When Amani Al-Khatahtbeh started the blog MuslimGirl.com eight years ago, she was used to being underrepresented in the fashion and beauty worlds. But since her blog has grown into a full lifestyle site with product collaborations, so have the number of hijab-wearing models in marketing campaigns and the offerings of modest-styled apparel in stores.
"For the first time in my life since 9/11, it's almost a given to see women who look like me in marketing campaigns or editorials, and that's really cool," says Al-Khatahtbeh.
Muslim marketing is going mainstream. Last month, Macy's began selling the Verona Collection, a brand of modest clothing that includes traditional hijab head coverings, to court Muslim women. Adidas walked a hijab-wearing model down the runway in its New York Fashion Week show several weeks ago. And last year, Ayana Ife became the first Muslim designer on Lifetime's popular "Project Runway."
Macy's and Adidas follow in the footsteps of Nike and American Eagle Outfitters, which both began selling hijabs last year—though the latter's denim offering was only a limited-edition product that quickly sold out, according to a company spokesman. Nike, on the other hand, has grown its Nike Pro Hijab line, which it spent a year developing for Muslim athletes after extensive research, to include more colors this year.
"Globally, there's a growing Muslim middle class," says Reina Lewis, professor of cultural studies at London College of Fashion at the University of the Arts London and author of "Muslim Fashion: Contemporary Style Cultures." Opportunities for brands are enormous, she says, and "if you're a brand, whether selling fridges or footwear, you want to build brand loyalty with these young consumers."
Muslim consumer spending on apparel is growing. The category was around $243 billion in 2015, a 6 percent rise over 2014, according to Thomson Reuters' "State of the Global Islamic Economy" report. That figure is expected to rise to $368 billion by 2021, per the report, which concluded, "The clothing may be modest, its success is anything but."
For a company like Macy's, which has struggled in recent years to compete with online rival Amazon and new private-label clothing lines from existing retailers such as Target, the Verona Collection could provide a lucrative edge in a new niche, and also improve the chain's reputation as more open to certain consumer segments.
While Macy's has seen some glimmers of improvement, it could use the boost it might get from modest fashion. For its recent fourth quarter, Macy's posted a 1.8 percent rise in sales over the year-earlier period to $8.7 billion, along with a comparable sales increase of 1.3 percent. Yet sales fell 3.7 percent to $24.8 billion for the entire year over 2016.
The company did not make any executives available for comment about Verona, whose founder graduated last year from Macy's minority- and women-owned business development program. However, the department store said in a release that the expansion will help "better serve" customers.
"The retail environment is tanking and so you'll see a lot of attempts at trying to reach other markets—we've seen a lot of inclusivity and variations," says Melanie Elturk, a Muslim who founded the New York-based e-commerce site Haute Hijab eight years ago. "Retail knows and understands that in order to survive, they need to be dynamic and adapt to societal trends."
Prior to 2015, Muslim consumers were a largely ignored segment in mass-market retail. But many credit fast-fashion brand H&M, which featured a hijab-wearing Muslim model in a campaign three years ago, as one of the first apparel brands to embrace such diversity in marketing materials. The trend has expanded to other retailers, which has helped normalize Islamic traditions, says Elturk.
Fashion houses, especially, are incorporating more headscarves in their lineups, either on the runway or in their campaigns. Beyond Adidas, Max Mara and Yeezy have both featured Muslim models in fashion shows. Such marketing, or running smaller capsule collections, isn't very costly financially for brands, but does carry a strong social message of inclusion.
"The fashion industry has gone from regarding a public association with Muslims with aversion to seeing it as an asset," says Lewis.
Some modest fashions, particularly longer skirts and layers, play into current fashion trends, which helps collections appeal to non-Muslims. Later this month, Japanese retailer Uniqlo will release the fifth season of its collaborative line with Muslim designer Hana Tajima, which first debuted in 2016. The line has performed well with both Muslims and non-Muslims, according to Shu Hung, Uniqlo's global creative director, brand experiences and special projects.
"The items in the collection are extremely versatile and offer fashionable, modest and comfortable pieces," she says. "A lot of women aren't necessarily aware that the clothes could be seen as 'modest fashion.' It's just a style that resonates with them." Uniqlo has expanded the collection's product offerings as well as the number of stores that carry it.
It's not just fashion: Other industries are catching on as well. This spring, Mattel is releasing a hijab-wearing Barbie modeled after fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad. And Fenty, the new beauty line from Rihanna that includes a range of skin tones for all ethnicities, featured a woman in a hijab in a marketing video last September.