Fashion turns to Muslim girls

H&M's 'Close the Loop' campaign which features Mariah Idrissi in her Islamic veil.

Paula Burns asks if the High Street is waking up to Muslim fashionistas or is it courting controversy

The fashion industry is no stranger to bad press. There is constant criticism for its lack of inclusivity from ethnicity to gender to weight. Every so often there’s a break. Earlier this year Jourdan Dunn was the first black model to have a solo cover for British Vogue since 2002 and she was the first black model in over a decade to walk the runway for Prada.

This time round its H&M’s ‘Close the Loop’ campaign which features curvy model Tess Holliday, an amputee model, a transgender model, a group of Sikh men and a hijab wearing model. The message behind the campaign is that there is only one rule in fashion and that’s to express your personality.

What’s garnered the most attention from the campaign is the stylish Muslim model donning a hijab. For us in the West this is ground breaking and long overdue. While the campaign is seen as a step in the right direction, speaking to, Melanie Elturk, CEO of Haute Hijab, is quick to remind us that; “The hijab is not a fashion statement. It’s a religious garment with deep and profound significance.” Meshkat Haque an Irish Muslim girl in her 3rd year studying medicine at UCD agrees with CEO’s sentiment.

Muslim fashion blogger, Ascia AKF
Muslim fashion blogger, Ascia AKF

“I can see that there is a positive element to the campaign, that it is respectful to the Islamic faith as the model is only exposing her hands and face,” says Meshkat, “But I definitely have mixed feelings, it is a marketing campaign after all and H&M are interested in opening up their markets for bigger business. The fashion industry changes so often from every week to every season and so could the modesty of the campaign.” The model in the campaign, Mariah Idrissi’s account of the day of the photo shoot should put Meshkat and other Muslim girls’ minds at ease. In an interview with Fusion magazine, Idrissi praised H&M for the great respect and understanding they showed towards her faith.

“If the cameraman noticed something was not quite right, they would call a woman over to fix me, it was sweet,” she told the magazine. “H&M asked how much in terms of neck I could show, but to be honest they were very respectful.” Meshkat is aware of the fashion industries need for the shock factor and to push the boundaries and so with this in mind she wonders if the respect shown to her faith in this recent campaign will continue in the future. But one thing she is sure of is its inevitable success.

“I hope the campaign will continue as it is because I know that young teenage girls are happy that a western brand like H&M are featuring a Muslim model. It means that they have some fashion inspiration in regards to mixing what’s on trend with wearing their hijab. They don’t have to rely on their own imagination.” Despite millions of Muslim women living in the western hemisphere, H&M are one of the first high-street western brands to feature a Muslim model. But this is nothing new in the Islamic states of the eastern side of the world.

“It is nice to be finally included in the picture,” says Meshkat. “In terms of Western brands taking notice of Muslim woman this is new but in countries like Turkey, Indonesia and the Gulf States there is a big fashion industry. The girls aren’t any different from those here.” In a sense the H&M campaign is coming to the party a little late. Over the past few years Muslim bloggers have been creating their own stir amongst the fashion pack with some captivating must read style blogs. These girls are putting hijab style firmly on the western world’s map.

Muslim fashion blogger, Dina Torkia
Muslim fashion blogger, Dina Torkia

Their blogs are as delectable as fashion blogs always are, featuring some of the most stylish and on-trend looks while keeping that element of modesty that is so true to their faith. These girls are part of the wave of hijab style, of Muslim women declaring their love of fashion while wearing their hijabs. It’s a refreshing approach to fashion seeing young Muslim women portray an image of demure style in a time when a sighting of naked flesh seems to be the must have accessory.

With followers amassing into their millions to their blogs and Instagram accounts, hijab style bloggers such as Dina Torkia, Dian Pelangi, Ascia AKF and Sahar Foad are the ultimate contenders in the fashion blogosphere. With Pelgani holding 3.3 million followers alone to her Instagram there is no denying the power of modest dress. The UK based blogger Torkia has now added fashion designer to her credits with the launch of her own clothing range and a collaboration on a range of scarves with the British fashion giant Liberty, all on the back of the success of her blog. It seems Hijab Style has never been so much in Vogue.

Despite not being an obsessive follower of style blogs, Meshkat is proud of the hijab style blogs that have been growing over the past few years.

“I’ve looked at some of the UK based hijab style blogs and they are very inspiring”, says Meshkat. “The girls are very passionate about what they are doing and are working very hard. It’s inspiring to see them pursue something that they love. They have some good advice to creating a more fashionable modest look suitable to our faith.” With the increasing success of hijab style blogs and now the H&M campaign acceptance is growing. As a first generation Muslim girl growing up in Ireland, Meshkat has felt nothing but positivity from her Irish counterparts.

“I almost wish I had some awful story to tell but I don’t. Growing up in Ireland has been an incredible experience for me as a Muslim woman. I know other girls who live in other countries like the US who have had negative experiences but I never have.” Despite being the only girl wearing a hijab at her secondary school in Dublin, Meshkat felt nothing but comfortable.

“My wearing the hijab was never a point of contention. All the girls were accepting of who I am. They saw me for me not for what I was wearing. I think this is such a great reflection of the Irish people and how embracing they can be.” As a young girl it was a visit from her Grandad that prompted the beginning of wearing a hijab.

“I started wearing the hijab quite young, it was something I wanted to do. But I suppose it wasn’t until recently in the past five or six years as I got older that I began to understandthe reason why we wear it.” Meshkat explained that in the Islamic faith everything she does is to submit her will to God out of humility.

“It makes sense to me now that the wearing of the hijab serves a purpose that I am pleasing my creator. It’s beneficial to me.” Meshkat went on to explain that everyone chooses their own time as to when to start wearing the hijab and that there should be no judgment for this.

“Islam is based on firm principles that haven’t been corrupted. As instructed we can’t act as a judge, everyone is their own judge.” Maybe this ethos of non-judgement will continue to prevail in the fashion industry leading to more inclusive campaigns like that of the H&M ‘Close the Loop’.


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