The Capitalisation of Modest Fashion

This is something which has been playing on my mind for a little while – as modest fashion gains more and more exposure, there has been a big impact on the industry. I love that there are more and more Muslimah fashionistas and designers being represented out there, that retailers and brands are starting to take notice of modest fashion and the hijab (whether it’s stocking the clothes or featuring hijab models). Just recently an Indonesian Muslim designer garnered applause for having an all-hijab collection on the runway, and catwalk model Halima Aden also recently made news for wearing her hijab. I recently attended London’s first London Modest Fashion week (with another one happening this Bank Holiday weekend) and I’m pretty sure this is just the start. Vogue Arabia featured Gigi Hadid in a head-scarf, Uniqlo has made news for collaborating with a British-Japanese Muslim designer, and several mainstream companies have began to stock hijab-friendly pieces. In the midst of negativity about hijab, the French niqab-ban, the recent legislation about employers being able to ask employers to remove religious symbols, these are much-needed positivities in the modesty movement.

Modest fashion has been making waves for a while now – from Nigella donning that burqini to bloggers such as Dina Tokio and Nabiilabee who have now grown into becoming pioneers for the fashion industry, influencing the market, including designing their own ranges and even having pieces in mainstream stores – over the last decade it has really exploded and changed from the way it used to be (and I remember when we all used to wear a stretchy hijab when going to Quran lessons as kids which we used to just pull over our heads like little frumps!)

It all sounds so amazing, right? I love that there’s been so much growth in this industry, I do. But there’s also a lot of things which make me concerned about the rise of this multi-billion-dollar market. As a fashion blogger, and a young Muslimah who loves her fashion, and even as just an ordinary consumer, regardless of whether I blog about modest fashion or not, I certainly understand the struggle or getting decent modest clothes. My sisters and I all have memories of looking for suitable clothes as teenagers (and even now, sometimes) – outfits which cover our arms and chest, and look flattering without being fitted, modest without being frumpy, and stylish as well. Sounds like a tall order, and in our earlier years, it felt like it was. So it’s amazing to see the strides that have been taken in the fashion industry, that it’s easier to find pretty, girly maxi dresses which aren’t backless, long tops in pretty colours, or even scarves that are made from a decent material. It certainly makes sense that the reason for this growth is that there are so many others out there who has also had this need, whether it’s Muslim consumers, modest fashion bloggers, or just anyone looking for something which covers up a little more, and that this gap in the market is being filled. It also makes sense that there is a rise of modest fashion designers, online outlets which sell couture designs, and hundreds upon hundreds of companies which sell hijabs, abayas, modest dresses and so on.

So what’s my gripe? My issue is that it feels like a lot of companies are starting to recognise the amount of money being made from modest fashion, and taking their chance to capitalise on it. Now I understand that a business is a business – it needs to make profits and these companies are well within their rights to do so. However I feel that the result of a lot of these companies pushing the prices up means that the market gets inflated – suddenly it feels like a lot of the things which we want and need are expensive – ironic right? The outfits we want are there, but we can’t always afford them.

I’ve noticed, over the years, that some of the bigger designer companies have started to jump on the bandwagon too – D&G released an abaya and hijab collection last summer, and Tommy Hilfiger, Mango and DKNY among a few brands have all released capsule wardrobes for Ramadan in the Middle East in the past. The question in these cases are not why modest fashion is reaching these brands – these changes definitely show that customers fashion choices are being reflected – but more why these are aimed at an Arabian market which already have access to similar things like this, and also the fact that the price tags are only aimed at the richer classes who can afford these. Doesn’t it negate the whole gesture, surely, if the ordinary girls who want to wear this stuff can’t afford it, and don’t have access to the ‘designer’ things?

