Modest fashion—a style first made popular by Muslims and Orthodox Jews which grew to encompass a broader counter-cultural shift in dressing to embrace coverage—has boomed in the past ten years, fueled by young designers and influencers on social media. Now a handful of Muslim modest fashion brands are embracing what they see as another tenet of their faith: sustainability.

They include Haute Hijab, one of the first major hijab brands in the US that was founded in 2010 by repurposing vintage scarves as hijabs. Initially a platform for Muslim women in America to find community with one another, the brand expanded in 2020 to include sustainably produced sports and woven bamboo fiber hijabs.

Then there’s Nea Wear and Fayéna, two brands marrying slow-fashion and modest fashion that were founded mid-pandemic. Nea Wear, launched in London in early 2020, started by making hijabs from scrap fabrics from larger companies. Founder Ainara Medina sources fabrics in Europe, visiting factories and textile fairs in Turkey, Italy, and Spain to make sure working conditions and weaving practices are aligned with Nea Wear’s mission.

“Usually I work with post-consumer plastics so they’re usually made from plastic bottles recycled from the ocean and they usually give you even how many bottles are recycled per meter of fabric,” Medina tells Wunderman Thompson Intelligence. “That’s how I make sure, just asking a lot of questions, meeting people, and doing my due diligence.” Nea Wear is now expanding beyond hijabs with a collection of satin high-collared maxi dresses and wool balaclavas.

Fayéna, launched in Detroit, Michigan in November 2020, designs, sources, and sells hijabs and accessories made from ethically and sustainably made fabrics such as mulberry silks. Founders Fakhrya Alshubi and Lena Aljahim, ages 22 and 21, are the gen Z founders dedicated to educating the larger Muslim community on the need for sustainability.

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Nea Wear

The 2021 State of Global Islamic Economy Report found that although Muslim spending on apparel took a hit due to the pandemic, spending was still estimated to be at $268 billion in 2021. By 2024, the modest fashion industry is expected to be valued at $311 billion. This market is only growing, as exhibited by the luxury and high fashion brands Balenciaga, Louis Vuitton, and Chanel jumping on the bandwagon with their current Fall 2022 collections featuring loose trousers, long coats and gowns, and generally full coverage looks.

As modest fashion has expanded, it has taken on some of the traits of fast fashion, including a heavy toll on the environment. Medina, Alshubi, and Aljahim all mentioned the Islamic principle of the Earth being a trust from God, something Muslims and humankind in general must take responsibility to care for. “We don't believe women should compromise their faith in order to buy the hijab,” said Alshubi, discussing how ethical consumerism is connected to spirituality.

The transparency of Nea Wear and Fayéna’s supply chains are prominent on their websites and on those of other larger brands like Silq Rose. The UK-based Silq Rose, started in 2019, is growing its sustainable hijab lines—including a chiffon hijab “you can compost in your own back garden!”—to include activewear and prayer robes set to release this year.

The connection between faith and fashion has often been a fraught one. In France, for example, the government has banned the wearing of the hijab in courtrooms, schools and other public places—even as head coverings like the balaclava and scarves have emerged as fashion trends on high streets.

Recently, Vogue France posted an Instagram post of the (non-Muslim) actress Julia Fox wearing a black headscarf with the caption “Yes to the headscarf”, a glaringly tone-deaf message in a country whose government has been actively vilifying the hijab.

“That's the hardest part to see, that you can't be representing yourself out on the street without someone feeling some type of way over the way you cover yourself, the way you dress, which is extremely bizarre because we live in a society that says, your body, your choice, wear what you like, but it's never really implemented,” Alshubi tells Wunderman Thompson Intelligence.

Marketplaces like The Reflective are highlighting high fashion options while more accessible brands largely perpetuate fast fashion practices. Small businesses, however, are pushing the needle forward on educating and providing modest fashion that doesn’t compromise on environmental safety or faith and personal values. In doing so, some are also reaching beyond their usual customer base.

”Modest fashion is not one dimensional,” said Medina of Nea Wear. “My audience is majorly Muslim, but I feel like I shouldn't only target Muslim women, it’s more to women who wear modest clothing, regardless of their religion or beliefs.”

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