India may have the world’s second largest Muslim population, but modest fashion has yet to gain a real foothold in the country. As Fahd Hameed, founder and Managing Director of Delhi’s Modest Forever, said in an interview, “Modest fashion and the hijab culture is setting in much more in the US than in India.”
It is this kind of sentiment that spurred one designer to create what she describes as “the first-ever Islamic fashion label in India” in her home country.
“Setting up such a label is a real great challenge in India, where the hijab is still considered to be old-fashioned and a sign of oppression, not only among non-Muslims but unfortunately among educated, modern Muslims as well,” Nighat Ahmad told My Salaam. “The hijab and burqa are considered boring.”
In 2014, Nighat founded Kanpur-based The Hijab Lee, choosing a brand name that meant “the shelter or protection of the hijab”.
“The aim basically was to provide quality and trendy Islamic clothing options for youth, fashionistas and modern Muslim women who did not have enough options available in India when they wanted to go for the hijab,” the Kashmir-born entrepreneur explained. “Subsequently, we started our online store; now we ship worldwide, Alhamdulillah.” Besides India, other core markets for The Hijab Lee are the Middle East, USA, UK, Turkey and Asia Pacific.
“I started doing hijab awareness and hijab-styling workshops, where I would promote and support the hijab by motivating and educating youth, fashionistas and educated modern Muslim women about the beauty and importance of this beautiful dress code,” she said. “Besides lectures, I do give hijab tutorials and hijab-styling tips in these workshops.”
Despite commercial success, not everything has been smooth sailing. Nighat, who is a medical doctor by profession but a fashion designer “by passion”, has faced a barrage of criticism for her chosen path.
“I face challenges and criticism every day, but that won’t stop me. In fact, this gives me more courage, strength and motivation,” she said.
THE MIDDLE EAST AND MORE
“As part of a business group, we have not had any external funding as of now,” Nighat says. “But as part of our strategy for organic growth and taking things to the next level, we are looking for strategic partnerships, including collaborations with retailers and multi-brand boutiques.”
Most of the brand’s outfits are available at Shaila’s. The outfits have a loose, modest fit and full sleeves; they are ankle-length and not see-through. “We create classic, trendy and bold signature styles without compromising on basic guidelines of the Islamic dress code for women so that they can represent their faith with confidence and don’t feel ignored by the fashion industry.”
Every purchase also does some good; part of the sales from The Hijab Lee goes towards feeding underprivileged families, mostly widows, orphans, the differently abled and the elderly. “We started with 10 families and are now providing food to 50 families. Inshallah, we plan to add many more such families.”
For now, Nighat is focusing on growing The Hijab Lee and working towards making modest fashion popular. “Modest fashion designers collaborating with major retailers would immensely benefit the modest fashion industry. And introducing modest fashion labels in shopping malls or multi-brand stores as a shop-in-shop model is a way forward.”
Nighat believes that more modest fashion shows and e-commerce platforms are needed to meet growing demand, and she is raring to become a bigger part of it all. “These are really exciting times to be a part of the growing modest-fashion industry.”
(Writing by Rachel McArthur; Editing by Seban Scaria firstname.lastname@example.org)
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