The double-edged sword of modest fashion

In a world that rewards beauty and style over everything else, we Muslims have become caught up in this culture just as much as the “West”. We criticize the exploitation of women by the fashion industry, and yet we are just as desperate to be accepted by that same industry, in our bid to be recognized as stylish even with our modest wardrobe guidelines.

Just take a look at the proliferation of ‘Muslim style bloggers’. ‘Hijabistas’ are on the rise, with every young girl who owns a smartphone, has an Instagram account and buys clothing from mainstream clothing outlets posts photos on public accounts of their ‘OOTDs’. Inspired by the heavyweights of the industry who have hundreds and thousands, even millions of followers on social media, these girls have been given new role models to emulate, be ‘inspired’ by, and ultimately, to envy.

With designer wardrobes, wearing labels such as Chanel, Prada, Christian Louboutin, and even high-street lables such as Zara, H & M, Forever 21, these style bloggers are fuelling a booming modest fashion industry. And big labels are taking note, by coming out with their own ‘modest’ lines. Dolce and Gabbana recently created an Abaya line, inspired by and aimed at, Arab women. DKNY released a ‘Ramadan’ collection last year. This trend is only expected to grow with modest fashion being estimated to be worth $327 billion dollars (Source:

Although it may seem to be a blessing to finally have our ‘modest fashion’ criteria being catered for and normalized, it comes with a flipside. And no, I’m not going into the identity debate, or the hijab debate, or the profit intentions so transparent in these companies. I’m talking about the cost of this consumerism.

Spending in the UAE and Saudi Arabia have actually topped the world list in consumption of cosmetics. They have become the biggest consumers of haute couture, what with the need to wear a different outfit to the 15-20 weddings a year that they are invited to.

And what is the cost? The hundreds and thousands of mothers, sisters, brothers and fathers in sweatshops working to churn out millions of items of disposable, seasonal, trendy clothing that will literally be worn once, then discarded. Their working conditions so unbearable, being forced to stand for hours on end doing one menial task, for wages that keep them below the poverty line. Or worse, risk their lives in dangerous conditions, seen in the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh.

We must begin to shift our consumer habits. We must buy ethically, intelligently and consciously. We need to buy less, more expensive, but quality clothing that is ethically and sustainably made. We must place the impacts and consequences of our spending habits on the environment and fellow brothers and sisters first- before style, fashion, selfies and OOTD’s.

The next time you find yourself in Zara, Sportsgirl, or some random cheap clothing store, stop and think about whose hands may have made that embellished jacket, under which conditions, and whether your need to look stylish is more important than them.

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