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Relief on The Runway- Empowering Women through Modest, Chic Fashion

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By Nada Shawish

Modern Mary founder and designer Seema Sahin believes that modesty is something that all women can appreciate.

At her Washington, D.C., boutique, she exhibits creations that are modest and stylish, with vibrant colors and carefully organized details. She’s worked with a lot of organizations to pursue charity work through her fashions. At Islamic Relief’s Relief on the Runway charity fashion show recently, Seema exhibited and sold some of her latest designs to help support projects benefiting women around the world.

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“It’s important for women to feel confident,” Sahin said. “For Muslim women to have pieces on a runway that they can relate to, and fits their needs and lifestyle, is a powerful thing … and putting together events such as this will attract wider audiences or even new audiences to help introduce charity projects.”

Islamic Relief USA hosted a charity fashion show in New York City on April 28, 2012, with an added twist—it was a women-only show exhibiting modest, stylish fashion for today’s woman. Proceeds went to Islamic Relief USA’s women’s programs around the world.

Bloomberg recently reported that the global Muslim fashion market would be worth $96 billion dollars if just half of the world’s Muslims spent only $120 a year on clothing. Using Islam inspired designs in their fashion show, Islamic Relief USA combined the demand for new, yet modest clothing with a good cause: the improvement of women’s lives globally.

By the end of the evening, Relief on the Runway raised thousands of dollars to help support women’s projects in some of the world’s most impoverished communities. These projects bring women health care, education, water and more, to lift some of their hardships and give them a voice in their communities.

It’s nothing new that charity and fashion together create a powerful combination. People in the fashion industry have been utilizing fashion to help people in need for generations. This year is no different, except that “modest” dress seems to be on trend in women’s fashion in 2012, and these styles gracing the runway are targeting more women than before.

Nidha Merza is originally from Pakistan, but was born in Queens, N.Y. She’s designer and founder of Islamic Gems, a U.S.-based online boutique that sells unique jewelry and accessories to ornament women’s headscarves or hijabs, including pins, brooches and charms. For Merza, women’s empowerment and fashion go hand-in-hand.

“Fashion helps a woman feel good about herself, and when she’s confident, she can go out and do something,” she said. “There are women helping women here at this event. Us women, we’re here, we’re empowered, we have our own businesses, and we are helping other women to get there.”

The night’s casting director and co-producer, Aushim Raswant from 3V PR and Management, created the show’s smooth flow. Although he spent the show backstage (to honor the women-only aspect of the event) he felt that the collaborative effort made the show special, and that the fresh, new looks into “modest” dress that took the audience by surprise.

“It’s the perfect charity medium basically,” he said. “People love to go to fashion shows. It’s an event, it’s exciting, and when you’re doing it for a good cause, you show up.”

Well-known designers like Deepak Perwani, Rabia Z, Nzinga Knight, Guzel, Nayna and Modern Mary exhibited their modest and Islam-inspired designs on the runway. Rare NYC got the fashion models all dolled up with both edgy and fresh styled makeup, and Engie Hassan and the team from NG Design helped to complete their looks, including brightly colored scarves and stockings, and shoes high and low.

The fashions echoed the classic style of the movie stars of old, yet spruced up with the added Technicolor of today. The show was loud, multicultural and drop-dead gorgeous.

All the ladies looked elegant, chic and timeless, while at the same time breaking stereotypes of what constitutes conservative or modest dress. Layerable pieces, higher necklines, and longer skirts proved that women can be modest yet stylish and beautiful without compromising faith. The outfits were charged with a sense of strength, style and femininity all at once.

And the audience loved it.

Ifat Sherif is 22 years old. She heard about the fashion show from a friend, and was happily surprised by the entire evening.

“This is the first time I ever came to an event like this,” she said. “I was very surprised. It’s something different we can all attend and relate to. It went very well. The relief efforts and fashion blended really well … It brought us back to giving back to our community and giving back to people who are suffering all around the world.”

Women’s empowerment wasn’t just the theme of the night. The event made women’s empowerment fashionable.

With new ways to layer your dress, along with interesting, flattering pieces and lovely ways to accessorize and fold scarves and headpieces, the runway boasted new ideas for dressing that many women can feel good about.

For Modern Mary’s Seema Sahin, the event did more than just raise money, it helped contribute to a larger shift in thinking about ways to open doors for women today.

