In an industry where much, much less has often been considered more, Muslim fashion designer and blogger Hana Tajima is proving there’s a very viable market for a more subtle aesthetic.
“There is a strange juxtaposition of cultures in my life and I’m constantly looking for that strange beauty in what I design,” explains English-born and bred, Muslim fashion designer and blogger Hana. “There is a side of me obsessed with simplicity and the beauty of the unseen that is very Japanese, and then this rebellious, rather eccentric aspect that comes out of my experiences growing up in England.” Especially when paired with her modesty-focused requisites, it’s a unique combination, and it has taken a while for the world to catch up. While Hana is now recognised as a groundbreaking voice in fashion and design – with a combined total of more than 300,000 social media followers and two explosively popular ‘modest wear’ collections with Uniqlo, among a swathe of other design collaborations and industry heavyweights applauding her achievements, she says it hasn’t always been that way. “There was a time in the beginning, maybe seven years ago, that it was perceived as something of an oddity. There were people on both sides that couldn’t quite understand the idea of style in relation to Muslim women. But for something that started very small, it has really blossomed.”
And not just for Hana. Muslim consumers are estimated to spend US$230 billion a year on clothing and the market for Muslim clothing and footwear is expected to be worth US$484 billion by 2019 – more than the current combined clothing spends of the UK (US$107 billion), Germany (US$99 billion) and India (US$96 billion). The fashion industry has received the memo and several big, international brands are moving to capitalise on the opportunity. DKNY and Tommy Hilfiger have been among the first to join Uniqlo at the party, with special collections tailored to Muslim consumers, while Dolce & Gabbana stepped things up a notch in January with the release of a line of luxurious hijabs and abayas. But Hana, who also has Japanese heritage, her focus on modest style comes from a more personal, rather than commercial, place; having converted to Islam at 18. “I went to college [Somerset College of Arts and Technology] around this time and got to know a few wonderful people who happened to be Muslim. It took me asking a lot of questions. I was really curious about this lifestyle that seemed so incongruous to what I had known. I read a lot and found over the course of a year or so I got to a point where I couldn’t say I wasn’t Muslim.” It was then that she struggled to find clothing that suited both her style and modesty provisos. “I made my own clothes, I tried adopting modest dress from other cultures, I tried layering my old clothes, but none of them felt like me,” says Hana. “I found I would go into vintage stores and be so grateful for the longer sleeves and hemlines that existed in older designs. It was difficult to find clothes that would work, but it was impossible to find clothes that felt like my own.”
Her first collection for Uniqlo – who reached out to her – debuted in Southeast Asia in 2015 and was a roaring success, a result that Hana, who designs the collections herself, attributes to Muslim women feeling recognised in a new way by being offered a different voice and opportunity for expression. Her second Uniqlo collection hit the US and UK in February, presenting her fresh style of modest fashion to her home market. It recently hit Australian shores complete with relaxed-fit jeans, rayon blouses and long dresses, as well as hijabs.
Ultimately, for Hana it’s all about recognising why a woman wants to wear what she does – no matter who she is or what religion or culture she belongs to. And that, as Hana once said, is when fashion and design become a real cultural meeting place. “At its heart there needs to be a real understanding of the women who will be wearing these designs. I think that starts with breaking down boundaries and allowing clothing to be something that can connect us.”