Bringing Hijab Fashion Under Sustainable Scrutiny

Author – Sarah Ghanem

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There is no doubt Hijab has been the most controversial cultural issue around the world over the last one decade. Ban on hijab, niqab or burkha across many countries and the fallout afterwards have been discussed on media every other day. While Muslims see Hijab as a symbol of modesty and freedom to practice one’s religion, others see it as oppression for women.

For those who don’t know the difference, a hijab is a headscarf worn by Muslim women that covers the head and neck, but leaves the face clear. Niqab is a veil for the face worn with an accompanying headscarf that leaves the area around the eyes clear. Burkha is the most concealing one-piece veil that completely covers the face and body, and leaves just a mesh screen for the eyes to see through.

Despite the ban and the controversy surrounding it, Hijab fashion is rising across the globe. The fast fashion segment is ruled by global brands such as H&M, Zara and Uniqlo, who offer affordable, trendy clothes that change as fast as the weather. While it took them forever to be more inclusive, but lately they are adding plus-size collections and modest hijab wear in their repertoire.

H&M’s decision to feature Mariah Idrissi in their campaign and Uniqlo’s collaboration with Hana Tajima opened many affordable options to hijab-wearing, fashion-forward women globally. And why wouldn’t they? Investing in modest wear is an asset in the long run; Muslim consumers spent an estimated $230bn on clothing in FY2016.

The problem with fast fashion

With each change of fashion season, fashion-conscious women are seen flocking to apparel retailers and department stores to get the newest trends. Following latest trends of hijab fashion season after season is expensive.

This is where fast fashion comes in: trendy clothing items are sold cheap, so that consumers would not mind wearing them for a short period of time before moving on to the next seasonal item. Although this ‘out with the old, in with the new’ mantra is kind to one’s purse, it comes at a huge human, social and environmental costs. Garment workers in third-world countries, are often exploited and paid poorly. To make matters worse, they are often working in less-than-ideal conditions. Although fast fashion is not entirely to blame, 20% of industrial water pollution originates from dyeing and treating fabric, which makes the clothing manufacturing industry the second highest pollutant of water around the world.

Islam and sustainable fashion

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With their enormous spending power, one would think Muslim consumers would be at the forefront of putting the hijab fashion under sustainable scrutiny. Although it is not forbidden to want to look beautiful, one must remember that living an ethical life is encouraged in Islam; this includes avoiding wastefulness and oppression. Therefore, even though the act of buying clothes is permissible, buying clothes that we do not need from a retailer that is known to oppress its workers is not ethically equal.

However, not all of us have easy access to sustainable fashion brands. What can we do then? Changing our consumer habits and attitude towards new fashion pieces is the first important step to take. Purchasing a better quality hijab, at a slightly higher price, will allow us to get more wear out of it because they will last longer. One could also opt to purchase clothes made from reused and recycled materials such as this hijab made from recycled plastic bottles.

It’s cool to be green

More brands, designers and influencers are taking a stance at working towards a more ethical and innovative way to produce clothing. If one thinks wearing a hijab made out of recycled plastic bottle will be an uncomfortable experience, Emma Watson will beg to differ. She rocked a dress and a pair of shoes made entirely of recycled plastic during one of her press tour’s events for ‘Beauty and the Beast’. She even wore a dress made of recycled plastic bottles for the Met Gala in 2016! Sportswear giant Adidas announced that it has invented running shoes that one can decompose in one’s sink once they are worn out. According to Adidas, these shoes can last at least two years of use.

It takes some work on the consumer’s part but having them involved in the recycling process will make them more engaged with the cause to ensure that a sustainable world remains within the grasp of our future generations. Taking the first step to living a more ethical and sustainable lifestyle can be hard. However, it is important to take baby steps that will eventually encourage manufacturers to change the way they conduct their businesses.

About the author
Sarah Ghanem is a hijabista and a fashion consultant at Modanisa who is passionate about the modest fashion scene. Apart from keeping up with the latest hijab trends, she is also very keen on living a sustainable lifestyle, and always promotes eco-friendly choices.

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