Hi­jab goes main­stream as ad­ver­tis­ers tar­get Mus­lims

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

The hi­jab - one of the most vis­i­ble signs of Is­lamic cul­ture - is go­ing main­stream with ad­ver­tis­ers, me­dia gi­ants and fashion firms pro­mot­ing im­ages of the tra­di­tional head­scarf in ever more ways. Last week, Ap­ple pre­viewed 12 new emoji char­ac­ters to be launched later this year, one of a woman wear­ing a hi­jab. Ma­jor fashion brands from Amer­i­can Ea­gle to Nike are cre­at­ing hi­jabs, while hi­jab-wear­ing models have started grac­ing West­ern cat­walks and the cov­ers of top fashion mag­a­zines.

Many Mus­lim women cover their heads in public with the hi­jab as a sign of mod­esty, al­though some crit­ics see it as a sign of fe­male op­pres­sion. But there is one thing most can agree on: when it comes to the hi­jab, there is money to be made. “In terms of the bot­tom line - ab­so­lutely they’re (young Mus­lims) good for busi­ness ... it’s a huge mar­ket and they are in­cred­i­bly brand savvy, so they want to spend their money,” said Shelina Jan­mo­hamed, vice-pres­i­dent of Ogilvy Noor, a con­sul­tancy of­fer­ing ad­vice on how to build brands that appeal to Mus­lim au­di­ences.

Nike an­nounced it is us­ing its prow­ess in the sports and leisure mar­ket to launch a breath­able mesh hi­jab in spring 2018, be­com­ing the first ma­jor sports ap­parel maker to of­fer a tra­di­tional Is­lamic head scarf de­signed for com­pe­ti­tion. In June, Vogue Ara­bia fea­tured on its cover the first hi­jabi model to walk the in­ter­na­tional run­way, So­mali-Amer­i­can Hal­ima Aden, who gained in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion last year when she wore a hi­jab and burkini dur­ing the Miss Min­nesota USA pageant. “Ev­ery lit­tle girl de­serves to see a role model that’s dressed like her, re­sem­bles her, or even has the same char­ac­ter­is­tics as her,” Aden said in a video on her In­sta­gram ac­count.

Hi­jabs have also be­come more vis­i­ble in West­ern ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paigns for pop­u­lar re­tail­ers like H&M and Gap. “Brands es­pe­cially are in a very strate­gic and po­tent po­si­tion to pro­pel that so­cial good, to change the at­ti­tudes of so­ci­ety and re­ally push us for­ward and take us to that next step,” Amani Al-Khataht­beh, founder of on­line pub­li­ca­tion Mus­limGirl.com, said by phone from New York.

In Nige­ria, a med­i­cal stu­dent has be­come an In­sta­gram sen­sa­tion for post­ing im­ages of a hi­jab-wear­ing Bar­bie, de­scrib­ing hers as a “mod­est doll” - un­like the tra­di­tional ver­sion.

And mothers in Pitts­burgh have started mak­ing and sell­ing hi­jabs for Bar­bies in a bid to make play more in­clu­sive. How­ever, Khataht­beh warned of the po­ten­tial for the young Mus­lim mar­ket to be ex­ploited just for profit with­out any ef­fort to pro­mote ac­cep­tance and in­te­gra­tion.

“It can eas­ily be­come ex­ploita­tive by prof­it­ing off of com­mu­ni­ties that are be­ing tar­geted right now, or it could be a mo­ment that we turn into a very, very em­pow­er­ing one,” she told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion.

Emo­jis and Fashion

Frus­trated she could not find an im­age to rep­re­sent her and her friends on her iPhone key­pad, Saudi teenager, Ray­ouf Al­humedhi, started an on­line cam­paign, the Hi­jab Emoji Project. She pro­posed the idea of the emoji last year to cod­ing con­sor­tium Uni­code that man­ages the de­vel­op­ment of new emo­jis, Al­humedhi said on her cam­paign’s web­site, help­ing to prompt Ap­ple to cre­ate its hi­jab-wear­ing emoji.

“It’s only re­ally in the last 18 to 24 months - per­haps three years - that big­ger main­stream brands have started to re­alise that young Mus­lim con­sumers are re­ally an ex­cit­ing op­por­tu­nity,” said Jan­mo­hamed of Ogilvy Noor. A global Is­lamic econ­omy re­port con­ducted by Thom­son Reuters showed that in 2015, rev­enues from “mod­est fashion” bought by Mus­lim women was were es­ti­mated at $44 bil­lion, with de­sign­ers Dolce & Gab­bana, Uniqlo and Burberry en­ter­ing the in­dus­try.

Jan­mo­hamed, au­thor of the mem­oir “Love in a Head­scarf”, sees young hi­jabi rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the dig­i­tal com­mu­ni­ca­tions and fashion space a step for­ward for tol­er­ance. “It feels par­tic­u­larly em­pow­er­ing for young peo­ple to see them­selves rep­re­sented. So to­day I think it is the least that con­sumers ex­pect and any­one that doesn’t do it is ac­tu­ally falling be­hind.”

Ap­ple’s new hi­jab emoji

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