Increasingly more and more mainstream brands are catering to a female Muslim audience, an effort which we at Grazia thoroughly applaud. It's a community filled with fashion lovers that has long been woefully underserved so and progress on that front is extremely exciting. When it's done properly.
As we're sure you're aware, yesterday American retail giant, Banana Republic launched its first collection of four hijabs. This naturally sent the internet into a frenzy but sadly that was for all the wrong reasons thanks to the campaign imagery featuring exposed arms and a thigh slit dress; a highly culturally insensitive mistake that could have been so easily avoided. Say, with a call to The Modist.
The Modist embodies the kind of approach brands should take to serving a Muslim audience. More than just a digital platform, the site is a philosophy for style and being, committed to catering to and crucially, understanding and respecting the religious and sartorial choices of its audience. It was a lack of those two vital elements that took the Banana Republic hijab collection from innovative to insulting, despite the fact the collection was shot on a hijabi model, Fatuma Yusuf.
Naturally the internet had a lot to say and much of it was insightful and intelligent. The Modist Founder and CEO, Ghizlan Guenez shared a post on Instagram stories explaining that "when addressing constituencies of underserved consumers the worst thing you could do as a retailer is to misrepresent them or take a step to serve them without having taken the time to get the right knowledge and understanding."
Ghizlan couldn't be more spot on in her statement to brands, like Banana Republic, that "a lack of understanding of your customer could be the difference between being heralded as a champion of diversity and accused of capitalising on the underserved population."
Indeed, it's imperative that any brand looking to cater to a specific community gets the right consultation before approximating a garment as imbued with religious significance as the hijab. Banana Republic could have enlisted the likes of Melanie Elturk, the American-Muslim CEO of modest accessory label Haute Hijab, for example. Her response on Instagram was one of eloquence and education, stating "I applaud @bananarepublic for their efforts in inclusivity… I have to pause at the way it’s portrayed.”
Eturk continued to explain that, "all it would have taken was a consultation with a Muslim brand or group to advise in order to do it right and respect our values.”
Hopefully this will serve as a valuable lesson to international brands looking to serve the Muslim market. To give them its due, Banana Republic responded rapidly to the criticism, removing the imagery from their Instagram and cropping the offending campaign shots, resulting in Ghizlan wrapping up her Instagram story with the statement "glad they're rectifying the matter."