Not Yet the Hijaber Fashion Mecca, But by 2020, Maybe?

So, everyone had a good Idul Fitri break? For most of us, the gatherings and reunions have been attended, the cookie jars have been emptied out, and the festive garbs have been dry-cleaned.

New clothes to celebrate Idul Fitri is nothing new, and many embrace the spirit further by observing the religious dress codes, at least partly, during the festival period. Though more for comfort than religion, I favor tunic and loose pants, Pakistani shalwar-kameez style, and usually would mix and match from off-rack selections. Then two years ago, I entered a Muslim fashion shop by chance, and was pleasantly surprised.

Indonesian Muslim fashion has come a long way, baby. Gone are the shapeless muumuus and dowdy veils. Most of the clothes sport sufficient structure to hold their form, yet loose or flowing enough to avoid emphasizing the wearer’s silhouette, in accordance to Scriptures. Materials are sourced from silk to cotton, in every color under the sun. The styles start adapting from the global trend that, if worn without veils, may pass as regular clothes. No wonder more and younger Indonesian women have taken up hijab lately because with the choices here, they won’t have to end up looking like frumpy grannies.

I’m no hijaber, as the newly sprout fashion-conscious, Muslim-attired, women groups in Indonesia have coined a term for themselves, yet I respect any grown woman’s private decision to dress herself according to her belief. More than that, the fashionista in me always adores pretty frocks as my business mind always acknowledges any promising potential.

Apparently I’m not alone in this. Shafira, Indonesia’s most prominent Muslim fashion brand, stated proudly during the last Jakarta Fashion Week that they’d make it to Europe this year. At the recent 3rd annual Indonesian` Islamic Fashion Fair’s talk show, a couple of fashion designer associations, hand in hand with Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy, boldly announced a target to make Indonesia the mecca for Islamic fashion in 2020. Now, national pride aside, is it realistic?

Let’s talk about production first. Back in the 1980s my mother worked for the garment arm of a local conglomerate. The company, and many of its likes, manufactured ready-to-wear clothing for foreign labels. The labels brought designs and, to certain extent, materials; the local companies supplied affordable workforce and abundant space. And it was a match made in heaven for a couple of decades, until cheaper labor became available in nearby countries. At that time Indonesian garment industry had an opportunity to step up, invest in higher tech facilities and skilled labor to offer value-added products, but that momentum was foolishly passed up by both short-term minded industry players and the Government. The tragic state of Parisian couture business showed how the power lies on ready-to-wear market, which needs on-the-clock production and standardized quality to flourish. Can Indonesian garment industry now return to its former glory to support local Muslim fashion designers?

Secondly, creative force. Indonesia has ample native resources to inspire the plethora of high-spirited designers and handy artisans. The locally-made hijabs that I wore to Mecca twice for umrah always garnered compliments from the women I bumped along the way. A group of girls even stopped me once to ask me where I got my gorgeous, ornamented, stretch, slip-on hijab from and upon finding out the origin, offered a generous sum to buy it off my head instead.

But again, continuity is the key for any industry fancies itself to be the world leader in 8 years. Global fashion business nowadays demand two full seasons (Fall-Winter and Spring-Summer) plus a shorter, yet getting increasingly profitable Cruise season in between. Indonesia fashion industry has successfully run a respectable annual fashion week for the past four years, where Muslim fashion shows earned a full show day last year, but is yet to manage biannual cycles. New talents always emerged, yet few have survived in the long run, and even fewer have successfully penetrated foreign markets.

The potential is tantalizing. Wealthy Gulf women are longtime customers of made-to-order Prada caftans and Chanel gowns, but the global Muslim population now goes well beyond Pan Arab and includes young, outgoing, fashion-literate women, with disposable income to match. Even a specialized modeling agency opened in New York last year to cater to the bulging demand of so-called Islamic lifestyle advertisements. This is serious market that, if tapped and conquered, could grow Indonesia fashion market exponentially with all its trickle-down effects, among others, resuscitating domestic garment industry and providing real incentives for traditional artisans to sustain their crafts.

And serious business potentials call for serious business plans beyond the adrenaline rush of having churned out the latest “It” trend. Market research, production and infrastructure reviews, labor & management skill assessments—a lot of number crunching and multi-party groundwork to cover on, what I hope exists, a detailed, milestone-dotted, actual roadmap counting down from 2020. The kind of roadmap that binds and prevails irrespective of government administration changes or internal dynamics of fashion industry.

In the meantime, I’ll do my supporting part. If you see a girl pairing navy leggings with a flowing, knee-length, cute cardigan of rainbow stripes, that may just be me wearing my latest Muslim fashion find sans veil. Come say hi and I’ll let you to inspect the cardigan personally. If you’re being nice, daahlink, I’ll even whisper out the designer’s contact details.

As published:

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