Zulfiye Tufa knows how to make a headscarf look fabulous. The 26-year-old Melbourne-based pharmacist has gained over 42,000 followers via her Instagram account The Hijab Stylist, all eager to see the ‘modest fashion’ looks she skillfully puts together.
Though it hasn’t always been easy to find fashions that fit her look.
“Shopping for modest clothing in Australia, I found the experience very frustrating,” Tufa tells SBS.
So she took to designing her own pieces or customising pre-existing ones. “If I’m planning on going to a formal event, I find I’ve always got to add something to a dress – like sleeves.”
Tufa’s custom designs have proved so successful that she has been invited to attend Algiers Fashion Week in June this year and is in the process of launching her own fashion line.
Tufa has found she’s far from alone in getting creative and designing her own modest outfits. “More and more people are making clothes themselves, or having them tailored,” she explains. “They might only then wear a piece a couple of times.”
Looking for ways to put these fashionistas in touch with one another so their customised designs can have a greater reach, Zulfiye was inspired to create her upcoming app, Mod Markit.
“My dedicated team and I have been working hard to get the app up and running. We wanted to provide a platform for women who like modest clothing.”
See their introductory video below:
“It’s not a new idea really” Zulfiye explains, referring to the idea of a platform for buying, selling and swapping clothes.
“It is just something that didn’t exist previously though, specifically for the modest fashion market. It’s a good niche.”
It might be niche, but it’s a market that’s booming. Muslim consumers spent an estimated $230bn on clothing over the past year according to the 2015-2016 State of the Global Islamic Economy Report. It’s a figure that is predicted to just keep on rising – to a projected $327bn by 2019.
"Overall clothing purchase by Muslim consumers does not directly translate into Islamic fashion," Rafi-Uddin Shikoh, the person behind the study, told Al Jazeera. "But there are a number of drivers that suggest the modest fashion industry will be growing towards those numbers."
With the Muslim fashion industry continuing to grow, high end fashion designers are cashing in on the trend too as they slowly but surely move towards filling a gap in the market for consumers who are ready and willing to spend big on their designs.
Dolce & Gabbana made headlines recently when they released their first ever collection of hijabs and abayas.
While the Italian label’s pieces don’t come cheap, ranging in cost from $5000-$22,000 Australian dollars, they proved to be a great success in the United Arab Emirates, where the demand is high for luxury goods.
It’s not just the high-end brands who are finally catering to this market either, with street brand Uniqlo last year launching a modest wear range and high-street retail giant H&M running their first campaign featuring a Muslim model, modeling headscarves.
Interest in the modest fashion market extends far beyond just Muslim women though, Tufa explains.
“On the blog, I find I get personal messages all the time from people who are not Muslim who have taken in interest in my style and they say ‘I really get why you do it,” she says.
“I get a lot of messages of support.”
“A lot of [non-Muslim] people ask ‘is it offensive if I wear a scarf?’ I tell them not at all!”
Tufa explains that “Modest fashion isn’t just a religious thing – it’s just not very in-fashion right now.”
As the political landscape has evolved more for women, so too have their fashion choices, Tufa explains.
“Fifty years ago people dressed much more modestly. Now as women have got more rights politically, they often show their confidence by showing their bodies.”
“So the misconception is that Muslim women who don’t dress like that aren’t confident, when actually it’s often the opposite.”
In fact, contrary to what many non-Muslims might think dressing modestly can be liberating, explains Tufa, because it’s all about freedom of choice – and perhaps freedom from the conformity of much contemporary fashion.
“Having the right to choose what to wear is all about confidence too. [I’ve found] many young girls like dressing that way too but find they don’t have the option as mainstream stores aren’t catering to more modest wear.”
So are there any mainstream fashion brands that do cater to the modest fashion market? Zulfiye’s advice for hitting the shopping mall is “Don’t underestimate any store – just give them a chance.”
“You won’t necessarily find a whole outfit but you’ll find something.”
“I’ve found stuff at Forever New, Sheike, Decjuba. They’re not advertised as modest but you can still find pieces anywhere!”
The Mod Markit app is due to launch in July this year – follow the Facebook page for updates.