London: Looking at the throngs of well-dressed women who flocked to the London Modest Fashion Week there was one individual who stood out. She was the one and only woman dressed head to foot in black and covering her face. It was her choice to wear the niqab but at this “modest” event the young, British-born woman with a London accent managed to draw all eyes.
It seemed that everyone else was happy to wear the hijab or an elegant turban. This was an opportunity to see some of the very best designers from around the globe presenting their collections. There was as much glamour and style in the audience as on the catwalk. All who attended were dressed in a modest way but modesty does not mean dull. Some of the outfits were quite stunning and beautifully cut; the range of colors and fabrics made for a fantastic spectacle.
The two-day event held at the Saatchi Gallery, Chelsea, was organized by Romanna bint Abubaker, founder or modest fashion website Haute Elan.
Forty design brands participated, including Art of Heritage and Foulard from Saudi Arabia, Rouge Couture from Dubai and Leenaz from Bahrain.
Sara Al-Madani of Rouge Couture, who serves on the board of the Sharjah Chamber of Commerce and UAE SME Council, gave a workshop in which she urged women to take control of their lives and not wait for someone to give them permission to follow their dreams.
“I don’t wait for acceptance — take the walls down and create your own life,” she said. She added: “I can be modest, Arabic and Muslim and be myself.”
A single mother of a one-and-a-half-year-old son, Al-Madani revealed that she had had to overcome the near collapse of her company caused by alleged fraud committed by a business partner. “I woke up and found I had zero in my bank account — I lost everything, but I had 39 employees depending on me and I didn’t want to declare bankruptcy,” she said.
She was equally determined not to turn to her parents for help.
Instead she committed to rebuilding the business, which was tough going as she made no money for the first two years of the fight back. “It took me until 2016, just last year, to become steady again,” she said.
Al-Madani looks back at those testing years as an important learning curve.
“Failure pushed me to want to do something — failure is a must,” she said.
To those who say to her “You are so lucky,” she has a message.
“I’m not lucky. I have got to where I am today through blood and sweat. Hard work is essential.”
She urged women to find whatever they are passionate about and commit to the sometimes difficult journey in realizing their goals.
“You have to search for it — it is not canned — it is not a hobby,” she said.
At the end of the workshop, Al-Madani said she had something she especially wanted to say. It was a message about being helpful and kind to others who are trying to make their way in the world.
“Help people — show kindness without expecting anything in return,” she said.
In the audience listening to Al-Madani was Muna Abu Sulayman from Saudi Arabia. Arab News asked for her reaction to the workshop. “It was an inspirational and effective talk,” she said.
Asked about her view of the event, she said: “It is important to represent the lifestyles and value options of women who dress demurely.”
Muslims make up a majority of the population in 49 countries around the world. It is estimated that by 2050 the number of Muslims worldwide will grow to 2.76 billion, or 29.7 percent of world’s population.
Industry experts forecast that the modest fashion sector will be worth $327 billion by 2020.
The Art of Heritage show gave the audience a chance to appreciate the traditional designs and adornments of the Saudi culture. The Art of Heritage charitable foundation has some 100 women working permanently and more than 40 working from their homes. To raise income and awareness they create museum standard reproductions and new interpretations of traditional garments and gifts that are all handmade, unique pieces.
Seasonal collections include beautiful thobes and kaftans based on traditional designs from all over the country. The charity also runs Yadawy Pottery, providing employment, training and income for disabled Saudi women who hand make pots and craft items. Art of Heritage was awarded the prestigious Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak award for best charity organization in the Gulf and Middle East region in 2015.
London Modest Fashion Week was an opportunity for some young talent to showcase their designs. Saleha Bagas from Bolton, a town in Greater Manchester in northwest England said: “I feel so at home here — it’s a big, modest community. I’m in my element. This type of event empowers women.”
Anosha Anwary, who comes from Afghanistan and has lived in the UK for 16 years, said: “I hope this event will open many other doors for modest wear designers. I hope it will show Western society that our religion does not limit us from achieving our goals.”
She has a clear vision for her brand. “It is for strong, beautiful and powerful women — that’s how I want them to feel when they wear my clothes,” she said.
Art was also featured at the event with a charity auction of the work of Siddiqa Juma. Guided by the Qur’an and Islamic tradition, Juma creates art that celebrates a rich religious and cultural heritage. (Arab News)