Muslim model Halima Aden quits after being unable to reconcile her beliefs with the industry

SYDNEY: Somali-American model Halima Aden, a trailblazer in the fashion industry, has decided to quit modeling after feeling she’s had to compromise her faith.

Aden posted a detailed Instagram story explaining the reasons why she’s decided to leave the runway.

“Being a ‘hijabi’ is truly a journey with lots of highs and lows,” she said.

Aden, who is 23 years-old, was among the first hijabi models to walk out at major fashion events like Paris Fashion week, wearing popular fashion labels like Kanye West’s Yeezy brand.

She’s also been featured in British Vogue, Vogue Arabia, and Allure.

This week, Aden talked about the difficulties of being a “minority within a minority”, and the lack of Muslim women stylists in the industry. She also referenced her past decisions to take modeling jobs that conflicted with her religious beliefs.

She expressed having to change the way she traditionally wore the hijab to fit into the industry.

“I can only blame myself for caring more about opportunity than what was actually at stake,” she said.

In the Instagram stories, Aden showed pictures of her younger self wearing the hijab how she felt comfortable and recounted a story of one of her first major jobs in the industry when she modeled for Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty line.

“(Rihanna) let me wear the hijab I brought to set. This is the girl I’m returning to, the real Halima.”

Dewi Cooke is the CEO of The Social Studio, which is a Melbourne based not-for-profit fashion school and social enterprise working with young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds.

Cooke says it’s important to understand the complexities surrounding wearing the hijab, and the diversity of its expression within Muslim communities.

“Hijab can take many forms, and it’s worn differently by different people, and in different cultures,” Cooke told The Feed.

“My personal background, my family’s Malaysian, and the way my family wears it is very different to how perhaps somebody from a Somali background like Halima Aden wears [the hijab].

“I think it really comes down to the personal reflections that they have with their connection to God.”

Asia Hassan runs Asiyam, a Melbourne fashion brand, and says she is completely supportive of Aden’s decision to leave the fashion industry.

Asia told The Feed from her experiences in the fashion industry – at least in Australia – there’s no place for religion.

“That’s what people need to understand. Like, it’s nice they would like the artistic version of [the hijab] but the hijab is Islamic,” she said.

“They will accept you if you’re going to follow it their way.”

Asia believes if she had gone through the traditional route in starting her fashion label, it may not have become a success.

She began posting her designs on Instagram marketed to Muslim women who want to dress modestly but fashionable. Aden’s even worn Asia’s designs a few times over the years.

But the fashion world has proved difficult for Asia, she says that she’s had the same battles with the industry since she started her fashion brand.

“They try to change you,” Asia told The Feed.

Asia remembers an experience she organising her models for Melbourne Fashion Week. Seven hours before the show started, Asia showed the stylists how to put the hijabs on the models – but when it came to show time they were nowhere to be seen.

“To my surprise, they didn’t put the hijabs on the models,” she said.

After her models weren’t given their hijabs for their runway show she emailed at management Melbourne Fashion Week but didn’t get a clear answer of what happened.

“[There’s] no one to actually hold accountable really. But it does make you feel really terrible because you feel like you have power,” she said.

Asia believes there are two sides to the fashion industry that presents inclusion but behind the scenes, it is completely different.

“I mean it definitely doesn’t feel nice because you do feel not betrayed but you still you feel small,” she said.

Asia was the first Muslim person to do a scheduled fashion show in Australia. But she decided to give Melbourne Fashion Week a miss this year.

“I see it as we can take it we can take ownership over them. I can not participate and do it with Muslims, I don’t need you to make me small,” she said.

Asia says the hijab, and by extension Muslim hijabi models, have been commodified since the success of Halima Aden in the industry.

“It’s just an economic transaction,” she said.

“Because Halima Aden she might think I’m paving the way and for the rest of us are just innocently thinking she’s there for us and we’re going to be accepted in the mainstream.

“It’s only there for her audience, it’s only there so it can make us Muslims comfortable to go buy their product, it’s just for transaction.”

Although there may be issues within the mainstream fashion industry, there’s been a surge in disruptors making their mark.

And the ‘modest fashion’ industry led by hijabi Muslim women is estimated to reach up to USD 368 billion by 2021, which represents a 7.2 per cent growth since 2015.

Asia doesn’t like to term it ‘modest fashion’ but rather “halal fashion”, and the trend has even seen the Australian government take notice.

In 2018, Pamela Cue, a manager of public diplomacy at the Australian High Commission noted that the industry is “booming”, and compared the growth in the space to other markets.

“To put it in context, that’s more than the combined size of the current clothing markets in the United Kingdom (USD107 billion), Germany (USD99 billion) and India (USD96 billion),” Cue wrote.

In Australia, hijab fashion is enjoying huge popularity on Instagram, with influencers like Nawal Sari amassing nearly 200 thousand followers.

Dewi Cooke, from The Social Studio, is confident that there are some small changes underway in Australia’s fashion scene.

“I think you’ll find that big brands aside, the independent kind of scene in Australia is already there,” she said.

“There are brands like Collective Closet in Melbourne, who are certainly working as all-female teams, and sometimes predominantly all-black teams.”

The change Asia would like to see is more Muslim women stylists, designers, and labels but doesn’t believe that it is dependent on fashion industry giants.

She admits it may be slow-moving but believes the audience will find you.

“[Halima Aden’s] worn my stuff like seven to eight times because it is really fashionable. But it was also like it really cover it fits the criteria,” she said.

“And that’s what they don’t understand just because you bring in the model doesn’t mean the actual audience that is gonna buy your stuff. In fact, the model herself may not buy it.”

© The Feed