I’ve seen lots of modest fashion bloggers who collaborate with and promote modest clothing companies to help them become more popular. I’m not in disagreement with this, particularly when it helps a smaller brand, or a business whose ethics I genuinely agree with. I recently met a retailer for a modest clothes company whose outfits were very reasonably priced – the owner and designer of the collection explained to me he knew he could charge more, and chose not to. He said he would rather help more women be modest, do his good work in the name of religion, and sleep well at night – his children were in good university, his wife and himself were well-educated and had enough money, and they were happy with what they have. I was really pleased to hear something like this – as someone who has struggled with money issues in the past (as has everyone), I know it’s easy to get greedy and chase after more money. I loved that this company recognised that it would rather promote modesty in a workable way and still operate a business.

However I have also come across a lot of modest clothing brand who don’t take this stance – whether they like to cultivate an ‘elitist’ stance so that only certain people can wear their brands, whether they charge more because of their unique, customised pieces or even whether they charge these prices because they are ‘normal’. It’s made me pretty upset in the past when brands have cherry-picked who they want to work with – understandably they will pick those who will promote their brand, but it also makes fashion bloggers compete with each other, and creates a circle with excludes a lot of customers who want access to these outfits, and have to pay out of the nose to get them. One of my biggest concerns when I attended the London Modest Fashion week event was that there were plenty of brands and exhibitions to shop from, but I thought some of the things available were too pricey – I had a discussion with a friend who also went to the event a day later who said she would prefer to buy things from a normal high street store because the value for money was better.

So how can we address this issue? Over the years, as fashion has evolved, my attitudes has too. In the past I use to splurge on makeup and clothes (and had the money too!) so could afford to spend more to get what I wanted. These days, it’s not so much the money but the principle of getting quality for my money which has made me more picky. Can’t find a reasonably priced maxi dress? Buy some loose fabric and get it tailored (although we all know the struggle of finding a decent tailor who won’t charge the earth and also gives us our outfits on time!). Support a smaller brand who will appreciate feedback and pay attention to the products. Look at fair-trade companies who work ethically – it’s one thing supporting a Muslim company, but what about one who works in a green, ethical way?

I’d love to know your thoughts on this – have you noticed the difference in the rise of modest fashion too? For those of you who wear modest clothes, what have you opted to do?

Why I Am A Faceless Blogger

Some of you may read my other blog, which is a fashion/beauty blog about all things to do with Pakistani and Indian fashion trends, modest fashion, makeup and random ramblings (and some of you probably found this blog via that one!) I have been blogging for about six or seven years now, and have noticed that as my priorities and interests have changed, my posts and articles have accordingly adapted over time as well.

One of the things I have had some conflicts with as a fashion blogger (or is it influencer now? I’m still undecided about that word) is the fact that I don’t show my face, whether it’s for outfit posts, or pictures from weddings, events or makeup swatches.  My concerns are this – as I’ve been writing for some time and I have been getting more public interest in the couple of years because of my clothes, wedding posts and experiences which I have blogged about, I have had more exposure which means more opportunities to work with new brands. However I feel that a lot of the bigger bloggers I follow or who have successful businesses, have become successful because they themselves are the brand – they are recognisable, easy to relate to and trust, and because of this they are able to fit into a market who are comfortable with them.

Initially I never used to show my face in blog posts (I used to just cut my head off my pictures before I posted) for several reasons: firstly, I liked the anonymity, you can get away with a LOT more when people don’t know you. Secondly, I never showed my face for kind-of religious reasons – I don’t blog because I’m fishing for compliments or want someone to say I’m good-looking (that’s what Facebook and my husband are for), but because I want to show how fashion can be modest, stylish and wearable. The whole point of my fashion blog is about what I wear, and what I have in my wardrobe, rather than what I look like. I wear a hijab and the concept of it also includes having some modesty both in behavior and physical appearance, so why not incorporate that in my blog? Thirdly, I was also a little self-conscious because a lot of my personal friends and colleagues don’t know I blog – call it silly but I find it easier to write if I’m less self-conscious about who is reading it!

