Modern fashion has long been synonymous with parades of long, lean models teetering down a runway sporting a range of often-exposed designs aimed to flash the most skin possible.
But a backlash is starting to build, focused around a so-called “modest fashion” movement that is tipped by Thompson Reuters to become a $450 billion industry by 2019.
A fashion event in Western Australia has opted to capitalise on the interest, showcasing a range of stylish and fully-covered outfits focused on more modest designs.
Perth Modest Fashion Premier 2018, which held its inaugural event at the Perth Town Hall on Saturday, was organised to promote local designers and models from across a range of cultures, religions and ethnicities.
One of the event organisers, Imam Faizel Chothia, said Perth was ideally located to tap into the booming modest fashion market.
“More than 60 per cent of Muslims live east of Mecca, in Asia,” the Muslim community leader said.
“Indonesia in particular has one of the fastest growing middle-class sectors, who spend almost 80 per cent of their disposable income on luxury items, including clothes.
“If Perth can secure 0.0001 per cent of that market, it translates into millions, and millions, and millions of dollars of revenue to our state.”
Modest fashion has major aspirations
The term “modest fashion” generally refers to a trend of wearing less skin-revealing clothing, without having to sacrifice on style.
Sureyya Demir, one of the designers involved in the event, said despite common perceptions, modest fashion was not limited to people of Islamic faith – with the trend being adopted across a range of religions.
“Modest fashion is basically something of your own interpretation,” she said.
“It may be part of your culture or follow your religious beliefs or it may just be your interpretation of fashion – something that is different, that represents you.”
Ms Demir was born in Perth to a Turkish Muslim father and an English Roman Catholic mother, with herself and her sister choosing Islam as adults.
The hijab stylist said she had noticed a growing need for modest fashion options in Perth.
“I have women coming to me who don’t follow any religion and they say to me, ‘I love your scarf, the way you wear it’,” she said.
“It’s something that is catching on in the wider community and it can be for anybody.”
Modest fashion has gained momentum in recent years, and in 2016 Istanbul held the first-ever Modest Fashion Week, with London and Singapore following suit.
Fashion labels – including Dolce & Gabbana, H&M and Uniqlo – have also jumped on board the trend, creating designs an orthodox Muslim, Jew, Christian or Hindu could wear.
Last year the Perth Fashion Festival even dipped its toes into the arena, presenting modest fashion alongside designs from India and Africa on a multicultural runway.
Modesty an empowering choice
The Perth Modest Fashion Premier 2018 event showcased collections from 15 local designers, with more than 50 models strutting the catwalk, many for the first time.
“It really represents our cultural diversity and also showcases the fact that we are so multicultural,” Ms Demir said.
“We’re living in harmony here, no matter what anybody says – and I believe it definitely promotes something different to the world that Australia has to offer.”
First-time runway designer Shabnam Riaz, a Pakistani-born Muslim woman who grew up in Iran before migrating to Australia, said designing and showing her line – Mizan by Shabnam – was a dream come true.
“My mum, she loved sewing, so as a little girl I always used to watch her – she’d give me things to hem and put buttons on, so that’s how it started,” she said.
“I really like the fusion between the east and the west, so I’m always thinking about how I can incorporate my culture into Australian culture, especially in terms of fashion.”
Ms Riaz, a chemist who formerly owned a number of pharmacies across Perth and who is also a mother of two girls, said modest fashion was a way of mixing her birth culture with her new culture.
“I want my girls to grow up knowing that to dress modestly is a choice, not a forced thing,” she said.
“And also to know that [in dressing] modestly, women can be known as who we are, rather than how we display our bodies.
“One of my daughters just had her school ball and she actually chose to wear one of our traditional outfits – everyone commented on how beautiful the outfit was and she felt very proud wearing it.”
The priest and the imam
The fashion show was the brainchild of Imam Faizel and his good friend, Reverend Peter Humphries.
The unlikely duo met six years ago when Imam Faizel knocked on the doors of St Paul’s Anglican Church in Beaconsfield, inquiring if there was a space where Muslims from his community could pray.
Reverend Humphries – leader of St Paul’s at the time – responded with: “Here. I mean that’s what we do here, it’s the obvious place to pray.”
The rest has been, as they say, history.
Under their leadership, Christians and Muslims have sat, eaten, shared and even prayed side-by-side.
Last year, after years of planning, Imam Faizel, along with the support of his community and many others, turned the building next door to the church into a fully-fledged Muslim prayer facility and a small Islamic art gallery.
While not everyone has been accepting of the growing relationship between the two faiths, both men choose to focus on the positives.
And despite Reverend Humphries recently leaving St Paul’s to focus on his charity in Nepal, where he works to provide access to education for as many children as possible, their friendship has only grown.
The priest and the imam can now even add the title of “modest fashion designers” to their resumes, with the launch of their collection – la-Peter de-Faizel – a highlight of Saturday’s event.
And never ones to slow down, they already have the next fashion show lined up for later this year.
The modest fashion event, to be held at the Perth Convention Centre in June, already has 20 designers signed up, including some international labels keen to join the movement.