The recent inclusion and rise in popularity of modest fashion shouldn’t have taken as long as it did — and yet still, it means a lot to me. When I was growing up, I didn’t have the same options every other girl did when it came to clothing. In fact, I always felt left out; no one in the North American mainstream market was catering to Muslim girls who were looking for modest options.
When I went shopping in high school, it always felt like more of a chore than an exciting after-school activity I’d look forward to. I’d go in with a game plan, find something I considered to be modest, and if that piece just so happened to be trendy, I was in luck. However, there were barely any clothes that fit the bill. It seemed like every shirt with long sleeves was dated and dull — if I finally found what seemed to be the perfect item, I’d pick it up and turn it around, only to find that it was backless. It was always things like that that would narrow down my choices.
This was frustrating, but it also pushed me to be creative with how I put together my outfits and made me think outside the box, which helped me develop an individual sense of style. I would pile on the layers even in the hottest weather. I’d customize an item to add an extra lining — I did it all. At the end of the day though, it just made me feel like nothing in the mainstream fashion industry would ever be geared toward me. That whole world, which I really wanted to be a part of, just wasn’t for girls like me.
Eventually, I gave up on the hope of seeing brands cater to Muslim women. But in 2016, it felt like something akin to a modest fashion movement began; I started seeing Muslim women in fashion campaigns and magazines, at the same time that modest fashion influencers started becoming popular on Instagram. It felt like all this signaled a change. This was at the same time that many brands were already starting to get more diverse and aware of the importance of representation, and they were starting to see that just having one long-sleeved tee in a collection wasn’t cutting it.
Once I started seeing major brands like Nike creating the PRO Hijab, it felt surreal to have a brand recognize that there was an untapped market of Muslim women looking to buy clothes specifically created for them. I was starting to see more brands recognize the potential in modest fashion and join in. Soon enough, retailers like ASOS, DKNY, H&M, and Uniqlo were also launching collections to appeal to that same customer base, with some of them featuring Muslim women in their ad campaigns. And I finally started feeling like there could be a place for me in the fashion industry if we keep progressing on the right path.
A big part of why brands finally recognized the modest fashion audience is because of economic gain. According to the State of the Global Islamic Economy Report 2019-2020, the Muslim spend on apparel and footwear in 2018 was an estimated $283 billion. It’s a whopping number and one that continues to grow, giving companies an even bigger incentive to hop on the modest fashion train and finally cater to the audience they’d been ignoring for so long. It’s a capitalistic incentive that we can’t ignore but one of the good things to come out of it is brands educating themselves on different cultural and religious dressing worldwide and recognizing that there’s a big gap to fill. It’s showing the industry that Muslims are looking for options and just the token product to cater to them once in a while isn’t cutting it anymore.