I have thought about it for a while, because as much as I’d like to protect my anonymity and modesty, there are still some pros which you can’t argue with. I am a bit of a risk-taker at times, and I can see the appeal in the idea of myself and my identity as a brand. It’s not that I’m shy, or that my identity is a big secret (even though I do fight crime at night sometimes), and really, it’s not even about whether I have a problem showing my face. But I have often found that a lot of blog readers and followers feel more connected to Instagrammers and bloggers that they can recognise, especially when there’s a lot of personal issues being shared. A big part of blogging is being transparent not just about who sponsors your posts or whom you collaborate with but also who you are. The most successful blogs are the ones where the bloggers are open about sharing opinions and parts of their lives.

The real issue is that if I decided to show what I look like, the pictures are out there, and it’s hard to go back. In today’s digital age, pictures can be shared faster than WhatsApp rumours, and I like the fact that right now, I have control over my images and my identity.

There’s also the fact that a lot of girls (and guys) can be pretty awful to bloggers, you have to pretty emotionally strong to be able to not let negative comments affect you, ruin your day or even influence your behavior. I’ve been lucky enough not to get many negative comments, but it can still be pretty tempting to lose your way by trying to please your audience or maintain popularity. The other issue is that I am in a place in my life where I am pretty confident in myself, my self-image and my place in life – and I can imagine that the struggle to maintain a ‘pretty face’ for a blog, or the psychological impact it could have.

You could even say that the issue isn’t showing my face exactly, since even if I did, I’d still dress modestly and would still wear hijab. Another thing I have always considered is the idea of ‘nazar’ (or the ‘evil eye’ which might intentionally or unintentionally come from envy), which is something I do believe in, which could arise once I lose that anonymity.

There are, fortunately a few ‘big’ bloggers who I do follow, that have managed to remain faceless, and quite successfully so. One blogger I’ve always been a fan of has complained in the past that it’s amazing how some people just don’t get that they want to remain ‘faceless bloggers’. She described a fashion event just last week (which I also attended) where a few of her followers took pictures of her when she was walking around, even when she went to the restroom; when she confronted them to ask them to delete the pictures, they told her she should expect this kind of thing to happen and shouldn’t have become a blogger if she didn’t want pictures taken of her. While I can understand that if you’re successful and on the fashion scene, you can’t really stop other people for taking your pics and posting them on social media or magazines – I also think there should be a line drawn for respecting privacy.

In the past my ‘facelessness’ has affected me in that one or two fashion brands who wanted to promote their brands have wanted to work with me, and in the end I have turned them down because they did not want to crop my face out. At the time it was a little upsetting, as it made me feel that I had ruined my prospects a little if I wanted to work with future companies, and also I had noticed difference in the way that bloggers who did choose to work with those company treated me. However, in the long run, I don’t regret my decision – I like the fact that I kept control over the content and photos of me, and if a company isn’t able to respect that, then perhaps they are not for me.

There have been times when I have debated for some time about showing my face, especially as I never have done in the past with my blogs. I spoke to a few friends about it, my sisters and even on blogger forums, and in the end I decided not to because I don’t want my posts and articles to be about how I look, as much as what I’m wearing, what I am doing and even who I am. In the long run, I’m pretty happy with my decision because although I’m not shy or have a secret identity (apart from the night-time crime-fighting stuff), I like having control over my privacy, and I think it also keeps me pretty humble.

The way I think of it, as Islamic as I try to be and however I try to live my life as modestly and well as possible, I will always, always love fashion and makeup, which I think I’ll always be channeling through my blogs and social media. This isn’t a bad thing, and I love that I can work with new ideas and different companies, and as I am a pretty visual person and will always want pictures to be a part of my posts, I think I can do this without compromising my values. I understand  that readers might identify with me more if they know what I look like and can visualise me, I think that I will be able to engage better when I show who I am in a more relatable level (like this post, for example!)

Some people have suggested using body doubles or models – this would work for a company but not for something personal like my own blog – when I go on holidays and days out, do I take a body double with me? I think not. In all honestly, this is something which has bothered me less and less over the years, as I have seen a lot of fellow bloggers follow the lead in ‘faceless blogging’ (like my elder two sisters here and here!) – influencing without making it about the way we look or how beautiful we are. I’m also at a pretty good comfort level right now, and am enjoying the things I do blog about, the events I go to and the pictures I post of myself. At the end of it, it’s not because I’m paranoid about how gorgeous I am or not, it’s the concept of hijab for me, and the principles that come with it.

