish brand which has a huge range of modest wear of every type and have now opened a warehouse in United Kingdom too. A few of the very famous local brands in England include Aab, Inayah and Haiqah. East London is the hub for local modest wear brands, and many brands are Instagram based.
With all these options offered by international brands, why do I still feel left out? The answer is that despite the 2.8 million Muslims benefiting the UK economy on a daily basis, it feels like the mainstream media is still having a hard time accepting and including us. While some brands have started including hijabis as models in advertisements and promotional posters, I think it is about time that more labels started to include hijabi friendly lines too.
We love maxi dresses! We love tunics! We love skirts! We love pants! We love gowns! We love suits! We love fancy evening wear! We also believe it is possible to make this all available for us with just a few slight tweaks here and there. Don’t get me wrong, a few of the existing clothes do suit us here and there from different brands, but we often have to wear full sleeved undershirts, or sometimes turtle necks, or sometime another pair of pants underneath because the fabric is see through or not long enough.
Some simple maths to go along with my logic – on average, a long sleeve maxi dress costs you around £17 – £90, depending on the brand you get it from. Keep in mind that the majority of these dresses have plunging necklines, slits along the sides, are backless or too form fitted. While most of these issues are manageable with the addition of an undershirt or Spanx, it does add extra figures to the total on our receipts, and boy-oh-boy do we feel hot in so many layers. Give us girls a break! If brands were to add a variety of modestly designed maxi dresses under their
umbrellas, imagine all the hijabis lining up buying those in every colour available!
Same goes for skirts (either not long enough or made from seethrough fabric), pants (short in length and tight around the hips), palazzos (short in length), tunics (sleeveless, short length, deep plunging front and back necklines). We Muslim girls know how to pack on layers for the sake of dressing up, but we would love to have it easy like everyone else does.
Let’s take a look at LFW for a minute. There were a lot of designers to be admired but again, my dilemma prevails. There was little representation of Muslim girls, which should be alarming for the high-end brands because if a billion of their consumers are restricted to only being able to buy a coat or a handbag and not be able to splurge in the clothing section, it does affect the brand’s profits to some extent. This is where the high street shops and brands come in and present us with some, although limited, options for clothing. They are taking the Muslim women market.
Maybe reading this some might wonder why I am whining so much. Some people might think I can just take it all off instead of oppressing myself, but my lovelies, this is not oppression. We cover up to please God, like every woman does, irrespective of which religion she belongs to. But no one said modest fashion must be boring or just an abaya. Let us have our hair down (not literally), and I think it’s about time that we were included by mainstream fashion. Alongside local Muslim consumers, we crazy Muslims love to travel to the UK from around the world just for the sake of shopping, so I am openly giving out our secret to the fashion industry. Go wild and take advantage of our money by making us Muslim women go gaga over modest wear lines that are made with care and acceptance. No more half-hearting our dresses!
To read more thoughts, follow Madeeha Najeeb on her Twitter @crazymummyof2.