Fashion Rule Breakers is an original A Plus Lifestyle series: Each month, we profile a fashion designer, model, organization, or icon who is a fashion rule breaker — someone who acts outside mainstream industry standards to make a positive difference.
This month, we caught up with Mariah Idrissi, a London-based model who made waves in the fashion industry last year for doing something no one had ever done before. She was the very first model to wear a hijab in an ad for H&M, the second largest clothing retailer in the world.
By being the first to represent hijab-wearing women for H&M, and using this platform to speak out about issues in the industry, Idrissi is a "fashion rule breaker."
Courtesy of Mariah Idrissi
Though H&M has been criticized by some for its industry practices and attempts to appear fashion-forward, Idrissi's appearance in H&M's Close the Loop campaign signifies steps in a positive direction for the brand. Not only does the campaign encourage consumers to recycle their clothing, but the ad featured a variety of body types, genders, cultures, and religions to show anyone can be fashion-forward. Along with its first hijab-wearing model, the ad included plus-size models, transgender models, stylish seniors, and a model with an amputation.
"It felt unbelievable," Idrissi tells A Plus. "I didn't actually realize the response would be this way. And to be called a 'legend' by some was amazing."
"People felt it was a breakthrough for modest fashion consumers as well as for Muslims to have some recognition in the mainstream fashion world.”
Women may choose to wear a hijab for a variety of reasons: Some may do so as a tangible sign of their faith, others may wear one to fulfill their religion's commandment for modesty, and some women may cover up as an effort to be valued for inner beauty.
"I decided to wear a hijab full-time when I was 17, as prior to that I was a 'part-timer' and would put it on and off as I pleased," Idrissi says. "No one in my immediate family, other than my mother, actually wears hijab, so it was certainly a personal choice."
"I found much interest in religion and history from a young age and saw the beauty in having modesty both inside and out."
In addition to H&M, a few other retailers have also caught up with Muslim shoppers in recent years. DKNY, Tommy Hilfiger, and Mango launched special collections for Ramadan, the holiest month in Islam's lunar calendar. Luxury brand Oscar de la Renta released a collection of caftans, and Uniqlo teamed up with Muslim fashion designer and blogger Hana Tajima to create a collection that appealed to modest dressers. Most recently, Dolce & Gabbana introduced a glamorous line of hijabs and abayas.
It's about time major fashion retailers started tapping into the Muslim market. Muslim consumers contributed $107 billion to the global economy in 2014 and "their spending will grow faster than the rest of the digital economy by 2020," according to a report issued by Thomson Reuters.
It's a change Muslim women, like Idrissi, are excited to see. "Hijab fashion has certainly become more popular with the help of social media, bloggers, and of course the influence from major international brands such as H&M," she says.
"Perceptions of what hijab is has also developed more as many people from other faiths and backgrounds may not have had the knowledge and understanding of the reasons why we choose to cover."
Offering collections that appeal to Muslims, modeled by hijab-wearing women, isn't just about fashion — it's about representation and conversation. As Islamaphobia continues to rise and stereotypes about Muslims continue to be perpetuated, fashion could be a gateway to the productive conversations about Islam that we need now more than ever.
"Fashion, like the entertainment industry, is such a major global influencer and people of all nationalities and cultures have their own fashion trends and so forth," says Idrissi. "This alone proves the influence fashion has."
"With the right voices behind it, fashion can certainly bring some peace and unity between us."
In fact, she recently was given the opportunity to speak on this issue during a TedxTeen Talk in London titled "Changing the Face of Fashion." She discussed the representation of Muslim women in the fashion world and how the industry can do better when it comes to diversity. "Hijab isn't a representation of oppression, and the fact that we are seeing hijab and abaya in mainstream fashion, in the media, it makes people understand that there's another side to Islam. If we can't change the negative, why not add a positive to it," she said during the talk.
As far as continuing to make a difference in the fashion world goes, Idrissi hopes people who see her will make an effort to learn more about the Islam faith. She hopes they'll understand that wearing a hijab is a personal choice. "I also hope that modest dress will be something that not only Muslim or religious groups feel they can be a part of, but any woman of any background can also," she says.
For all you other "Fashion Rule Breakers" out there, Idrissi has some simple, but compelling advice: Be persistent and be yourself. "When people recognize sincerity its something that draws in attention and something people can relate to. It's not about following someone else's journey. It's about creating your own," she says.