As the concept of modest fashion gains more traction in the UAE, we find out why it’s not just about religion and why the style is here to stay
It’s not a trend, it’s a movement – that’s what the insiders are saying, anyway.
The concept of modest fashion is not a new one and people in the industry hope it’s not going to become one of those short-lived styles destined to become dated.
Modest fashion is certainly gaining popularity around the world with women who want to dress with confidence and style while being true to their values.
Surprisingly, according to local designers, the concept is still gaining traction in the region, compared to Western countries. But with events like Yas Mall’s Modest Fashion Weekend and Dubai Modest Fashion Week popping up, that’s set to change as more designers and companies are setting up dedicated collections and brands to cater to the growing demand.
One such brand is STUDIO TEH, inspired by the Arabic word for feminine. The brainchild of Abu Dhabi resident Shaimaa El Nazer, STUDIO TEH launched just a few months ago and is hoping to cater to fashionable females in the UAE who, like Shaimaa, struggle to find suitable clothing that’s stylish and affordable. But it’s about what the concept represents as much as the clothes that go with it.
“Modest is an idea, it’s a state of mind,” Shaimaa says. “You don’t have to be religious to go for it. You don’t have to define yourself by dressing modestly.
“I would hate to see modest fashion become a trend, because if it’s a trend it will die. It has to be a value, an idea, something on-going that keeps being fed and is part of what’s there. At some point you have to go past the stereotype phase, something that’s mainstream.”
Mosika Zeid, founder of modest fashion brand Desert Cove, agrees: “It’s a revolutionising movement. Everybody is thinking the same thing; everyone all over the world is struggling to find on-trend modest fashion.
“It’s been going for a long time and there have been early players stirring the pot, but I feel like now it’s really starting to gain momentum in this region.”
For Mosika, her inspiration to set up Desert Cove also came from experience. After moving to the UAE from Australia, she was shocked at the lack of options when trying to find “trendy, on-point modest fashion clothing” that was hijab-friendly, particularly given the number of women dressing modestly here.
While both Mosika and Shaimaa are Muslim women, they agree that modest fashion is for everyone, regardless of religion or background.
“With Desert Cove, I’d say there’s a 60/40 split – 60 percent being women who are wearing hijab and 40 percent being women who aren’t and aren’t even Muslim,” Mosika says.
“We’ve had a lot of feedback from women saying they don’t necessarily want to be showing everything all the time; at the same time they want to remain on trend but can’t find options. There are a lot of older ladies in that category as well as younger ladies and mums.
“Everyone wants to be comfortable, look good and feel confident, no matter what religion you are, and if that means wearing something with a bit more coverage then it’s totally fine.”
Shaimaa adds, “Through STUDIO TEH what I’m keen to do is make every lady who decides to dress modestly – and it doesn’t relate to religion or being Muslim – to not be ashamed of where we come from, from our origins, our roots, to proudly say I started from this place, I’m going there, this is my origin, my education…
“Nowadays, everyone is travelling and living abroad and I’m trying to contribute to a movement towards opening up and doing whatever you like aside from what you wear or how you look,” she adds. “And I think that’s something that’s already there, I’m not starting something from scratch, but I would be proud if I could contribute to it.
“Some people are not really confident of doing something because they think it would be a bit of a stigma and they would be perceived as someone else because of what they’re wearing.
“I’ve experienced a lot times going to places where I couldn’t find something to wear and I’d see other women wearing things that fit amazingly and mine doesn’t because I couldn’t find something or didn’t have time to tailor something. So it’s about walking comfortably in those communities in business, going out, travelling or attending friends’ weddings. It’s about empowering women just to be there as they are; they don’t have to change.”
WORDS Rachael Perrett