It’s the fourth Muskie shop in town. Later this month they open a fifth in South Mumbai. Then we move on to Level 2 of Maharashtra cities such as Nashik, Jalgaon and Aurangabad, according to Arif Panjwani. He owns a franchise of the West Trading Company that brought the brand from Delhi to Mumbai. Mushkiya’s founder, Zishan Harfin, said he began selling hijabs and abayas in 2016 as an online retailer and soon opened nine stores in Delhi and four in Mumbai.
Hijabs, abayas and burkas have never been as omnipresent in the national consciousness as in the past three months, with images of Muslim women in the Delhi shahin bagh being broadcast by various media. Mushkiya does have a connection to Shahin Bagh. His first shop in the heart of Shaheen Bagh has been closed for 14 weeks since the area became the epicentre of anti-racism protests (AAC) in the capital and has fuelled similar protests in Mumbai, Bengaluru and Calcutta. From Shahin Bagh to viral videos of young Jamiyah Milliyah students wearing the hijab and standing in front of the police, it is no exaggeration to say that the hijab has become a symbol of discord. This is far removed from the muscular gangster clothing of Rosie Riveter, icons of American pop culture created during the Second World War to demand work from women and help them make weapons and war munitions. The woman in the hijab is a tour de force that creates space for the fight for equality. And the important thing is that he’s real.
Muneeba Nadeem’s modest collection at the Summer Fashion Week / Modern Restaurant in Lacme 2019 (Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury)
The Hijab and Burha, a symbol of personal religious identity, have had their ups and downs. In recent years, however, young Muslim women have innovatively embraced and adapted their clothing, bringing the hijab into the fashion world of catwalks and instagrams.
In February 2019, fashion designer Muneba Nadim, 23, then third-year student at the International Institute of Fashion Design in Kanpur, made her debut at INIFD Launchpad Fashion Week in Lakma with a collection dedicated to hijabs for active women. It was the first time the hijab appeared on the catwalk of a fashion event in India. Nadim from Kanpur said on the phone that she wanted to go home in polka-dot clothes, which can also be changed into clothes of power and deserve more recognition.
Modest fashion is an overarching term that includes long garments, from long-sleeved blouses and carpeted dresses to outerwear, and refers to clothing methods that hide the shape of the owner’s body and limit the effects on the skin. Nadim wants to start his own business in Kanpur before moving to the big city, although he sells on Instagram. An aspiring designer owes her success to her father, who encouraged her to start her own business before considering marriage. She is now planning to work on her spring/summer 2021 collection for Lotus India Fashion Week and Dubai Fashion Week.
In India, despite the economic downturn, the modest fashion industry is undergoing a kind of revolution. Instagram is rich in independent clothing brands and hijab-centric labels such as The Little Black Hijab (@shoplbh; 81,700 followers), The Hijab Hazel (@hazelhijabs; 18,000 followers) and That Adorbs Hijab (@that.adorbs.hijab; 17,400 followers).
Fatima Mohammed (left) and Farkhin Naki of the small black hijab (Photo: Anirudda Chowdhury)
When the Little Black Hijab (LBH) was introduced, the co-owners Farheen Naqi and Fatima Mohammed supported higher prices, such as ₹750 for everyday options because there was no competition, but they had to lower prices via ₹499 as the new brands developed. Now at least 10 new Instagram jobs appear every day, says Nucky. LBH opened a shop on Instagram in 2016 because Nucky couldn’t find quality hijackers in India.
Brands such as Delhi’s Mushkiya, Mumbai’s LBH, the Chennai Islamic Store and the Islamic Design House (IDH) in London opened around the same time in 2015-16 in India. The target audience is women of all tastes and ages, from die-hard Kartik Aaryan fans to those watching the Fleasons rebroadcast on Amazon Prime at the weekend.
According to Salaam Gateway, the Dubai-based media platform tracking the global Islamic economy, India’s 170 million Muslims spent around $11 billion (about ₹80 860 crores) on clothing in 2015, and this figure is expected to rise 13% to $20 billion by 2020. She highlighted factors such as population growth, urbanisation and a younger, more brand-conscious demographics that contribute to the growth of India’s modest fashion industry. This was also facilitated by the inspiration of a style based on social media platforms. Junayd Miah, co-founder of the HDI, is most optimistic about retail opportunities in Tier 2 cities. The modest fashion industry is growing worldwide, said Mia on the phone from London. In India, it is now ready to explode.
