As Muslim narratives become more visible in the media, Muslim women are wary of whether brands are interested in supporting their identity or profiting from their diversity. With releases like Macy’s Verona Collection and Nike’s Pro Hijab, big brands are seeking to capitalize on the Muslim market, which is bigger than India or China and worth $170bn (£120bn) in America alone. However, as they try to appeal to Muslim millennials, they need to earn their trust.
With a deeply politicised identity, young Muslim women have grown up facing scrutiny and incisive stereotypes about their religion, but are proud of and empowered by their faith. They are focused on maintaining their identity, which is defined by modest values, but still being as creative, outspoken, or stylish as they wish.
Muslim women are sought-after consumers, because they’re open to purchasing most products which fall within their religious parameters. However, they don’t hesitate to challenge brands’ values and motives. They are willing to do the research to make sure they are being respected and represented in all steps of the process, so marketers need to make sure they are supporting them where it matters.
From the trend report Unapologetically Muslim, here are five ways that brands can uplift Muslim women:
Don’t speak for them: Muslim women have experienced a lifetime of people telling their stories. One of the most powerful acts of solidarity is to let them speak for themselves and reclaim their narratives. As Hoda Katebi, the political fashion blogger at JooJoo Azad says: "Work with us and don’t try to assume our needs. Put your money where your mouth is and invest in us. If you want to create a clothing line for Muslims, bring on a Muslim designer and use Muslim models, so you’re not operating off of assumptions about what we want and need."
Hire them: Muslim millennials are interested in finding out if brands employ Muslims before they buy products targeted to them. It is important to them that Muslim people are represented in the companies that they buy from, to create products that genuinely cater to them and authentically represent their stories. As the photographer Nadeen Abuhasan explains: "Bring in Muslims to represent what we think is right and wrong. Make your company more informed and open-minded by learning from someone who’s been living that role their whole life. Provide the platform and bring on more people who identify."
Represent their diversity: Muslim women are not a monolith, but many brands are representing them under one image. The fashion industry is indicating Muslim identity through hijab-wearing women in modest clothing, simplifying an identity that is incredibly complex and nuanced across cultures. Muslim women don’t necessarily look alike or share the same beliefs, yet many brands aren’t portraying their spectrum of thought and identity. As a demographic that is expected to comprise over a quarter of the global population by 2030, brands should represent the diversity of this market. As marketing veteran Benish Shah explains: "The problem is that Muslims can't have cohesive representation, because they're so diverse that none of them have decided what a Muslim should look like. What tends to work better is to fully represent and celebrate women who just happen to be Muslim. Prioritise diversity but cast unusual suspects. Feature women who don’t necessarily look Muslim, but self-identify as such."
Respect their values: Muslim women are quick to notice when brands create products designed for them, but don’t follow their religious requirements. They want to see their halal values reflected in the supply chain and clothing that correctly interprets modesty. As Alia Khan, the founder and chairwoman of the Islamic Fashion and Design Council says: "Fashion lines will create modest clothing with hemlines that aren’t long enough, peekaboo cutouts, or sleeves made from sheer fabric, which a modest-based fashionista will never allow. It is a simple mistake that they could easily correct by better understanding the consumer, and translating that knowledge into the product. Brands can only earn their loyalty if they prove they’re actually in the market to please the consumer."
Celebrate what unites them: Despite being a diverse audience, Muslim millennials have a lot of shared cultural traditions and experiences that can inspire emotional connections with brands. Rummi Khan, co-founder of IIIMuslims, a social collective for millennial Muslims, says: "Focus on the small, relatable experiences we share and the variety of ways we experience life. Muslim-Americans can relate to narratives like having trouble getting out of school on Eid or fasting while you're on the football team. Show Muslims in the positive and natural American light of our experience, but acknowledge cultural sensitivities. We all know what it feels like to be a minority."
Nayantara Dutta is a trends researcher at The Innovation Group, J Walter Thompson and the author of Unapologetically Muslim