How the Hijab Has Grown into a Fashion Industry of its Own

Ruba Zai, an Afghanistan-born, Netherlands-based student, began blogging to share with other Muslim girls and women how she styled her headscarf. The 23-year-old, who now blogs full time and boasts a following of over a million Instagram followers, spoke to the state of the industry recently, saying: “I just couldn’t relate at all to the clothes you see from the mainstream brands. When we first started talking about our style on social media, there was no interest in the fashion world in this group of people." 

Zai's take on the matter has not fallen on deaf ears. Big brands are starting to wake up to the call for garments that cater to Muslim women, and modest fashion - once merely a niche market - is slowly making its way into mainstream fashion. From Paris-Based high fashion designers to fast fashion retailers, brands are taking steps to court millions of Muslim consumers by way of ankle-grazing skirts, arm-covering tops, and no shortage of options for head scarves. And not only is this a potential show of the industry's much-talked-about growing embrace of diversity, it is a downright smart business move.

It started as a sales push specific to the month of Ramadan. Leading the movement was Spanish fast fashion chain Mango, a spokesman for which told Refinery 29 last year, "We have designed special collections for Ramadan for 10 years now. Collections are designed to complement the preferences of the Middle Eastern market, fulfill our customer's ongoing demand for high quality and detailed designs, as well as offer richer fabrics and embroidery." 

DKNY followed suit in 2014, when it launched a Ramadan collection aimed at wealthy Arab shoppers. 

But designers' efforts are increasing moving beyond the month-long Muslim holy month; they are now starting to provide more modest options on a year-round basis. Dolce & Gabbana has been selling a luxury collection of abayas — long, loose robe-like dresses — and matching headscarves since 2016 in the Middle East, Paris and London. Kanye West casted hijab-wearing supermodel-in-the-making Halima Aden in his Yeezy Season 5 show in February. 

Major brands, such as Tommy Hilfiger, Zara, Oscar de la Renta, and Monique Lhuillier, have also put out collections. Even more recently, Jean Paul Gaultier showed hijabs as part of his Fall/Winter 2018 couture collection in Paris. 

Not to be overlooked, earlier this year Nike became the first major brand to launch a “pro hijab,” a headscarf made in high-tech fabrics aimed at female Muslim athletes. Even Marks and Spencer, that stalwart British department store known for cardigans and practical shoes, launched a burkini — a full-body swimsuit — last summer.

And at the more affordable end of the spectrum, fast fashion chains, such as Mango, are adding modest wares to their stock, as a way to reach a more diverse group of consumers. 

“Mainstream fashion is now talking about modest fashion as a thing. Ten years ago, if you were a brand coming from a religious background and tried to sell it in a department store, calling it a modest or Muslim brand would be a kiss of death,” said Reina Lewis, a professor at the London College of Fashion.