*This piece was originally published on Layali Webzine by the same author. To see the original article, click here.
Fashion labels everywhere are finally paying attention to one of the most underrepresented demographic in the world — Muslim women, who are deemed by Forbes as the “next untapped market,” with reports of Muslims spending $266 billion on clothing and accessories in 2013. Catching onto the trend, major retailers such as DKNY, MANGO, Tommy Hilfiger, H&M and Zara have launched “Muslim-centric” lines which feature “modest” clothing, as well as each label’s take on the traditional hijab.
Last month, Muslims everywhere rejoiced when the popular luxury retailer, Dolce and Gabbana debuted their collection of hijabs and abayas for their Middle Eastern customers. Paired perfectly with colorful sunglasses, bold handbags and statement jewelry, the feminine line of hijabs and abayas are intended to deliver “an enchanting visual story about the grace and beauty of the marvelous women of Arabia,” according to a press release by the company. The release of the line is being seen as a “cultural breakthrough” by the fashion world, and admittedly — in a heightened era of Islamaphobia, there are many benefits to Muslim fashion becoming mainstream through major luxury retailers such as D&G. In 2016, it has become pivotal to bring Muslim cultures and customs into the mainstream media and divert from the misconstrued image of extremism, and Dolce and Gabbana’s line does just that. But while praising the collection, it’s easy to forget that Muslim women have for years been told by Western media that modesty is not fashionable.
The media loves to portray women as sex symbols, and consequently with such sexualization as commonplace, fashion is consumed with plunging necklines, bodycon dresses and short skirts — so naturally when a major international fashion label comes out endorsing the abaya as fashionable too, it is glorified by the Muslim world. But why do Muslim women need Western fashion labels to tell them they are now stylish, too, when the hijab and abaya have been around for hundreds of years?
“Why do Muslim women need Western fashion labels to tell them they are now stylish, too, when the hijab and abaya have been around for hundreds of years?”
While D&G’s elegant line of hijabs and abayas is intended to showcase the “marvelous women of Arabia,” it’s rather unpalatable how the models sporting the collection are Caucasian — despite the fact that Caucasian-Muslim women make up such a diminutive percentage of Muslim women worldwide.
American media is no stranger to this type of racial bias. Advertisements in America have a long history of being white and male dominated — of the advertisements that feature women, the majority are Caucasian women, of the minority, Muslim women make up less than one percent. While these “Muslim-centric” fashion lines raise awareness for the acceptance of non-traditionally white or Western fashion, by not explicitly marketing them to ethnic Muslim women, they fail to address this gap in the representation of Muslim women and do little for the stigma that surrounds being a Muslim woman or a woman of color.
Dolce and Gabbana’s line highlights the often misconstrued world of Muslimah fashion, but is that representation purely commercial? As Eastern style influences begin to gain mainstream popularity in the American fashion world, and Muslim women are named the next “untapped market” it becomes difficult not to beg the question — is it fair for major fashion retailers to be using our religion as a means of their own profit — particularly companies who have a history of denying sales associate or modelling jobs to Muslim women based on their hijabs?
Muslim fashion, and Muslim women should not have to be validated by western fashion labels to be considered beautiful or stylish. The Dolce and Gabbanna line, as gorgeous as it is, paints a one-dimensional picture of Muslim women as stereotypically wealthy feminine and Westernized, when in reality, Muslim women are multi-faceted.