Modest Fashion Can’t be Stylish? Think Again!

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Launched in March 2012, An-Nisa fuses modesty with trendy upbeat fashion. The brand is led by young Tanzanian designer Fatmah Naeem, who studied fashion in Toronto, Canada. She was awarded the Most Innovative Designer during the Swahili Fashion Week Awards in December 2014.

The brand incorporates Western trends into Islamic guidelines of how women should dress. Mixtures of colours, fabrics, and embellishment are encouraged as a mode to empower women. The result is a stylish but modest fashion line. This is Fatmah Naeem’s story.

 

The brand is led by young Tanzanian designer Fatmah Naeem

The brand is led by young Tanzanian designer Fatmah Naeem

 

How It All Started

In my teenage years, I was a tomboy. I played football in the heat. I didn’t care how symmetrical my socks were. My siblings would make fun of how I would match orange and pink, or how I would wear mix prints. Little did they know some of these things would be trending in 2015!

As the years passed, I developed my own style. In college, I designed my own dresses. My circle of friends got interested in how I would look the next morning. You see, in those years, stylish modest fashion was hard to come by. It was hard to dress modestly but still look fashionable.

London is one of trendiest cities in the world. Fashion became my passion. So I began designing for myself. Then, I designed for my friends and family. As people’s interests grew, I turned my career to fashion design. I was studying optometry but became a fashion junkie instead, switching to a degree in fashion.

 

A Perfect Blend of Faith and Trend

It is quite important for my work to reflect my beliefs. Growing up in an Indian/Arab Muslim family, we were taught to dress modestly. There is no specific Islamic fashion guideline, but there is a general look we go for. Dress yourself in clothes that do not amplify the curves of your body. Baggy silhouettes can be trendy.  Shift, tent, trapezoid, I-line are all fashionable. It’s all about modest fashion.

Islam encourages the language of hijab. Many people think of it as just a veil to cover your hair. But hijab is simply modesty – of clothing, of your eyes, of your tongue. What we say is a form of hijab. We are taught to respect each other with the things we say or do.

Still, I try to incorporate many western trends. I use colours and textures of the season to keep my designs up to date. This modest fashion combination, for me, was emancipating.

There is a vast diversity in what Muslim women can wear. But some hang on to traditions. Black is a modest colour, thus most of the abayas are black. Using trendy colours such as jewel tones or bold colors can be a challenge. Some women find them overpowering. To balance this, I use softer tones, like pastel.

Designing modest fashion is always a challenge. But it is important to look at it from a broad perspective. The use of capes and coats are accents of modesty. Dresses may not cover your hands, but I always encourage people to go for a cape or abaya.

 

This modest fashion combination, for me, was emancipating.

This modest fashion combination, for me, was emancipating.

Cultural Richness as an Inspiration

Inspiration comes in many different forms. For me, travelling creates my main sparks. I discover new people, new cities, new food. But most importantly, I discover new fabrics. When I was in Turkey, I was inspired by the mosaics, the hues of blue in architecture, and the triangular scarves the women wore.

But there always an element of Tanzania in my collections. Sometimes it’s beading from the Maasai tribe. Other times it’s Kitenges and African-inspired prints. It is a privilege to be staying in a country like Tanzania. There is so much diversity and richness in the culture. Incorporating these richness in modest fashion yields stylish results.

In other words, I find it exciting to adopt different craftsmanship in my modest fashion collections. There is so much color in Tanzania, and this is reflected in many of the designs. The use of extravagant prints on fabrics like Kitenge and Kangas bring out the uniqueness in the designs. Moreover, some of the structural pieces and the lavish head pieces can’t be found anywhere else.

Incorporating the richness of the African or Tanzanian culture in modest fashion yields stylish results.

Incorporating the richness of the African or Tanzanian culture in modest fashion yields stylish results.

 

Modest Fashion is Becoming More Stylish

There are many women in Tanzania who were in the same situation I was in. Initially, it was a challenge to convince people that modest fashion works. That you could look stylish and be modest at the same time.

Over the past few years, the traditional concept Islamic fashion has changed. I became more accepted in Tanzania. Soon, I was representing Tanzanian designers in Russia and the United Kingdom.

We have a rise of young Muslim designers. Modest fashion has become a movement, a way of life. Some women may still decide to wear the colour black for its simplicity and elegance. However, it is styled in such a way that it appears posh.

Muslim women have used accents and accessories to bring out their personality. A lot of these women inspire other designers. DKNY launched a Ramadan/Eid collection. If Islamic fashion is considered boring, then what would you say about DKNY designing for the Muslim majority in their Ramadhan/Eid Collection?

 

Modest fashion has become a movement, a way of life.

Modest fashion has become a movement, a way of life.