Istanbul is positioning itself to be a hub in this nascent industry, which, according to Dubai-based Islamic Fashion and Design Council, could be worth almost $500 billion within decades.
In May, Istanbul hosted its first conservative fashion week at the historic Haydarpasa train station, to showcase the rapidly growing market. It was organized by Franka Soeria from Indonesia, another center for Islamic clothing. As a global consultant on modest fashion trends, she decided three-and-a-half years ago to move to Istanbul, whose position straddling Europe and Asia gives it an edge.
The point of offering stylish modest clothing was not to tell people to cover up but to show that “Muslims are also the same as you. We don’t want to be excluded or look different,” said Soeria. “We are saying that, ‘Hey, I am modest, I like to cover. I also like fashion. This is just my style’.”
At the start of the year, legendary Italian fashion house Dolce & Gabbana launched their first line of hijabs and abayas – some extravagantly patterned – for Muslim customers in the Middle East.
Though Turkey is a constitutionally secular state, the Islamic-rooted ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) – co-founded by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – has advocated removing restrictions on the Muslim headscarf since it came to power in 2002. In 2013, Turkey lifted a long-standing ban on wearing the hijab in state institutions. Last month, the government allowed policewomen to wear the headscarf under their official caps or berets for the first time.
In the conservative Fatih quarter of Istanbul, Islamic fashion stores line the streets, which are awash with billboards advertising modest styles. “I covered my head three years ago. I didn’t want to dress up like my mother because in the past the clothes headscarf-wearing women could wear were limited,” said 16-year-old shopper Seyma. “Now I can easily find whatever I look for.”
But not all Turkish Muslims like the trend and see fashion as a Western tool aimed at turning Muslim women into consumer-oriented spenders. “Islam seeks to form a modest Muslim identity, encouraging need-oriented consumption,” said Hulya Sekerci, an activist with Ozgur-Der, a Free Thought and Education Rights Association. “On the contrary, fashion is a vicious circle encouraging excessive consumption. That’s why we are against it,” she explained.