When a community is in the spotlight and its members feel excluded, they turn inside to investigate their identity, Mia says. After September 11th, when ordinary Muslims around the world were targeted because of their identity, younger generations in Europe and the United States began to address issues of religious identity and wonder what it means to be Muslim. But it was also an experimental fashion generation that wanted to explore new trends and styles while adhering to the principles of modest clothing as defined by their faith.
Modesty is conservative, but it shouldn’t be boring. Striking is the variety available on the market, from asymmetric soils and animal patterns to clear buds and Billy Aylish approved electric green. Abai Denim is available in different washing machines and with sportswear accents in stripes and pockets. The burkas are no longer shapeless and baggy: A-shaped edges are very common, rhinestone details have become popular and colorful scarves are clothing accessories. Our favorite to study this feature is the Mondrian pattern created by Mushkiya.
Inspiration with style? Deepika Padukone in the Balmain hooded suit she wore at the Mirchi Awards last month. (Photo: [email protected])
The modesty of fashion also includes other denominations such as Jews and Orthodox Christians. A 2019 New York Times article, The Co-opting Of Modest Fashion, expanded the definition to include the cultural changes that followed the #MeToo movement, as many women rejected the male perspective. She explained personal choices detached from religious beliefs and emphasized that modest fashion has become a different way of dressing. An example of this is the Ralph Lauren silk dress with long A-sleeves, decorated with 168,000 Swarovski crystals, worn by the American singer and rapper Janelle Monáe on the red carpet that was awarded an Oscar this year. Last month Deepika Padukone, dressed in a black Balmain bodysuit and black blazer, attended the Mircea ceremony in Mumbai. The hood had curtains that were soft like a hijab scarf. What was it like when you didn’t nod your head to alternative clothing?
MY HIJAB, MY CHOICE
The issue of choice was recently raised during a social network confrontation between Hatiya Rahman, singer and daughter of music director A.R. Rahman, and Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasrin. This tweeted on the 11th. February, she feels strangled by an ugly burkha. Hatiya went to Instagram to confirm her choice and said I’m proud of what I’m fighting for. Rahman said a woman is free to wear whatever she wants.
Hijabs and burkas tend to have extreme reactions: While the Taliban regime in Afghanistan whips women without burkas at the other end of the spectrum, Denmark banned such clothing in some public places last year.
The prose writer Andaleb Wajid (Photo courtesy of: Andaleb Wajid)
The stereotype of an oppressive burha does not exist for the wearer. He is seen by others as a despot, said the Bengali writer Andaleb Wajid. When I was younger and attended book presentations at five-star hotels, I didn’t want to wear burhu because I didn’t know what people would think, says Wajid, 42, who started wearing it as a teenager because most of the women in his family wore it. Even today, when Wajid participates in literary events, people start talking to her in Hindi instead of English, even though she has written more than 24 books in English. The fact that I wear burhu doesn’t mean I only speak Urdu, Wajid says. She likes to combine them in sober colours with printed or coloured hijabs for a touch of colour. I feel like a really cute girl.
It is clear that more and more women in India are experimenting with modest fashion. It’s not a binary drug anymore: a girl in a black burha or not. The spectrum has arrived, and the designers are finishing it in a creative way.
In Mumbai, Nabiha Fakih, a 25-year-old dentist, documents his outfits in a hijab on Instagram for 53,500 fans. At her wedding she wore hijab to show off. They took her, but she took matters into her own hands. I just think what’s good for me might not be good for you, she says.
According to her, a girl should understand the purpose of wearing hijab – to behave modestly, according to what suits her. I have the feeling that when you wear hijab, you concentrate on your intentions and understand why you wear it, she explains. On YouTube, the hijab publishes tutorials for its more than 21,000 followers. I can’t do my hair, so I do my hijab, she says. She gets messages from girls who came to the hijab after watching the video.
Twenty-year-old Ana Shaikh (on the cover photo), a powerful figure in the hijab (@_hadha.ana_) of 65,800 on Instagram and 63,000 on TikTok, started wearing the hijab at a young age. At the age of 19, she opened her Instagram page to document her hijab-like outfits. Today she is one of the big names in the world of Hijab influence in India and works with global brands such as Daniel Wellington, Beep Global and Sugar Bear Hair.
