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What H&M’s recent ad says about mainstream fashion

Model Mariah Idrissi Model Mariah Idrissi
Model Mariah Idrissi Courtesy of H&M/YouTube

For about a decade, mainstream fashion has been going through somewhat of a rebirth. There has been a growing movement of young Muslim women reclaiming the idea of the hijab, even when the instinct might have been to shed any outward evidences that might give themselves away as being “one of them.” They’re instead breaking the cliché, and it seems designers, stores and fashionistas alike are finally catching on.

H&M’s recent ad featuring model Mariah Idrissi dressed in a hijab is a prime example of it. She’s wearing a headscarf at a time when prevailing connotations of Muslim women often involve subjugation and violent conflict. The ad reminds us that the mainstream image of the everyday Muslim woman has largely been negative, but is shifting as she works to reduce the dissonance that exists between her — a woman who reads John Steinbeck and eats pizza — and “her” — a foreign figure of repression and ritual. Hijabi women are redefining how the world sees them, and they’re refusing to drop their traditional attire in the process. So now when you type “hijabi” into Google (GOOG) images, you can see a girl in a hijab sitting on a park bench, on the subway or in her baby pink bedroom.

The mainstream fashion industry is finally catching up to a vast and largely un-catered-for market. In the past year or so, a few other global brands have taken positive, if tentative, steps to expand. DKNY and Mango have released “Ramadan” collections in their respective Arab-based stores. Though the designs themselves were not entirely different than the main lines, they made serious efforts to brand the more conservative collections for Muslim women. I recently collaborated with Uniqlo to create designs that adhere to the Islamic guidelines for dressing, but the main function is to create an inclusive aesthetic that can appeal to anyone. Bloggers recently lined the front rows at fashion week, and diverse Youtube “vlogs” and iPhone apps became fashion magazines’ younger, tech-savvy sisters. Articles about Muslim fashion designers moved from the pages of news services like The Independent and BBC to the pages of fashion magazines. Elle, British Vogue and the like have all printed features on this little-known subculture of style.

The H&M ad is all about subcultures, most of which have had their own version of overcoming stereotypes. By bringing them all together, they give each a new context where being “other” means being included. You need only to take public transit in any major city to know that it’s not a new concept. It’s life.

I’m confident that by next year, we’ll be able to list several other brands wanting to share their wares with stylish hijabi women. And when it happens, it won’t be surprising or groundbreaking, but it will be a new kind of normal, and that will be a good thing.

Hana Tajima is a British-born womenswear designer and visual artist currently living in New York. At the age of 18, she became Muslim. Hanatajima.com (formerly stylecovered.com) is a blog and website that chronicles both Tajima’s personal style and exploration into design. Her collaboration with Uniqlo was launched in July 2015.