Hijabi Model for H&M Signals Inclusive Future for Fashion

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Febrianto Pudi Utama
Hijab fashion models pose in a photoshoot for a fashion boutique based in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Earlier this year, Samantha Elauf won a court case against upscale clothing brand Abercrombie & Fitch (A&F) after the label denied her a job seven years ago. Known for their East Coast collegiate style, the brand cited that Elauf violated its look policy by wearing the headscarf.

While A&F decided that the headscarf does not fit their all-American image, popular Swedish retailer H&M recently embraced the hijab with its newest Muslim model. Twenty-three-year-old Mariah Idrissi is the first hijabi model to be hired by the world’s second largest retailer. She is featured in the label’s latest video, called “Close the Loop,” which aims to promote clothes recycling. The video’s models range in nationality, gender, and size. Not only is H&M helping to increase the positive visibility of veiled Muslim women, it is also giving them representation in an industry that has long excluded them.

Until recently, Muslim women, and especially hijab-donning women, have been absent in modern, mainstream fashion. While societies grow increasingly diverse and the fashion world seeks to become more global, the stylish Muslim woman has yet to have much influence in the Western fashion industry. Although the biggest names in fashion have opened up to a range of unconventional and traditional styles, Muslim women are not represented in this global identity. Things are evolving, however, as successful brands commit more to diversity in order to broaden their customer demographic.

While the intersection of faith and fashion has been a contentious issue within Muslim communities, recent years have seen the rise of the fashion-savvy Muslim woman, who sports fashion’s latest trends while keeping in line with the modesty that is deeply encouraged by her faith. She cannot be found on billboards or commercials, but her presence makes waves on various social media platforms. With thousands of girls following her style on Facebook and Instagram, she has been coined the “hijabster,” a term that fuses hijab with, essentially, being hip.

“Even though fashion with hijab has been going on for years, we’re really seeing it more with Instagram and Twitter and Facebook and everything,” said Idrissi in a video by the BBC. “Over the last few years, it’s really boomed.”

In many countries in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, hijabsters model for the trendiest local retailers, and bigger brands are cashing in by producing clothing more catered to Muslim customers. British–Egyptian influential online personality and fashion designer Dina Torkia is often seen on Instagram dishing sartorial tips while decked out in pieces from notable labels Zara and Mango. These brands are also slowly reaching out to Muslim fashionistas by coming up with specialty collections made available during the month of Ramadan.

Another example is well-known Japanese retail company Uniqlo, which recently collaborated with Muslim fashion blogger and designer Hana Tajima on a modest clothing line. It launched two months ago in Singapore and offers pieces that blend comfortable fabrics with both contemporary and traditional designs. A hijab line is included in the collection.

In an op-ed for ELLE, founder of online retailer Haute Hijab, Melanie Elturk, responded to H&M’s latest hire, saying “The significance of Mariah Idrissi wearing hijab in the H&M campaign is noteworthy for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that she’s fiercely stylish in her hijab. Mariah represents the millions of hijab-wearing women who have a voice, who are pumping with intellect and enthusiasm, and who possess a very real need to find appropriate modest clothing.”