When trying to shop ethically in terms of fashion and beauty, what choices do we as expressive, stylish, Muslim women have? This year saw a wealth of Western publications such as Vogue, celebrities like Emma Watson and Will.i.am, advertising campaigns by H&M and Lush, all promoting ethical buying. Anything from our choice of T-Shirt, to our sanitary products were challenged, and there seemed to be little knowledge or access to modest, sustainable designers and their products in Western media.
Traditionally, global Muslim consumerism was considered a largely untapped market when catering for the fashion-conscious Muslim woman. Thomson Reuters Global Islamic Economy Report (2017) cites that revenue from modest fashion bought by Muslim women was estimated at $44bn in 2015, and will continue to rake in the Muslim dollar. Fantastically, modest fashion is fast becoming a fierce global economic competitor. For example, early 2017 saw the launch of The Modist, the Net-A-Porter of modest fashion, and in December of 2017, Nike released the Pro Hijab to the Middle Eastern market.
Amongst modest fashion’s growing economic success, we see a new platform being erected, and demanding attention. Herald the era of “Modest Sustainable Fashion!” The hype is not without cause as Muslim women, and those who desire modesty with style, now have a myriad of ethical choices from the catwalk. The flair and commitment of Yasmin Sobeih, CEO of “Under-Rapt,” is a prime example of a successful ‘Modest Ethical Designer’.
Holistic in her approach, Yasmin is meticulously aware of her responsibility to source viably sustainable material and dyes, whilst having a ‘fair trade’ employment of garment-makers. She belongs to an elite and unique minority of eco-friendly modest fashion designers and retailers, and began making a firm mark in ethical fashion after graduating from the London College of Fashion and Design Merchandising.
Sobeih drew up a business plan that kept Islamic ethics at the forefront of her intentions, whilst simultaneously aiming to transcend religion and culture in her garments. Her designs are inspired by “street style and sweaty hijab-clad friends working out at the gym”. Consequently, Sobeih’s sports and lounge wear is sweat resistant, cooling, and breathable. Having witnessed the trend towards ethical manufacturing, Sobeih firmly believes that consumers want transparency and keeps this ideology at the forefront of her motivations.
Under-Rapt’s philosophy is simple: the buyer knows that the product is 100% organic, along with where fabric was sourced, where it was made, and by whom. By comparing “Under-Rapt” to Nike, Adidas, and Sweaty Betty, Yasmin remains confident in her ability to compete with retail giants, as the fabrics used by popular brands are “not primarily organic or sustainable”. On the other hand, Sobeih can tell you which Beechwood tree grown on agricultural land in Austria her fabric originated from, whereas her “competitors can’t do this.”
Echoing the success of eco/social-conscious brands are Ruby Aslam and Shehr Kazmi, the innovative collaboration behind the designer brand, “Till We Cover”. They are part of a growing league of socially-conscious designers who champion a charity and the empowerment of women. “Till We Cover” promotes social inclusion and integration, by collaborating with F.A.D., an award-winning charity supporting the progression of young people in their creative careers.
Ruby and Sehr’s mantra of social inclusion emerges from a belief that “Young people should be able to progress and thrive regardless of personal circumstances, finances or ethnic background.” For Ruby, the importance of “Till We Cover” and working with F.A.D. reflects the “strive to make the design industry more inclusive by pushing forward the diversity of design in different ethnic backgrounds”. Ruby and Sehr’s collective 30 years of experience in the fashion and retail industry has caused them to model their focus on the huge oversight by high-street brands who don’t cater for “women who want to cover lumps and bumps.” Their casual designs are dedicated to a “more relaxed take” on what it is to be modest. This enables “Till We Cover” to cross religious, sizeist, and ageist stereotypes in high-street designs. “Till We Cover” markets themselves as being “all about supporting other brands,” creating a dialogue of inclusion as “modesty encompasses many things, and we all have different challenges.”
It appears that social, environmental, and ethical awareness is on the increase, but we still have a long way to go. The politics surrounding oppression in the fashion industry is at the forefront of social media. Modest designers are a growing army on this platform, creating a new awareness amongst the fashion conscious. Ruby and Sehr recognize the need for growth in the industry, and the need for strong female voices in “a time of individuality in fashion”. “Till We Cover” and “Under Rapt” are original and unconventional modest brands aiming to bridge the gap of Muslim women’s integration into Western society through fashion, whilst promoting ethical buying habits. They are paving the way for the U.K. to take the helm in providing opportunities for modest sustainable designers to be recognized, allowing the consumers to make better, more ethical, choices.