“These designers aren’t dictating what women should wear, but rather are offering new options to fit the needs and lifestyle of women that may not have had these options before–options that will make them feel comfortable, and beautiful, and confident,” she said.

Options. That’s ultimately the goal of women’s empowerment projects—giving women more options opens doors to better opportunities and a better life, especially where options are few to none.

In 2012, we can expect to see much more from “modest” fashion than perhaps anyone expected. Maxi skirts and dresses have been on trend for a while now, and “dressed-down,” comfortable looks with flowing materials and longer bodices seem to be all the rage.

Perhaps less revealing wear is finally becoming an appealing option to see-through tops, bandeaus and nearly non-existent skirts. And perhaps these trends can offer more than just what to wear.

When twists to tradition can mesh with relief work on the runway, women can come together to bring about change that’s good for everyone.

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20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. Abu Sumaiyah

    June 1, 2012 at 3:31 AM

    Astaghrallaah.
    Astaghrallaah.
    Astaghrallaah. This files in the face of correct Islamic modesty for women. Please re-read whhat it means to be modest and what is considered hijab. May Allah help the Muslims in the west who think they are vanguards of the deed, but in reality they are weak and subjugated.

  2. Leila

    June 1, 2012 at 9:47 AM

    What does it mean to be modest and what does it mean to wear a hijab? I would like to hear your definition of modest please. Did you read the article? Apparently not… It was an all women’s event, by women for women.

    • Muslim Girl

      June 1, 2012 at 10:09 AM

      Why do you think it was an all-women event? Would you want men to be looking at the women as well? It was an all-women event so that women could feel comfortable in watching the new styles and whatnot. This event was obviously a good thing, because it is hard to find ideas/clothes that meet a Muslim woman’s requirements. This event gave women ideas to implement when they go shopping. Try to find the deeper meaning. Jazaqallah.

  3. GiveZakah

    June 1, 2012 at 10:25 AM

    Yes, what is your idea of modesty? And what does this have to do with helping people in need? This event was helping to raise money to support women and families of single mothers who are in need. These women may not have the same opportunities as others in some places and it’s our duty to help. Finding new ways to do this are important. And giving women a chance to help other women seems honorable. Why discourage something if it is more beneficial than harmful?

    • Muslim Girl

      June 1, 2012 at 12:12 PM

      I agree with you completely. The money is going to a good place, and it’s helping women around the world!

  4. MrAnderson

    June 4, 2012 at 12:01 PM

    To get a sense of what ‘designers’ mean when they say modest, please check out their designs. Some here : http://www.hautemuslimah.com/2011/03/interview-and-giveaway-with-modern-mary.html and here http://mzmahoganychic.com/2012/04/10/modernmary/. And oddly this one :http://seemasahin.tumblr.com/.

  5. Maryam

    June 4, 2012 at 11:13 PM

    lol…empowering women through fashion…

  6. Umm Aisha

    June 7, 2012 at 12:44 AM

    This is wrong, plz study about Hijab and its attributes, it is not for making women more attractive rather it is meant to hide beauty…….. may Allah forgive us all. aameen

  7. Zemsem

    June 7, 2012 at 9:25 AM

    If beauty was the issue, and meant to be hidden, all of creation would be cloaked.

    • Ruki

      June 7, 2012 at 1:43 PM

      Totally agree! You wouldn’t believe how many Muslim women need help with what to wear and what to put together.

  8. Omar

    June 8, 2012 at 12:30 AM

    I’m extremely disappointed in MM

  9. Zish

    June 10, 2012 at 3:49 AM

    Hijab is to cover and not to be “attractive” in the eyes of others. All the swarowski crystals and vibrant colors & designs in modern fashionable islamic clothing, is not a part of hijab. Hijab is not barely to cover skin. Hijab is much more than that….
    Ladies may feel free to wear whatever they want inside the privacy of their homes, but not outside in public in front of non-mahram men. Reading the above article, I can clearly say the fashion designers are designing modest clothing. But I cannot call the above mentioned ‘modest clothing’ to be inlcuded in the category of ‘Hijab”.

  10. Zish

    June 10, 2012 at 3:51 AM

    Muslim Matters, please do not endorse false/incomplete Hijab. A lot of muslimahs may read this article and follow such improper Hijab as mentioned in the article above. May Allah forgive us and guide us.

