It came as quite the surprise to many when Dolce & Gabbana - a brand that has embraced women’s bodies and curves in all kinds and states of undress - announced the release of their debut collection of hijabs and abayas on Style.com/Arabia this Monday. It is such a simple move and will no doubt bring with it great success for them, as well as inspire other top brands to follow suit.

Dolce & Gabbana's hijabs and abayas collection. Photo by Style.com/Arabia

The question we almost have to ask is; why has no one else done this before them? The Middle East, within which many women adopt hijabs and abayas, is one of the ten largest luxury goods markets; as Entrepreneur reported in July 2015, these sales exceed USD $6.74 billion. Head to the Dubai Mall and the appetite for designer labels and high-end brands couldn’t be more apparent.

Dolce & Gabbana's hijabs and abayas collection. Photo by Style.com/Arabia

The question we almost have to ask is; why has no one else done this before them?

On a global scale, there are some 800 million Muslim women, as Quartz reports; and they are equally as powerful in their purchasing. By 2019, they are expected to spend some USD $488 billion on clothing and footwear. Whether this is upon traditional garments or Western fashion is yet to be defined, but within the Middle East, religion is an important decision-making force for 71 per cent of consumers, compared with an average of 32 per cent globally.

The potential for profit in catering to these buyers is vast and, although statistics are yet to ring through the tills, Dolce & Gabbana have undoubtedly gained an edge over the entire industry with this latest collection. At a time when the rush to get a share of the Chinese market is decelerating due to a slowing economy and a crackdown on corruption, the Middle East is proving to be a hotbed for vast revenue and growth. The decision for Dolce & Gabbana to target this audience in such a
deliberate way hasn’t come without risk though, and the gamble is perhaps reason alone for why the rest of the industry has been so slow off the mark. There is great global hesitancy towards hijabs and abayas.

Photography by Felix Bonfilx, 1870 - 1880

At a time when the rush to get a share of the Chinese market is decelerating due to a slowing economy and a crackdown on corruption, the Middle East is proving to be a hotbed for vast revenue and growth.

Although some people perceive them as representing modesty and respect, others brand them as misogynistic and discriminatory. They have been debated upon by governments, schools, work places and universities; subjected to racist and stereotypical attitudes, and misunderstood by many around the world.

From the series 'Veiled Mystery of Morocco', 1974 by Irving Penn

Brands must start glocalising their designs and understanding cultural and religious nuances, speaking the language of both their domestic and foreign customer, or they will miss out to their competitors.

Yet for high-end brands to continue building and leveraging their luxury reputation, and to year-on-year increase their capital value, they must cater to clients across the world, regardless; statistics alone show why the Middle East is becoming so powerful in this respect. Brands must start glocalising their designs and understanding cultural and religious nuances, speaking the language of both their domestic and foreign customer, or they will miss out to their competitors.

I, for one, welcome this development from Dolce & Gabbana, and hope other brands follow suit – provided it does not become clichéd or condescending to the culture from which it originates. In producing collections such as these, hopefully fashion can start bridging the divide that so many other sectors have built up throughout the world. They can start educating women, and showing how, no matter what clothing we choose to wear, underneath it, we are all the same.

From the series 'People of Bandradesh', 2015 by Norblack Norwhite

In many ways, wearing hijab is a liberating practice – de-emphasising the beauty and sexuality of a woman, and drawing attention to her self-worth.

Part of this change will come from education – from broadening our minds, perspective, understanding and appreciation. So with this, I will end on a quote from Global Issues: A Cross-Cultural Perspective by Shirley A. Fedorak:

Hijab represents three major tenets in a Muslim woman’s life: religious faith and adherence to religious commandments; cultural and personal identity representing status, class, kinship, and culture membership; and political consciousness and activism. Although the custom is often symptomatic of a patriarchal society, it is also a way for women to affirm their religious beliefs and their respectability. In many ways, wearing hijab is a liberating practice – de-emphasising the beauty and sexuality of a woman, and drawing attention to her self-worth.”

Words: Grace Carter

Images source: Style.com/Arabia / Felix Bonfilx / Irving Penn / Norback Norwhite