At first glance, the pastel colors, monochrome prints and street-style photographs might make you think you’re reading Vogue. This online shop is flirty, friendly and doesn’t take itself too seriously — its Living Doll collection shows a Bambi-eyed model wearing clownish shoes and eyeing cupcakes. The overall aesthetic is clean and modern, with boring solids like black at a minimum. But this isn’t Madewell or Anthropologie. It’s HijUp, and the wearables on offer here are hijabs.
We know the hijab as a religious or cultural clothing choice, but it’s also a serious fashion statement. And it’s increasingly big business: The 2014–15 State of the Global Islamic Economy report by research firm DinarStandard found that Muslims spent $266 billion in 2013 on fashion, compared with $242 billion in 2012, and projects global spending of $484 billion by 2019.
Numerous startups, keen to cash in on the demand, are now catering to the craving for stylish headwear. Like Indonesian startup HijUp. Its marketing manager, Nenden Alifa, tells OZY that the company launched its e-commerce site in 2011 to “bring a positive image for Muslim women.” She’s emphatic that wearing a hijab doesn’t leave you “trapped” — it’s a choice — and she wants their fashion to reflect that.
HijUp stays connected to its customers — whom it sees as mobile-savvy women who tweet about and post their purchases — by being active in social media. And it is obviously doing something right, with 108,000 followers on Instagram, 141,000 Facebook likes and a YouTube channel that’s ranked as the 26th-most viewed in Indonesia. The company also involves local designers, like Shabilla and ETU. “It’s moving [us] forward in the realization of Indonesia as the center of the Muslim fashion world,” Alifa says. Currently, around 20 percent of HijUp’s customers are from overseas, and she plans to grow that figure by targeting the mature, middle-class Muslim woman interested in design and art. And HijUp recently showcased its collection at Tokyo Fashion Week.
Those plans to expand could be thwarted by something simple, but key: HijUp’s sizing “does not fit with European sizes,” explains Franka Soeria, co-founder of A la Hijab, a social media site dedicated to global hijab fashion. HijUp uses the metric system, but hijab sites like Modanisa use imperial. She also sees the company as “too closed a community … having fun with their own group” and not uniting with others. World hijab fashion has evolved into a “street-style look,” she explains, and women are enjoying the simple styling — the “basic bitch” look — with Muslim propriety. Soeria finds the simplicity appealing, but notes that Indonesians’ fun with hijab styling, opting for more extreme fashion choices, isn’t globally relevant.
Hijab wearing has been making headlines recently with a Supreme Court case trial challenging one company for discriminating against hiring a candidate because of her headwear. This has raised the larger question of religious accommodation and whether the onus is on the employee or the employer to state dress codes. But it has also demonstrated the value that’s placed on being able to represent one’s identity. And now wearers can do so in all colors of the rainbow.