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World’s first Modest Fashion Forum launches in Antwerp

16:00 21/11/2018

The campaign images for Antwerp’s upcoming modest fashion conference look a little bit like a United Colors of Benetton ad. They show Caucasian, black and ethnically ambiguous women, rocking long braids, corkscrew curls and ’fros.

The models are wearing some of Belgium’s best-known designers – AF Vandevorst, Ann Demeulemeester and Dries Van Noten. Except for the headscarves worn by some of the women, you would never know this was a modest fashion shoot.

And that’s kind of the point. According to the organisers of the Modest Fashion Forum, the idea is to demystify modest fashion for the people who decide what we find in stores and so, in large part, what we wear.

Modest fashion refers to apparel that covers up most of a woman’s body, whether for religious or other reasons. Think ankle-length hemlines, long sleeves, high necklines and, often, bright or pastel colours.

This Friday, Antwerp’s Arenberg theatre will host the world’s first conference dedicated to modest fashion. The conference is being organised by Mvslim.com – the popular Antwerp-based, English-language news platform aimed at Muslim millennials – in collaboration with fashion museum MoMu.

Although there are modest fashion weeks staged around the world, the Antwerp event marks the first ever conference targeted at industry professionals – designers, marketing managers, creative directors, fashion school instructors and students from Antwerp and further afield.

“We want to go really deep into the industry and provide knowledge and tried-and-tested methods from people who are already engaged in this,” says Richa Shah, head of strategy at Mvslim.com. For instance, attending retailers will learn how they can integrate modest fashion into their existing lines or marketing campaigns, she says.

The list of speakers includes retailers like Nesci Fashion of the Netherlands and UK newcomer Modessa as well as fashion magazine editors, British influencer Sagal Shire and Antwerp’s own Kaat Debo, director of MoMu.

The modest fashion industry is a fast-growing one. According to the Global Islamic Economy report, consumers around the world spent €237 billion on Muslim attire in 2017. That same report estimates this segment of the fashion market will grow to €316 billion by 2023.

“Women often dress in modest clothing unintentionally, when it is cold outside or there is a particular event where they might like to dress more conservatively,” Shah says.

Fast-fashion and high-street brands like Uniqlo and Macy’s have been eager – and quick – to jump on the modest fashion bandwagon, rolling out collections designed by Hana Tajima and Alaa Ammuss respectively in the last few years. At the same time, the lack of knowledge about this growing segment of the fashion industry has kept especially smaller retailers on the side-lines in Europe, says Shah.

Pointing to the appeal of Uniqlo’s capsule collection with non-Muslim women, Shah says: “A lot of women are interested in this type of clothing. At the same time, this is not known among small retailers who don’t have access to this type of market research.”

Like most Flemish cities, Antwerp has a very ethnically and culturally mixed population. It also boasts one of the world’s best fashion schools, which has produced a crop of talented designers starting with the iconic Antwerp Six, and an innovative fashion museum.

“The fashion museum has demonstrated that diversity is super important, especially in a place like Belgium, which is very international,” says Shah. “They see this as a great way to build diverse partners and integrate different cultures.”

A significant part of the day-long event will focus on the future of modest fashion in Europe. Because, Shah says, modest fashion is here to stay.

“There have been a lot of articles about whether this is a trend and will we see much of it in the future. But my perspective is that modest fashion has carved out a space for itself as part of the industry.”

The fashion industry as a whole, she says, is more diverse and inclusive than it used to be. “We are definitely seeing the industry incorporating modest fashion collections as well as influencers and models.”

And, yes, she confirms, if this maiden voyage goes well, “you can expect more modest fashion conferences from mvslim.com”.

Written by Linda A Thompson (Flanders Today)