  11. boguomiljen

    June 19, 2012 at 9:30 PM

    first of all Quran doesn’t say hijab but rather jalabeeb(
    33:59 ), which means full covering. most of arab/asian women who use niqab plaster their eyes with eyeliner and all kinds of filth which contradict niqab’s purpose.

  12. MuslimahAmreekiyyah

    June 23, 2012 at 1:55 AM

    Its so sad how Muslims in America are become more gullible and drawn to the kufr lifestyle of the people of this country. Hijaab which stands for modesty and iffah(chastity) now stands for fashion.What kind of a deen are you promoting really? Islam or American Islam. Fear Allaah O people. Im a muslima born and raised in America, and I have seen the hijaab changing slowly and gradually over the years. Back when I was younger, women dressed more modestly, wore long , full hijaabs. There was no glitter, bright colors, or strong perfumes. Now, it is getting worse. Parents should do their kids a favor if they are not going to raise them strong with the deen, MAKE HIJRA and leave this place of corruption and disbelief.

  13. khan-ers

    June 25, 2012 at 10:19 AM

    Wow our community is so emotionally charged…lol Firstly, it says in the article: “By the end of the evening, Relief on the Runway raised thousands of dollars to help support women’s projects in some of the world’s most impoverished communities. These projects bring women health care, education, water and more, to lift some of their hardships and give them a voice in their communities.” It is a charity event so it’s something we should all appreciate, especially because it’s going towards such a good cause. Secondly, it was an all girls event where women can enjoy. Honestly speaking there aren’t many places where muslim women can go and enjoy a night dressed up without having to worry about men being there. I personally think that it’s great that Muslim communities are having such events while keeping them segregated. Would we rather have our women going dressed up to Maimi fashion week where not only there is no segregation, but even the fashion is much more skankier, or would we rather have a Muslim fashion show where everything is kept proper according to Islam? Lastly, it’s great that now we have Muslim female designers. Honestly speaking I’m not one to advocate for ’empowering women through fashion’. Fashion shouldn’t dictate someone’s confidence however fashion does play a role in our lives. There are enough parties to attend and if I know there are Muslim designers out there I would like to support them instead of these large businesses that rely on child labour to make and sell their designs and this designer mentioned that in her interview. “Women shopping at major clothing brands have to be creative in order to piece together a modest look, which can be difficult, expensive, and at times uncomfortable depending on the weather. I wanted to create a hassle free shopping experience for these women, offering them a fashionable alternative that already fits with the guidelines of their faith.” Yes, modesty is part of our faith and that should be kept in mind in our daily lives. Fashion is probably one of the weakest medium that empowers women. Why? Because it makes girls want to become part of the vanity fair that our society has become and that’s not what Islam is about. With that being said, disregarding the point about ’empowering muslims through fashion’, there are some things that are worth appreciating and those are the one’s mentioned above :)

  14. Revolted

    July 16, 2012 at 9:34 PM

    You should’ve posted pictures of what they were exactly covering at the event: http://www.modernmary.com/irusas-relief-on-the-runway/.

    How revolting. And then they’re trying to validate this by giving it to charity…

  15. Saood

    July 29, 2012 at 5:48 AM

    To understand the concept of Hijab, I relate to you an event
    from the Islamic History – An event from the life of Sayyidah Fatima Az Zahra
    (RA), the daughter of Syedna Rasul Allah (Saw)

    When the time of Bibi
    Fatimah’s (RA) death approached, she told Bibi Asma (RA), the daughter of Omais
    that she did not like the way in which the funeral of a woman had been carried
    to the grave. (Because a sheet was used to cover the dead through which the curves
    of the body were visible which made Sayyidah Zahra very uncomfortable). Bibi Asma (RA) told her that in Habsha (Ethiopia)
    she had seen a different custom that they placed the branches of trees on the
    bed and then spread the sheet over them. bibi Fatima (RA) liked this custom and
    advised that her body be covered in the same way.

    She is worried about modesty even after her death and
    therefore advises to take the “Hijab” but here we indulge into fashion, ironically by taking
    the “Hijab” – While the word may be same, but its meaning…… miles apart.

  16. noticed-error

    September 17, 2012 at 11:39 PM

    I noticed an error in ones of the names of the designers. Who can be contacted to have this corrected?

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