Modest Proposals

Seattle’s Muslim Community Is Transforming Both Muslim and Mainstream Style

“What is ironic is that the current trends in mainstream style are borrowing from Muslim fashion.”

By Colleen Williams October 18, 2016 Published in the November 2016 issue of Seattle Met

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Chema Jamel Oh at Boutique Al Firdaws, her retail space in Redmond.

Image: Amber Fouts

It took this summer’s bans on full-body swimwear in the French Riviera to finally vault Muslim fashion onto the global stage—a baffling development, given that Muslim shoppers spend around $230 billion a year on fashion, according to the latest State of the Global Islamic Economy Report.

The good news is that in the fashion world, Muslim style just so happens to be in vogue. See, for example artist Sophia Al-Maria’s installation at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, a burka-filled video study of commerce around the planet. Or, closer to home, Chema Jamel Oh’s Boutique Al Firdaws. 

There, on the second floor of the Muslim Association of Puget Sound in Redmond, Chema, a former Nordstrom designer, sells hijabs, abayas, and kaftans to women from all over the region. “We choose to wear it,” the Tunisia native says of the hijab that covers Muslim women’s hair. “We’re not forced to wear it.” Determined to change attitudes about Islamic dress, Chema brought her line to the Malikah Festival, which showcased modest Middle Eastern and South East Asian couture wear in Redmond last month.

“I think for many people, the phrase ‘modest clothing’ translates to frumpy or boring,” says Michaela Corning, another local Muslim fashion retailer; she runs the online shop Al-Andalus from her home in Seattle, focusing on items that adhere to Islamic guidelines with an American twist. “What is ironic is that the current trends in mainstream style are borrowing from Muslim fashion…turbans and Turkish coin jewelry. Many of this is labeled as ‘boho’ but in reality it is Muslim.”

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