Originally printed in the March 2018 issue of Vogue Arabia.
The modest fashion movement is no longer dawning – it’s lighting up the industry and is most definitely here to stay.
Since the introduction of Modest Fashion Week in 2016 in Istanbul, the movement has entered the mainstream with the event subsequently occurring twice in London and most recently in Dubai in December. For the latter, models Halima Aden and Mariah Idrissi walked the runway during the two-day event, which saw established and emerging designers from more than 20 countries take part in 40 shows, helping cement the region as an emerging fashion capital.
While this seems progressive, modest wear – clothing that conceals rather than accentuates the shape of the body – is hardly revolutionary, with Muslim consumer spending on clothing expected to reach US $368 billion by 2021*. With such an enormous demand for modest fashion, is there really a need to give it a dedicated week? Not according to Aden. “Initially, I felt it was important because it was something new and, with trial and error, it could be perfected,” says Aden, who was the first hijab-wearing model to walk at international shows, including Alberta Ferretti and Yeezy Season 5. “However, with time I now feel the necessity is not as strong, especially in Muslim regions where mainstream fashion and modest fashion have naturally blended together.”
Idrissi, the first Muslim hijab-wearing model to appear in an H&M campaign, agrees. “Modesty is a global way of dressing. It’s something that is open to everyone. I think the coolest runway shows are the ones that have looks from both sides of the spectrum and something in between. It’s important that everyone feels like they can find fashions that will work for them and their individual style.”
While modest dressing has become more widespread, Aden insists it’s not a style fad that will change with the seasons. “It’s not just a way of dress, it’s a way of life,” she says. “As the origins are often from religious beliefs, it’s a trend that is here to stay.” However, the 20-year-old model is also quick to point out that you don’t have to be Muslim or wear a hijab to dress modestly, and retailers are taking note – Marks & Spencer and Macy’s have expanded their lines to include modest collections.
Uniqlo has also teamed up with fashion designer Hana Tajima to release a collection of hijabs, and in the luxury market, DKNY, Oscar de la Renta, and Tommy Hilfiger have all released oneoff collections during Ramadan and Eid. Dolce & Gabbana also launched a permanent range of hijabs and abayas, which were met with rave reviews. “Little more than a year ago, there wasn’t a single hijabi on the catwalk. In 2017 I was able to be that change in high fashion, on and off the runway,” Aden states proudly. “I am confident that more hijabis will now enter the industry. I’m excited to see what the future holds.”
Unafraid to stand out, Aden became a model “to represent women from my background, women who wear the hijab, and women who aren’t afraid to tackle the challenges life may throw their way. A picture can speak a thousand words, and it was important to me that when people do see my image, they can find something that resonates with them.”
Born to Somali parents in a Kenyan refugee camp and moving to the US when she was six, the petite model – she’s 1.65m tall – shot to fame as the first veiled contestant in the Miss Minnesota beauty pageant. She made it to the top 15, wearing a burkini during the swimsuit category. The media exposure of Aden as a radiant and self-assured beauty caught the attention of IMG Models head Ivan Bart, and a new face of fashion was born.
While Idrissi opted against becoming a runway model, she is proud of what Aden has achieved. “When I first heard about a woman in hijab on a runway, I had a moment of relief because I felt very alone in the fashion industry. I was also relieved to see she was dressed beautifully and was represented well.” Aden is equally as commendatory of British Moroccan/Pakistani model Idrissi, who – with more than 74 000 followers on Instagram – is a popular face for modest fashion. “I was so excited to see someone who looked like me be given such a great opportunity,” she says.
In spite of the rise of Generation M – millennial Muslim women – being one of the biggest spenders in the retail world, the success of Aden and Idrissi hasn’t come easily. “Although I haven’t personally felt prejudice towards my beliefs or appearance while living in the UK, in the fashion scene I certainly feel it’s something some still struggle to get their head around,” Idrissi says. “Some brands and designers still feel a woman in a hijab is to be used when ‘relevant’ or as a gimmick.
For Aden, one the biggest pressures is being a role model. “The fear of disappointing my fans at times felt crippling,” she says. “I get a lot of messages from girls and I want them to know that I was strong enough to be part of this industry while not compromising my values. I never let being the first scare me into quitting. Being black, Muslim, and a refugee have made my story relatable.”
Both models are optimistic about the future of modest fashion. “My hope is that we can continue to celebrate men and women from different walks of life and not have it be a one-season trend,” Aden says. “The industry is doing a great job of staying consistent and I have so much faith that it will continue to make positive changes.” Idrissi, too, is championing more diversity on the runways. “I hope the use of models from diverse backgrounds is not just tokenism, but a genuine way to promote that the world offashion is open to all. I wish to see more people within the fashion industry be pioneering and open-minded.