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.
“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.