AUCKLAND – Defending women’s right to wear what they want, an Auckland-based swimwear designer has included burkinis for the first time in New Zealand Fashion week, as tensions increase over the Muslim-friendly swimwear.
“Wearing what you want to wear is a personal choice, so whether people want to wear it or not, shouldn’t be a debate,” Carena West told New Zealand Radio last Friday.
“By France banning a particular item of clothing it makes a statement on their side as well. It’s ironic they’re trying to force someone to not wear something that they think they’re being forced to wear. It seems like a big roundabout”.
A recent controversy on burkini has erupted in the wake of the French authorities’ decision to ban the swimsuit in Cannes, Corsica and Le Touquet, which were followed by more than 20 other towns.
The decision was criticized by many commentators who see burkini as something that grants so many women access to sports and experiences they would have otherwise avoided because of health, body or religious concerns.
Anger also got heightened up after a series of photos emerged showing four police officers armed with handguns, batons and pepper spray standing around the woman who was lying on the beach wearing a blue headscarf and matching top.
West, 30, said she did not see the burkini as a form of religious oppression.
She added that if her burkinis sells, she will look at creating a swimwear range specifically for Muslim women.
Assia Benmedjdoub, the editor of Australian fashion magazine Ragtrader, said the burkini took the audience by surprise when it hit the runway.
“That was a really nice inclusion. New Zealand as a country has that multi-cultural appeal and is very warm and inviting, so it was great to see that sense of inclusion,” Benmedjdoub said.
West launched her eponymous label in 2013 and publicity material said it had taken “a social turn”, moving its manufacturing from China back to New Zealand.
“Having a brand that is socially responsible is now an integral component of our business – a connection with how each piece is made is incredibly important, as much as the design, fabrication and make,” said West.
Radio New Zealand fashion podcaster Sonia Sly praised the idea of including burkini as part of the show’s inclusive theme.