Sana Sayyad is a student and modest part-time fashion designer at Instagram. (Photo courtesy of: Sana Sayyad)
I wanted to attract Muslims and especially non-Muslims through Instagram, says Sana Sayyad (@sanasayyadx), an influential 20-year style icon. Since 2018, it moderates personal style updates on the platform and has paid for partnerships with modest Indian fashion and beauty brands such as Modest Essentials, Thread For Your Head and Iba Cosmetics, a Peta Halal certified cosmetic, all year round.
IDH has joined Leatherskin’s growing community of fashion lovers by organizing events such as modest gatherings and in-store hijab-style workshops. On the Instagram @idh_india page moments of these events are selected. For modest gatherings, the brand attracts women from creative professions such as photography who share their journey with modest fashion by exploring why they dress like that.
LBH offers quick instructional videos on Instagram for hijab styling, with influential hijabs that generate 10,000 to 100,000 hijab visits. It’s almost like a small digital magazine that offers inspiration on how to wear it. It’s not like we’re encouraging girls to buy. It’s a bit of a fun style, Nucky says. This includes studying curtains and experimenting with accessories such as baseball caps, winter beans, sunglasses and earrings. All videos are synchronized with global hijab trends. They even offer content categories such as back-to-college and 9-5. They haven’t received any applications from a well-known brand yet, but in the Muslim world we’re very common, Naki said.
In recent years, more and more Indian Muslim women who follow this lifestyle see the hijab khaleji, a style in which a scarf is worn over a large bun, giving the head and neck an elegant silhouette. Originally from Kuwait, today the khalidji is one of the most popular hijab styles in the world. Hundreds of manuals on YouTube teach women how to drape it. Wearing hijab without jokes with less pins and curtains is another popular style.
In the office of LBH I came across a range of hijab accessories: Stretch hats, cotton and lace mixed fabrics worn under the hijab to bend the hair and hold the fabric in place, hijab cuffs and hairpins, even without teeth and magnets (the latter even fix the heavy sari kanjevaram). Essentially a pair of powerful magnets decorated with spikes or beads that are placed on each side of the fabric to hold it in place and also serve as a brooch without being damaged. Magnetic pens are so effective that you can wear a hijab and ride a bike, and it doesn’t move an inch, says Nucky.
Copper in Mushkiya, modest clothes shop (Photo: Aniridda Chowdhury)
At last year’s pop-up exhibition, even non-Muslim women bought them quickly. Thirty percent of our customers are non-Muslims, says Panjwani of Mushkiya. Two aspects of these products attract women who are not their target: attractive prices and variety. For example, LBH sells office suites and long coats in three and two parts, ready for retail. It also offers the newlyweds hand embroidery options from Lucknawi. Long floral patterned jackets can be found in Mushkiya’s online and offline stores, and IDH sells overalls, long button-down dresses and modest headdresses.
The Mushkiya store in Santacruz is branded as top quality, but the clothing is surprisingly affordable. The hijabs are between ₹120-700 and the abayas ₹990-12,000. In Mumbai, on the other hand, is the centre of abayas, burkhas and hijabs Muhammad Ali Road, where they are sold on the street and in shops. You can buy hijabs here for ₹120-250. LBH’s near-normal pants and tops range from ₹1,000 to $2,000, which is lower than Amazonian prices for similar clothing. IDH offers chic, medium-length, button-down dresses with asymmetrical hems at ₹1 500-2,600. If they are sold, they fall significantly – attractive prices also attract non-Muslim buyers.
BOLLYWOOD AND BURHA
In recent Bollywood films such as Secret Superstar and Lipstick Under My Burkha women show a complicated relationship with hijab and burkha. While the burha is often presented as a practical means of maintaining freedom – a kind of urban camouflage – it can also become a symbol of everything that is oppressive. In the film Mystery Superstar her father forbids the main character to sing in public; at the end of the film she removes the skin from his face. With lipstick under my burha, one of the two most important Muslim heroes uses a burha for shoplifting.
Most of the hijab girls the show spoke to think the only real image in Bollywood of a young Muslim girl modestly dressed and wearing hijab is that of Aliya Bhatt, Safina, in Galli Boy. The style of the film was developed by Puornamrit Singh, who spent several months researching the style of the cheeky Safina. His team visited several colleges in Mumbai and, with their permission, photographed girls in the Hijab. Singh has familiarised itself with various curtains and accessories to create an atmosphere. Then she took basic jeans and t-shirts from brands like Uniqlo, Kurtis and Hijabs from street shops and created the image of Safeena.
I wanted to make sure the hijab wouldn’t get noticed, says the designer. He was as regular as wearing jeans.