Islamic Fashion on the Rise in Malaysia

As many Muslim women choose to dress modestly, more brands are joining this juicy market

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When designer Vivy Yusof embraced Islamic fashion four years ago, she probably never thought her decision would help her own business take off. The 28-year-old Yusof, until giving birth to her first child, had not worn the hijab, a scarf that covers her head and chest. Adult Muslim women are expected to dress modestly when they are in the company of men who are not part of the family.

Proud of her decision, Yusof shared a casual photo of herself wearing a scarf on her Instagram account. In the caption she says: “I’ve made my decision and in Him I put my trust,” The photo has more than 10,000 likes and over 800 comments from supportive followers, many exclaiming “Alhamdulillah!” (Thank God).

Since then, the designer has not stopped sharing her stylish outfits, always wearing three-quarter sleeve tops and headscarves that cover the chest. Yusof’s Instagram account has already surpassed a million followers.

For many Malaysian Muslim women, she has become a real guru: her urban style is an inspiration for many as an example of living a modern life without renouncing her faith. Women’s attire has always been the subject of controversy, with those exposing their bodies or covering themselves as much as possible both drawing commentary.

So it is, perhaps, not surprising that Yusof took the opportunity to create her own brand, dUCK. She and her husband, Fadzarudin Anuar, had already gotten their hands into the fashion industry. In 2010, the couple embarked on FashionValet, one of the most popular online fashion stores in Southeast Asia.

Although there are no specific statistics on the number of women who have embraced the hijab in Malaysia, a number of brands have reported rising sales. According to a Thomson Reuters report, in 2015 Muslim consumers worldwide spent $243 billion. An estimated $44 billion was earmarked for modesty.

According to Pew Research, by 2050 the world’s Muslim population will grow to an estimated 2.76 billion, constituting 29.7 percent of the global population. Big companies have already begun to embrace this growing market. Prominently, Nike announced in March that its first hijab for athletes will be released in 2018.

Contrary to what may seem like an emerging new trend, “modesty has not grown,” explains Alia Khan, chairwoman of the Islamic Fashion and Design Council. The emergence of Internet pages, blogs and social networks that feature celebrities like Yusof have just “given people more awareness of something that was always there.”

“Modesty has been a big thing since the beginning of time,” says Khan. “And those that adhere to modest style don’t do it because it’s in or not, they do it because it aligns with their life values, and they do it for a higher reason, not for the sake of trends.”

In Malaysia, however, the trend of Islamic fashion is a relatively new phenomenon, says Dr. Alicia Izharuddin, senior lecturer in Gender Studies at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur. The trend, she says, complements the political imperative that Islam and business are compatible and that Malay Muslims should succeed financially while being overtly pious in public life.

Malaysia is considered a “moderate” Muslim country because women have more freedoms outside the home to work, socialize, and drive cars than in some Muslim-majority states. But these basic civil liberties, Izharuddin says, are “gradually eroding in some arenas of women’s lives,” These are more specific to superficial issues “such as how one should dress in government buildings, libraries, [and] hospitals, and not just places of worship.

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