In recent months, British retailers have been taking baby-steps towards ensuring greater inclusiveness of Islamic preferences in their fashion collections. Most recently, Marks & Spencer has made burkinis available for online purchase and has announced that the pieces will be available to buy in-store in the UK in due course. The swimwear is designed to "cover[s] the whole body with the exception of the face, hands and feet, without compromising on style".
This largely celebrated collection follows hot on the heels of like fashion lines débuted by various luxury and high-street retailers (including Uniqlo, Dolce & Gabbana, Net-a-Porter, Zara, Oscar de la Renta, DKNY, Mango, Tommy Hilfiger, etc.) which have the potential to appeal to a broad range of global consumers – featuring abaya, kebaya, hijabs, long dresses and loose blouses.
Retailers have been inspired by the fact that the Muslim population, which is estimated by global population studies to make up over 22% of the world population, reportedly spent around $266 billion on apparel in 2013 – a figure which is estimated to rise to $484 billion by 2019 (2014-2015 report on the State of the Global Islamic economy, Thomson Reuters).
Nevertheless, the move towards integrating Islamic trends into popular fashion culture has been astonishingly slow. The lines are also vulnerable to criticism on the grounds that they are arguably designed less to celebrate Islamic preference and more to exploit this largely untouched yet profitable demographic. This can be evidenced by an oftentimes lacking understanding of Muslim women's needs and preferences in much of the clothing - many of the pieces may be deemed unsuitable for women who choose to embrace modesty as a lifestyle; including mid-length skirts and lacy or semi-transparent fabrics.
Whether British retailers can succeed in enforcing diversity in fashion in a way which can successfully assimilate both modesty and style in a way which resonates with Muslim women remains to be seen.