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We had a fab Eid this last few days, which was spent with the close family – great food and good company!

I didn’t get to take too many pictures of the day as I didn’t bring my camera, but I did take a few on my mobile (so apologies for grainy quality!) but thanks to my sister Everyphototunity for sending her shots of the day!

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Every year we always take Eid as a great opportunity to put on mehndi on our hands the night before Eid, which looked great on my sister and on the nieces. I wanted to put some on myself but was too tired to by the end of the night – but there’s always next Eid!

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A little snap of our outfits – Eid always gives us a chance to channel the fashion bugs in us, and we all looked pretty colourful together on the day; I loved that there were different styles and colours while looked fab together. I think the toddlers in the family probably out-dressed us all in mini outfits from Pakistan, I wish I had taken a picture of their dresses with matching embroidery!

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And of course Eid wouldn’t be Eid without the scrumptious food, which was cooked by my eldest sister, and later by my aunt. We were all pretty stuffed by the end of the day (which is why I don’t have a lot of food pictures – we were all busy stuffing our faces.) It was also really nice to spend lunch and dinner with all of the family, after a month of quiet iftars between myself and my husband!

And of course, after the main course, we finished off with amazing chocolate cupcakes from my talented baker sister, as well sweet-dishes like rice-pudding and mithai for everyone.

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My sister knows we all have a sweet-tooth, and gifted us all a sweet-tub (adults and children!) to enjoy, which were a mix of chocolate and halal sweets, prettily decorated.

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There were also plenty of presents and chocolate for everyone (including a 1kg slab of Dairy Milk given to my husband by my sister, which I am now ‘looking after’ for him!). I remember when we were kids, my parents used to make visits to several friends houses within the day, and still cook a 3 course meal and have every extended relative visit the house – it was hectic and manic but fun because of all the family friends and cousins we would see. These days as we get older, our Eids tend to be a little more chilled out, and we spend our Eids with close family and the kids (and see our friends later on in the week!), which makes Eid more intimate and easier for some of us. It’s also always a treat to see how much the little children enjoy Eid – it’s one of our few religious holidays which really mean something to us, and it’s great to see this celebrated across the world by all generations and in such beautiful ways.

We spent about 3 days celebrating Eid (before the inevitable return to work, although my work colleagues and I are still having Eid samosas on Monday!), and it was a really nice way to end a blessed Ramadan month.

 

Writing on the Wall: Classical Colours

One of my biggest issues with my attempts with art is that I never feel that it’s as good as other people’s masterpieces, or that it’s not quite right, so it needs to be a little better. When I was younger I was convinced that I’d be better as I drew more and learned more about art – used different techniques and mediums and just find my niche. Sadly enough, over the years, even though my enthusiasm still sparks into life when I’m in the arts and craft section and when I read about different styles of drawing, it fizzles out a little when I pick up a pencil (or drawing tablet!) to draw something myself.

I saw this a few days ago and loved the riot of colour in all this – even though it’s framed and placed against other frames, they don’t act as boundaries, there’s patterns within patterns, and beautiful details which overlap and pulls the eye.

I’d love to paint something like this, and it’s when I see beautiful things like this that I feel inspired, it doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful. I’m not sure I’m skilled enough to paint with oil paints just yet, but I’d love to try mixing colours and media to see what beautiful colours and patterns I get. So here’s a little colour to brighten up the weekend.

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Our Eid!

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We had a lovely Eid weekend (which was a 3 day affair for me) starting with dinner at the sisters, then dinner at my mum’s, and ending with an Eid Fair at a local park (with lots of screaming on the rides!). Here’s a few shots of what we did this Eid, you can see a little more here  as well, but the general theme was lots of good food, energetic toddlers and yummy cupcakes!