Meet some of the women behind the Muslim fashion industry

October 26, 2016

How Muslim women paved the way for the “booming” modest fashion industry.

Alexandra Khouri launched her Etsy page for her turbans store, Aweea, this month. Although she is new to the Modest fashion industry, she says she hopes to empower Muslim women through her designs. (AU/Omama Altaleb)

STERLING, Va. -- Hakeemah Cummings waddles into the dining room as traditional French music rings in the background. Framed black and white photographs of the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe are loosely taped on the wall. Cummings and her group of mommy friends huddle around the corner of the room, cell phones in tow. There’s a two-tier tower of macaroons, a vintage map of Paris, a plate of white and fuchsia frosted cupcakes with a nail polish bottle on top and sketches of dresses spread out on a rectangular table. Cummings, who is eight and a half months pregnant, is celebrating her Paris Fashion Week themed baby shower. Just one day before, Cummings was on the set of a street style fashion photoshoot for Cover Me Beautiful, her modest fashion blog for Muslim women. Cummings is just one of many Muslim women who are behind the Muslim fashion industry that Business Insider called “booming” in a 2015 article. While it’s been mostly a side hustle for many Muslim women, the mainstream media and fashion world are increasingly taking notice. According to Cummings, people are intrigued to see that Muslim women are creative, fashionable and expressive -- thereby defying the stereotypes linked to them as being oppressed and unapproachable. “It’s just a different concept for people to grasp,” says Cummings. “It’s not necessarily the fashion that you might open up Vogue and see.” Cummings stepped into the fashion scene in 2014, when she did her first runway show as a stylist for DC Fashion Week’s Haute and Modesty show. She says the experience was thrilling. “A lot of times I see fashion shows and it’s not something that I can really relate to on a level where I can see myself wearing that as a Muslim woman -- because I have to put a layer over it or under it, or get a seamstress to extend a hemline or something like that,” Cummings says.   Since then, Cummings has continued to participate as a stylist for DC Fashion Week. She also provides marketing services and collaborates with fashion designers. In her September runway show, Cummings featured turbans made by her friend Alexandra Khouri. While Khouri is an acupuncturist by profession, she has been working tirelessly on launching her Etsy store, Aweea, this month. She primarily sells turbans and headbands.

Alexandra Khouri is wearing one of her creations: a denim turban. She says that turbans are unique and she enjoys designing them more than dresses and skirts. (AU/Omama Altaleb)

“I never thought I would be sewing,” Khouri says, yet she is confident she is entering into a lucrative market. According to the State of the Global Islamic Economy 2014-2015 report, Muslim consumers spent about $266 billion on clothing in 2013. It’s also estimated that by 2019, they will spend about $484 billion.   Cummings says it’s designers, like Khouri, who lead the Muslim fashion industry. Other key players include social media users, modest fashion bloggers, photographers and media sites focussing on Muslim women. Mariam Sobh, founder of Hijabtrendz, a lifestyle blog for Muslim women, has been covering Muslim and hijab fashion since she created the site in 2007. Almost 10 years later, the Hijabtrendz Facebook page has garnered more than 787,300 likes. Sobh launched the platform as a way to normalize the Muslim woman in American society. As a journalist in Chicago, Illinois, who wears hijab, Sobh was told numerous times that she wouldn’t be able to go on TV unless she removed her hijab. “I felt like I wanted to express myself,” Sobh says. “I wanted people to see that Muslim women are normal; we talk about fashion, movies and entertainment, and we are just like everyone else.” One of Sobh’s more recent posts on the blog discusses hijab fashion at New York Fashion Week. Media sites including CNN, BBC, Huffington Post, Elle and BuzzFeed reported that Anniesa Hasibuan, an Indonesian designer, made history at New York Fashion Week for featuring hijabs in her collection, but Sobh says this is not a first on a mainstream runway. “There’s this news cycle that happens every year, without fail, where all of a sudden, it’s ‘Muslim women and fashion’ and I’m like, ‘OK, this has been going on for decades,’” Sobh says. In her article, Sobh mentions several Muslim women pioneers -- including Cummings -- who paved the way for the Muslim fashion industry. Sobh says it’s frustrating that mainstream media sites make a frenzy when these types of events occur because it makes it look like Muslim women are just now at the forefront even though they have been there since the start. Sumaiyah Ali, style guru and editorial intern for College Fashionista, says mainstream media sites and the fashion world are noticing hijabi fashionistas because of their large followings and influence on social media. For example, Dina Tokio, a British fashion designer, blogger and YouTuber, has 1 million followers on Instagram alone. Ali sees the recognition from the mainstream media as encouraging.   “The mainstream media may not understand the lengths that Muslim women go to to wear the hijab or dress modestly, but the fact that modest fashion is being recognized in itself is an empowering sentiment,” Ali says. However, Ali also says that it’s important for Muslim women to receive credit. “Muslim women are often viewed as oppressed due to the fact that some choose to wear the hijab, but the fact that the Muslim fashion industry has been flourishing in Arab and Muslim countries, as well as even in some Western countries, shows that Muslim women not only make their own decision about the hijab, but are confident in their decision to do so,” Ali says. Click through the timeline below to look at a brief history of recent Muslim fashion events in the news: