With Islam being the largest religion in Southeast Asia, Islamic-inspired fashion runway shows in Dubai, Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur now offer an elegant, quirky, fun or sophisticated way for today’s Muslim woman in the region to express herself through fashion.
Zalora, an online retailer in Southeast Asia, created the “Zalia” collection of modest yet trendy clothing last Spring. It continues to introduce about 50 to 60 new products each month. “By producing more options for the community, we are helping the Muslim fashion industry grow, and fuel the interest in trendy Muslim wear in Southeast Asia” says a spokesman for Zalora.
Uniqlo is another mainstream retailer among the first to market hijabs in their Southeast Asian marketplace. Following a successful run in July of 2015, they came out in January with a second collection of Islamic-inspired clothing retailing in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand.
The Indonesia Islamic Fashion Consortium has plans for Indonesia to become the world’s Islamic Fashion Capital by 2020. While Islam is the largest religion in Southeast Asia, the largest Muslim population in a country is in Indonesia.
Islamic-inspired fashion is potentially a brilliant move on behalf of retailers, too. According to a study co-commissioned by Reuters, Muslims spent $266 billion on clothing in 2013— which is more than the combined spending in Japan and Italy on fashion. This number should double by 2019 to $484.
The option for popular brands to simply sell a classically composed and comfortable hijab creates a new conversation about what clothing might be taken as normative, neutral, and free from special attention— particularly outside of Southeast Asia, where the Islamic faith is not a majority.
Still, there is risk. The Muslim woman bares a fashion burden that she must wear alone: having her choice of clothing scrutinised where Islam is a minority religion as well as where it is practiced by the majority. In France, face coverings are banned and in Iran and Saudi Arabia, a head covering and long cloak (hijab and abaya) are required. The choice to wear Islamic-inspired fashion is never one that will please everybody.
Even if the hijab is to be embraced among mainstream fashion distributors, there is a question of how global muslim populations may react to Islamic-inspired fashion. DKNY, Oscar de la Renta, Tommy Hilfiger, Mango, and Monique Lhuillier have been selling capsule collections in the Middle East, generally around Ramadan. The real test may come soon, after the launch of Dolce & Gabbana’s new abaya and hijab collection.
Dolce & Gabbana announced its debut on style.com/Arabia, but has not yet revealed where it shall sell. Their haute-hijabs and abayas will match fashion from their Spring 2016 collection while conforming to the modesty requirements of most versions of Islam.
On Instagram the rise of fashionable hijabs is gaining attention, too. Lagos, Nigeria is home to Hijarbie, the trendy yet conservative hijab-clad Barbie, whose Instagram account has attracted roughly 36k followers. The account was created by 24-year old medical science student, Haneefa Adam, who hand-sews the doll’s outfits.
The verdict is in that enough people are interested in seeing a movement take place for Islamic-inspired fashion to transpire. Southeast Asia is turning heads for their unique marketplace— now what remains to be seen is how the economic success of Southeast Asia’s Islamic-inspired styles may uphold and trickle onto other regions, affecting the social and political lens through which a Muslim woman’s spirit gets dissected.