By Sarah Ghanem
Ever wondered how those hijabistas make their way from positions as fledgling bloggers and vloggers or local beauty pageant attendees to appearing on the New York or London runways? Well it does happen and as this behind-the-scenes look at the Muslim model Industry will show, recent events are only the start of something much bigger.
One good example is Kanye West recently featuring a hijab-wearing model on the catwalk of his Yeezy 5 show during New York Fashion Week. The good news is that the abaya and hijab are no longer being left in the background; you can now find them centre-stage on New York runways as top designers promote them in an effort to change some of the many prejudices that exist in the West.
Promoting modest fashion
Dian Pelangi, a Muslim fashion designer with has 4.8 million followers on Instagram has stated that oppression does not figure at all in what she does and that the world needs to know that the hijab is beautiful as well as stylish. She went on to present her inspirational collections during Fashion Week in Chelsea, and of the five Indonesian designers who presented collections, two involved modest fashion and made a feature out of models covering their hair.
This is something out of the ordinary for the model industry because models are not normally expected to be modest or diverse. But things are changing behind the scenes and following on from campaigns from Nike (Pro-Hijabs) and CoverGirl (featuring the first Muslim face for a major cosmetics brand), others are following in their footsteps.
Muslim models no longer ‘Underwraps’
One of these is Nailah Lymus, the founder of Underwraps, the first Muslim modelling agency in the world. She has Muslim friends who at one time felt modelling was out of the question as they would not be able to cover themselves; but times have changed. Now Underwraps takes Muslim and modestly-dressed women and places them on the front of Vogue magazine. With a lot of attention currently on Muslim women appearing on the catwalk and magazine covers wearing hijabs, this is resulting in them being asked to take part in advertising campaigns and articles, having a massively positive impact upon the business.
Nailah is quick to explain that she has waited for this moment all her life, and now it is here; people are seeing Muslim models as beautiful women with a strong social presence who are showcasing the beauty of the religion. The attention being given now is as far away from negative as it ever could be, although there are still racist stereotypes out there, who Nailah takes in her stride, such as the request for a Muslim model wearing a sheer niqab in the spirt of Jasmine from Arabian Nights. But this does not put her off; she patiently points out to agencies who make these sorts of requests that you cannot represent the Muslim religion whilst sexualising the niqab.
What Muslim women are about
By focusing on getting more hijabis in front of the camera, she goes a long way towards dispelling these stereotypes where models like Hafsa Abdallah can wear their hijabs proudly, feeling strong, beautiful and a part of ‘something bigger’.
Nailah wants to eradicate the image of Muslim women wearing only black burqas, instilling in people instead the idea that this is not what all Muslim women are about. However, she is quick to point out that the strides being made towards seeing Muslim models in a positive light must not be viewed as purely a passing fad: “We may be “trending” for others, but [we are not a trend,] this is our lifestyle. This is how we live.”
Muslim models are showing the fashion industry that they have every right to take their place on the world stage and that modest attire can indeed be awesome. Designers are enabling them to forge a path forward, breaking new ground and setting new standards for what these fearless and handsome women all are about.