The Saatchi gallery has just hosted the first ever London Modest Fashion Week but why is this a big deal?
As a hijabi it’s something I’ve dreamed about since I was five years old and I think a lot of young Muslim girls can relate. Living in England while wearing the scarf and trying to be modest is challenging. You learn at a young age the secrets behind layering an outfit so you don’t look like an extra on a Disney Channel show…and it takes quite a few misses before you perfect it.
Dressing up isn’t simple when you need to cover your whole body, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen a nice dress and had to then find trousers, a t shirt and a cardigan to go with it. Like I said you get skillful at the art of layering.
For the last few years I’ve been dreaming of creating my own fashion line for Muslim women in the west. We might dress modestly but most of us wear stuff from the same high street stores everyone else buys from.
The demand for more modest lines is there. Romanna Bint-Abubaker – CEO and founder of Haute Elan – said during the weekend that by 2020 1 in 4 people across the world will be Muslims, and a significant portion of this will be people aged under 30. The Islamic fashion market is set to be worth £327 billion by 2020. Till now most of this has been taking place in mainly arab and muslim countries, such as UAE and Malaysia.
LMFW has been the first of its kind to make it’s stamp in the UK and during London Fashion Week. It’s a big deal. Walking into the Saatchi Gallery on the 18th of February I could already tell this was monumental. All around me were young hijabi girls in such differing fashions, from maxi dresses, to suits, and even more traditional Asian dresses.
The stand-out moment from day one was when I found out one of the designers work being showcased on the runway was a niqabi – woman who wears a face veil – from Qatar. Sultana Jesmine’s collection brought me to tears on the front row of the runway. There was no music as the models walked down the runway just a very simple Arabic nasheed – acoustic Islamic song – and she chose not to do the standard walk down the runway with a model at the end of showcasing her designs. This was just one of the many ways LMFW was different to any other fashion show before it. The photographer with me – a non-muslim girl – was equally taken away by Sultana Jesmine. It was so refreshing to see Muslim women succeeding in their fields without compromising their faith and beliefs.
We’re so often told that as Muslims we need to integrate more, whether that’s the way we dress; changing the way we do our scarves or taking it off altogether; changing our names to make it easier for white colleagues; yet here was this strong independent Muslim woman having her work showcased in the Saatchi Gallery as part of fashion week, while wearing a niqab and not changing anything about herself to fit in the box society has handed us.
There was also one more feature that stood out; it wasn’t just a fashion show. It was a fashion show with a cause. Haute Elan had a charity partner at the event – Penny Appeal – and before each runway they would send someone to talk about their work to a packed out hall and hand out forms to those who wanted to donate. At one point they even raised £2,500 – courtesy of Muna AbuSulayman – for a piece of art with the funds going to empower women so that they “don’t have to rely on a man and can get the skills to do what they want and need themselves”.
Talking to attendees at the fashion show it was clear that emotions were high all round. Most young Muslim girls naturally have an affinity for fashion from a young age, because of the number of weddings we attend and because we craft the perfect modest outfits. Seeing a space for us, where it wasn’t just about free the nipple or how revealing an outfit could be made, but a space where Muslim women were being celebrated was phenomenal.
With Islamophobic incidents against hijabi women continually on the rise it’s easy for us to feel disheartened. Sometimes it’s easy for muslim women to feel like they don’t belong, but LMFW came to make it’s stamp, to tell everyone that Muslim women are here, we are integrated, we are able to do everything we want to do and in the words of Zara Khan one of the designers “Fuck Society, we will kill oppression.”
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