JAKARTA, Indonesia – The fashion industry is known for its exclusivity. Unfortunately, this can mean that many already marginalized groups are made to feel that they have no place in the fashion world. These groups include plus-sized women, people of color and people who adhere to certain rules of dress for religious reasons, such as Chassidic or Muslim women.
Regulations regarding clothing for Muslim women range from strict modesty as seen in Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan to much looser interpretations elsewhere. Misconceptions regarding Islamic dress has sparked a growing Muslim-centric fashion industry.
The world’s most populous Muslim country, Indonesia, aims to become the capital of fashion in the Islamic world. The garment industry in Indonesia is supported by the government, which envisions a future in which the world of Islamic fashion is centered there. The industry employs 3 million people and contributes $15 million to the economy. Its growth could be a huge economic boon.
October’s fashion week in Jakarta, Indonesia showed cool, contemporary, and gorgeous clothes which defied common stereotypes. Collections featured fashion-forward and chic elements such as bright, interesting prints and creative shapes to appeal to young, fashionable Muslim women. All designs kept within the parameters of modesty defined in Islam, including head-coverings and nothing too tight or sheer.
Designers Nur Zahra, Jenahara Nasution and Dian Wahyu Utami kicked things off with their vibrant ready-to-wear collections, for which there is a growing international market. Indonesian brands of Muslim wear are making their way to Western countries, slowly establishing a place for Islamic fashion in the larger global fashion industry. Pieces from the designers’ collections have been shown and sold not only in nearby countries such as Malaysia and Singapore, but also in Australia, the Middle East, and European countries such as France, Hungary and Germany.
Also based in Indonesia is the Islamic e-store Hijup. Similar to e-stores like ModCloth in conception, the site now averages between 45,000 and 90,000 daily pageviews. Most of Hijup’s marketing is done through its Facebook and Twitter pages, and it recently recorded 12 million views on its Youtube channel. Like the more high fashion shown in Jakarta, Hijup also aspires to reach women globally. With already 30 percent of its customers from other countries, the dream is not unlikely.
Much of the western world holds misconceptions regarding Muslim dress codes, often focusing unnecessarily on burqas or niqabs. In a push against such misconceptions, Melbourne, Australia’s Immigration Museum is currently showing an Islamic fashion exhibition. It is called “Faith, Fashion, Fusion: Muslim women’s style in Australia,” and highlights the diversity of Islamic fashion as well as the accomplishments of Muslim women. The exhibition is a celebration of diversity and the many faces of Islam. The exhibit’s curator points out that some faces in the exhibition look Muslim and some do not which, she says, is exactly the point.
The creative efforts of designers, start-ups and museum curators such as those described above are helping to eradicate some of the isolation Muslim women may feel from the fashion industry as a whole.
– Kathleen Walsh