BEIRUT – As hijab-wearing models hit Western catwalks and the covers of top fashion magazines, the Islamic headwear is becoming mainstream with advertisers, media giants and fashion firms who are targeting the niche market of Islamic fashion.
“In terms of the bottom line – absolutely they’re (young Muslims) good for business … it’s a huge market and they are incredibly brand savvy, so they want to spend their money,” Shelina Janmohamed, vice-president of Ogilvy Noor, a consultancy offering advice on how to build brands that appeal to Muslim audiences, told Reuters on Monday, July 24.
The pattern adopted by advertisers with regard to hijab has changed significantly over the past few years.
Last week, Apple previewed 12 new emoji characters to be launched later this year, one of which is for a woman wearing hijab.
Major fashion brands, from American Eagle to Nike, are creating hijabs, while hijab-wearing models have started gracing Western catwalks and the covers of top fashion magazines.
Nike announced it is using its prowess in the sports and leisure market to launch a breathable mesh hijab in spring 2018, becoming the first major sports apparel maker to offer a traditional Islamic hijab designed for competition.
In June, Vogue Arabia featured on its cover the first hijabi model to walk the international runway, Somali-American Halima Aden, who gained international attention last year when she wore a hijab and burkini during the Miss Minnesota USA pageant.
“Every little girl deserves to see a role model that’s dressed like her, resembles her, or even has the same characteristics as her,” Aden said in a video on her Instagram account.
Hijabs have also become more visible in Western advertising campaigns for popular retailers like H&M and Gap.
“Brands especially are in a very strategic and potent position to propel that social good, to change the attitudes of society and really push us forward and take us to that next step,” Amani al-Khatahtbeh, founder of online publication MuslimGirl.com, said by phone from New York.
In Nigeria, a medical student has become an Instagram sensation for posting images of a hijab-wearing Barbie, describing hers as a “modest doll” – unlike the traditional version.
Mothers in Pittsburgh have also started making and selling hijabs for Barbies in a bid to make it more inclusive.
However, al-Khatahtbeh warned of the potential for the young Muslim market to be exploited just for profit without any effort to promote acceptance and integration.
“It can easily become exploitative by profiting off of communities that are being targeted right now, or it could be a moment that we turn into a very, very empowering one,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
A global Islamic economy report conducted by Thomson Reuters showed that in 2015, revenues from “modest fashion” bought by Muslim women was were estimated at $44 billion, with designers Dolce & Gabbana, Uniqlo and Burberry entering the industry.
Janmohamed, author of the memoir “Love in a Headscarf”, sees young hijabi representation in the digital communications and fashion space a step forward for tolerance.
“It feels particularly empowering for young people to see themselves represented. So today I think it is the least that consumers expect and anyone that doesn’t do it is actually falling behind.”