Herizons Commentary

Refashioning Fashion  by Ayesha Mian Akram
Refashioning Fashion

As a Muslim woman who practices hijab—the wearing of modest clothing and covering my hair—I spend a lot of time navigating. I navigate the politics of being a Muslim woman in Canada and the politics of finding modest, yet
stylish clothing. I also navigate the politics of buying clothing that’s not only ethical for the environment, but also ethical to my fellow human beings.

And so, when Canadian label Dsquared2 created a clothing line called Dsquaw last year and the company came under attack for using the term “squaw,” a derogatory term for First Nations women, I took notice. Equally offensive was the company’s use of Indigenous symbols with deep cultural significance without permission or proper credit. Victoria’s Secret also came under fi re recently when one of its models walked the runway wearing lingerie and a First Nations headdress.

The appropriation of cultural or religious symbols and artifacts by outsiders is problematic for many reasons. It denies historical systems of oppression while reinforcing racist stereotypes. It enables privileged groups to continue to revel in privilege. It denies marginalized groups’ ownership of their heritage. And it misappropriates traditional symbols for profit.

Fortunately, Canada has seen recent moves to address cultural appropriation. In February, after much public backlash, Dsquared2 founders Dan and Dean Catan apologized in a statement, saying, “We understand how this terminology is offensive … and apologize for the disrespect this may have caused.”

Music festivals, from B.C.’s Bass Coast Festival, to Edmonton’s Folk Music Festival, to Montreal’s Île Soniq, have banned the wearing of First Nations headdresses as a fashion accessory. The University of Western Ontario banned not only headdresses, but also fake dreadlocks, face bandanas, and hijabs and turbans worn for non-religious reasons during orientation week.

These acts of decolonizing fashion were echoed by Buffy Sainte-Marie. “Our headdresses aren’t fashion statements, and we don’t feel complimented by your appropriation,” she said. “They are as personal to us as your grandmother’s photo is to your family, who might object to seeing it misused
on the crotch of a wrestler on TV.”

Others disagree. Anjali Joshi, in an article for the Huffington Post, writes, “As I (an Indian) sit here, eating my sushi dinner ( Japanese) and drinking tea (Chinese), wearing denim jeans (American), and overhearing Brahms’ Lullaby (German) from the baby’s room, I can’t help but think, what’s the big deal?” For Joshi, the trend of non-Hindu women (from Madonna, to Gwen Stefani, to Selena Gomez) wearing bindis (the sacred Hindu headmark) is a form of cultural appreciation, not appropriation.

There is another side to this debate that is cut from a similar cloth. Increasingly, fashion is being refashioned by women from diverse cultural, religious and racialized backgrounds to suit their unique needs. This newest trend puts power directly in the hands of women who have historically been marginalized by the mainstream fashion industry.

In her September 2015 article in the Globe and Mail, “Faithful is the New Black,” Samra Habib wrote about a new fashion trend: pairing Muslim hijabs and Sikh turbans with high fashion. In this way, Habib wrote, “hijabs and turbans have come to exude the sort of coolness that tattoos and leather motorcycle jackets once had.”

The explosion of modest fashion, particularly into North America and western Europe, is marked by the growth of online style blogs, Instagram accounts and unique boutiques. Hijab Trendz, one of the fi rst online platforms to showcase Muslim women’s fashion, now averages over two million hits every month. And fashion bloggers who showcase modest style and makeup tutorials number in the dozens.

Hijabi fashion is everywhere, including the popular 2014 YouTube clip #MIPSTERZ—Muslim hipsters. Modest fashion is developing community among women of faith. Last August, the International Muslim Fashion and Design Festival held its second annual event in Toronto, where hundreds of designers, entrepreneurs and fashion enthusiasts from around the world gathered to reinforce ties between modesty and fashion.

Fashion houses seem to be noticing this trend. Last year, an H&M ad featured a Muslim model sporting a pink coat, black trousers and a printed headscarf. In January, Dolce & Gabbana announced a line of hijabs and abayas (loose over-garments worn by some Muslim women). No longer is modest fashion just for niche cultural markets.

Remember, just as fashion can be exclusive, it can also be inclusive.
And s feminists we can transform the fashion industry—and our closets.