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Just Dua It: how fashion is courting the Muslim woman

Sneha Vakharia | Updated on: 19 June 2015, 16:33 IST

A Silicon Valley-based clothing company just arrived at Indian shores with the promise of modest clothing - which, it seems, is just a euphemism for clothes made for Muslim women.

The real surprise, though, are the outfits themselves. They're feisty, while staying conservative. They're modest, but can handle snark. They're a bunch of paradoxes woven together with surprising finesse. And they offer insights far beyond fashion.

With over $40 million in sales in 68 countries, that East Essence has come to India isn't surprising. What is? That they took this long. India, with 14.2% of the world's Muslim population, has been waiting, with sweaty uncomfortable desperation, for a brand precisely like this.

Whether you choose to wear a burqa or the hijab - a scarf to hide away your hair - what's painfully obvious is that your choices are mostly utilitarian. Options currently available range from, as a hijabi friend pointed out, "dowdy to heinous". Ditto for the burqas on offer: mostly dull, shapeless and thoroughly depressing.

Browse through East Essence and you'll see it all - hijabs, salwars, pants, maternity wear and swimwear

Many women take the alternative of wearing scarves pretending to be hijabs - but there's another issue here. Most scarves aren't designed to be wrapped around the face and head. They smother.

Enter East Essence, whose version of the hijab and the burqa are designed to tackle every constraint. They're comfortable, they're bright, they're affordable and they're designed to our climate. Here's the best part - they're cocky as hell.


Browse through the East Essence line and you'll see it all - hijabs, salwars, pants, maternity wear, and oh yes, swimwear. You'll see beautiful women of different ethnicities in colourful pieces. The swimwear - cheekily referred to as a burqini - is testament to the ingenuity of the modest woman. It meets every parameter of modest clothing upheld by Islam while acting as a body-hugging elastic swimsuit.

The real standouts, though, are the hoodies.

That's right. Hoodies. Those things worn by early-morning joggers and soccer moms. And like every self-respecting hoodie, these have a thing or two to say. You'll find one that reads, 'The Arabic alphabet is so friendly it even has a smiley face', followed by the Tay alphabet. There's an 'I love Hummus' one, and another cheeky, charming one that exhorts you, simply, to 'Just Dua it'.

But women's clothing - whether conservative or cool - is always political, and Muslim women know that better than most. You'll find a hoodie to reflect every state of mind, such as a particularly noteworthy one: 'I cover my head, not my brains'.

Modesty, it is clear, doesn't have to come in a package that is staid & black. It can be cheeky as easily as it is comfortable

It's easy to be surprised by the self-assuredness. What it reflects, however, is our continuing inability to understand the roots of this modesty. East Essence may seem like just another fashion label that wants to pad their bottomline, but they've understood something that feminists, activists and religious extremists often fail to understand.

They understand that modesty can be empowered. That modesty can be a stubborn and brave choice. That this brand of modesty is a slap, no less, in the face of every one of us who has ever associated modest clothing with subjugation. Against every law, argument and idea that has relied on the premise that modesty is an imposition on the Muslim woman, this single hoodie is damning evidence.

Modesty, it is clear, doesn't have to come in a package that is staid and black. It doesn't have to be a compulsion or an imperative. Above all, modesty can be comfortable just as easily as it can be cheeky.

First published: 19 June 2015, 16:33 IST
Sneha Vakharia @sneha_vakharia

A Beyonce-loving feminist who writes about literature and lifestyle at Catch, Sneha is a fan of limericks, sonnets, pantoums and anything that rhymes. She loves economics and music, and has found a happy profession in neither. When not being consumed by the great novels of drama and tragedy, she pays the world back with poems of nostalgia, journals of heartbreak and critiques of the comfortable.