The demand for “modest wear” is growing and a number of top designers are now branching out to cater for the untapped market of Muslim women who want to be glamorous and conservative at the same time.
New York-based fashion house DKNY did it first by creating a capsule collection for the Muslim holy month of Ramadaan last year, and other design powerhouses such as Oscar de la Renta and Tommy Hilfiger followed. On social media, several campaigns have been launched such as “I love hijab” which encourages women to post photos of themselves in full Islamic wear. What it has shown is that a number of young Muslim women are choosing to wear colourful and stylish hijabs instead of the traditional black. Roshan Isaacs, managing director and editor in chief for Style Africa Fashion Network, believes that modest wear in the fashion industry is still undervalued.
The online network is a portal for the latest trends in fashion, design and creative talent, and aims to inspire South Africans to buy locally designed and made products in order to develop and promote domestic talent.
“The market for modest clothing is a multibillion dollar industry yet a lot of designers have not tapped into it. Most Muslim women have to get their clothes custom-made in order to be on trend and that needs to change,” says Isaacs.
Isaacs was recently appointed the South Africa country manager for the Islamic Fashion and Design Council (IFDC), the world’s leading modest fashion and design (art, architecture, interior) council representing the Islamic economy and its stakeholders. Her responsibilities include supporting and developing the modest wear fashion industry through services and initiatives intended to expand its platform in the country.
“One of the things I am working on is getting a collection of modest clothing on a runway. Modest clothing is a huge market that exists but has never been seen on a runway here and yet Muslim women are people who represent South Africa as well.
“Also, there are many designers who don’t know how to reach the market and my role is also to connect and train them to understand the market,” says Isaacs.
“Muslim women aren’t often seen in a positive light in our societies, but mostly viewed as oppressed for being forced to wear a scarf. My work is geared towards changing that perception. People wonder how I shop or how I manage to match my scarves with my outfits… I probably have enough scarves for the nation. It’s part of my wardrobe, my attire and so I incorporate them into my outfits,” she says.
Isaacs is a regular face at South African fashion weeks, and her immaculate fashion sense and colourful, beautifully wrapped turbans and scarves are highly praised and admired in fashion circles. I met her at a contemporary café in Claremont, close to her home from where she runs her online magazine.
Isaacs was born into the world of fashion as one of four daughters of Abobaker Isaacs, a talented designer who owned a fashion academy and designed for the likes of Gucci.
“My family tree includes Indian and Irish blood… my background is completely mixed. I feel like I am authentically South African because it’s the only country I know and I love it’s diversity… My one sister looks like an Arabian queen and the other one is a redhead. We are a very diverse family,” she explains.
“My father did couture and his parting gift to his daughters was our wedding dresses. He designed each of our wedding dresses and the nice thing about it is that he did it in a way that personified the relationship he had with each of us.
“Mine was gold with a high Victorian collar, which is what I love… I love the Victorian era.”
Launched in 2013, the online network is run by a team of industry experts who are passionate about promoting South Africa’s fashion talent, Isaacs explains.
“I have been in the broadcasting and media industry for about 20 years and it wasn’t giving me the fulfilment that I craved… of developing and training young people. My ‘aha’ moment came when I was standing in front of a magazine shelf and didn’t see any magazines which appealed to me as a South African.
“Besides being a Muslim woman, there weren’t any magazines that portrayed authentic South African fashion. Everything there was a syndication of the magazines from all over the world. I felt that we are not the East or the West, but are authentically African and have something to offer the world. That is why Europe and Indonesia are interested in what we have to offer, but we are not showcasing that,” says Isaacs.
“Building the company’s credibility in the fashion industry was of high importance. The company is now solely run by me – from curating to selecting stories, writing, social media and attending events. But when it gets too much I reel in my reinforcements who are always ready and willing to contribute wherever possible,” she says.
“I love media and I love broadcasting and so I married the two and created Style Africa Fashion Network as a media platform… It really was not about profitmaking but about exposing the industry to the rest of the world and building the country’s design label,” says Isaacs.
“My challenge is getting funders to see the investment opportunity in helping Style Africa market our proudly South African design industry and having them share the same passion and drive as I and so many South Africans do.”
Roshan Isaacs’ top 5 fashion tips
●I love turbans and scarves, not only draped on my head but used as a blouse. When I need to pack light for a holiday, an array of colourful scarves make for amazing blouses which you can fix up yourself with no buttons, stitching or zips required.
●Play around with colours – sometimes we think certain colours won’t go well together but when you play dress-up for the day, try colours which complement, contrast or are mismatched. You will find a new outfit created with colours you least expected would work.
●For an elegant and chic look, stick to clean lines and make a statement with colourful, bold or even edgy accessories – be it a bag, belt, shoes or earrings.
●Dress your size – it’ll fit and look a hundred times better than a body bulging at the seams of a tight-fitting outfit or you looking bigger in an oversized garment.
●No matter what you wear, always finish it off with confidence and a smile.
●Roshan Isaacs hosts The Modest Chapter for the IFDC on www.youtube.com and is also a presenter at the Voice of the Cape radio station. Visit the Style Africa Fashion Network at http://www.styleafrica.co.za or follow her on Instagram@RoshanIsaacs.
*This feature first appeared in the Cape Argus on November 9 2015.