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Hijab-Wearing Models Are Breaking Boundaries

  • Melissa Keen
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As the fashion industry evolves, diversity is one thing we are desperate to see more of. Whether it’s on the runway or in editorial campaigns, the fashion world is notorious for being predominantly white.

Whilst we have seen a slight increase in diversity in recent years – high street giant H&M, Kanye West’s brand Yeezy and the women’s beauty magazine Allure have all recently featured hijab-wearing models – there is still an unfair lack of diversity in fashion, both on the catwalk and in the boardrooms.

Fortunately, there are those who are breaking the mould.

Mariah Idrissi is Changing the Face of Fashion

Mariah was discovered while working at a children’s shop at Westfield Shopping Centre. An agent from a modelling agency Mariah if she could take her photograph, as she really liked her look. Two weeks later Mariah got the call about a H&M job that was looking to cast a diverse range of models for the sustainable Close the Loop campaign.

Mariah’s feature in the campaign was a huge success, with many calling her the world’s first hijab-wearing model. Mariah saw this as the perfect opportunity to become the voice of her community and break down barriers in the fashion industry.

Her ultimate goal is to bring modest fashion to the masses. Women who choose to wear a headscarf wear high street fashion too, yet are not represented in any campaigns. Retailers may employ different ethnicities, but hijab-wearing women have not appeared in their campaign material until now.

H&M’s innovative approach has caught, leading to Dolce & Gabbana featuring hijabs on their catwalk in New York and Milan.

Select Model Management in the UK now represents Mariah. She plans to ensure that Muslim models regularly feature in the global fashion industry. This progression cannot just be a current trend; she aims to encourage young female girls who like to dress modestly by demonstrating on an international scale that it is doable without losing a sense of unique style.

With a growing Instagram following, she hears from women who are inspired by her career and are thankful for what she represents. Mariah is truly committed to her beliefs and wants to challenges ideals and stereotypes within the industry.

Halima Aden Makes History

Halima Aden made headlines when she appeared on the cover of Allure magazine’s July issue wearing Nike’s new performance hijab. Nike’s hijab is designed for Muslim athletes and is a breakthrough in itself. Becoming the first major sports brand to consider professional Muslim athletes and the barriers they face whilst keeping fit is a progressive step forward towards diversity. The breathable, lightweight Nike Pro Hijab featured in Allure opens up the sporting world to Muslim women.

Halima’s journey began in November 2016. She was the first Miss Minnesota to compete in a hijab and burkini. The executive co-director of the Miss Minnesota USA pageant, Denise Wallace, recalls how she received a phone call from Halima enquiring whether she could wear her hijab during the competition.

Since then, Halima’s career has increased further; her work CV includes walking in the Yeezy season five show at New York Fashion Week, and gracing the cover of Vogue. She also famously walked for Max Mara and Alberta Ferretti last year. American Eagle Outfitters Inc designed a denim hijab, which sold out the week after Halima Aden modelled it – an example of how Halima’s presence in the industry is inspirational to Muslim girls. 

Halima’s Dreams

Halima’s goal is to become a role model for American Muslim youth and fight for diversity in the fashion world. Like Mariah Idrissi, she is breaking down barriers and showing young girls that their dreams are achievable. Halima took a brave step to make that phone call, which began her fantastic career. She has succeeded, which at one time would have felt impossible to her.

She explains: “I feel like we all deserve representation and I didn’t have that. I never got to flip through a magazine and see somebody who looks like me.

“I feel like I’m here to bust stereotypes of Muslim women. For a really long time, I thought being different was a negative thing. But as I grew older, I started to realise we were all born to stand out, nobody is born to blend in. How boring would this world be if everyone was the same.

In fact, Halima has done more than bust the stereotype of Muslim women – she is also only 5″5, which is considered short for a model. She is also from Minnesota which is unusual as it is far from any industry capitals.

“...the fact that I’m able to do runway, the fact that I have graced these magazine covers and wear a hijab on top of that, be who I am, have my identity, wear it proudly… I think fashion is doing a beautiful job.”

Halima now has her own 47-piece hijab collection, Halima x Modanisa, and her contract with IMG stipulates that her hijab is non-negotiable – a huge step for diversity in the fashion industry.

Changing the Face of Beauty in Fashion

Many who wear a hijab feel that it is not possible for them to be a fashion model. However, with the likes of Mariah Idrissi and Halima Aden paving the way for Muslim girls, the idea becomes a reality. Misconceptions and stereotypes previously in place are being challenged. Those who wear a headscarf can feature in high-fashion magazines without changing their beliefs.

The fashion world is beginning to alter its landscape and present an image that everyone can relate to. 

Changing the World Takes Time

Although both girls are working towards a fully diverse industry, it is not an easy task to undertake. If you are thinking of entering the highly competitive world by wearing your hijab, it will be difficult. Each step towards the right direction makes headlines on a global scale. In some ways, it is great to spread awareness. However, it would be fantastic to reach a point where it is the norm.

The girls are using this platform to inspire, educate and put misconceptions right. Yet there is still a long way to go. It takes inspirational figures to make change, and we encourage all hijab-wearing aspiring models to try. Don’t be put off by the idea of rejection; even top models face being turned away at some point in their career.

It takes confidence, self-belief and tenacity to succeed in modelling – and that’s without the issues of diversity. But don’t be put off. All young people need to witness our multicultural society in campaigns so everyone has role models to relate to. With big names such as Vogue, Dolce & Gabbana and H&M starting the revolution, it is only a matter of time before others follow creating a world where models who wear the hijab are fully integrated into the industry.

We can take professional photographs of you wearing your hijab to start your portfolio, register with us now!

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Posted by Melissa Keen

Melissa's experience in the beauty and fashion world as a writer and blogger spans over five years. Her other interests include reading, yoga and music.