At 26, Restu Anggriani is a Muslim fashion mogul in the making. Restu started posting pictures of herself wearing modest Muslim garb on her blog in 2010. 'People were always asking me where I got my clothes', she says, so she started to manufacture her own. Business is good for her eponymous label.
'We try to emulate Zara's strategy', explains Rahmat Ramadan, Restu's husband and business partner. 'Every week we try to put out a new piece. Sometimes all we have to do is put up a 'look' on Instagram and before we can even photograph it properly, the item has sold out.' Restu sees the growing popularity of Muslim modes of dress, including the wearing of the hijab or jilbab (head covering) as 'an obligation to God. But why shouldn't I also see it as an (business) opportunity?'
'Busana Muslim' (Muslim fashion) is booming, part of a larger trend toward 'aspirational pietism' that has fueled the growth of Muslim lifestyle magazines, Islamic banking products, tourism and devotional media. Two decades ago, it was still relatively uncommon to see women in Islamic dress, but today personal expressions of Islamic faith are much more conspicuous and part of everyday life. But while a new generation is choosing to don the veil, it is adapting to it on its own terms.
Restu Anggriani is interested in providing fashion 'solutions' that allow her customers to make their own choices about how far they want to go. Looking through her latest collection, her husband explains, 'If you look at this dress, it's actually quite form fitting. But then we add these accessories, like jackets and cardigans, to cover the shape of the body. We say to our customers, it's up to you. There might be young people for whom this is Muslim clothing, but a bit rebellious. But if you add (a jacket, for example) it's more syariah.'
These are not the long shapeless tunics and gowns her mother might have worn. Dian Pelangi, one of Indonesia's highest profile Muslim fashion designers, typically mixes lavish traditional woven and embroidered textiles into her designs. There is drama in floor sweeping skirts and layers that skim curves even as they hide 'aruat' (nakedness, which for Indonesian women is typically defined as from the top of the head to wrists and ankles). Like their fashionista sisters in other countries, hijabers accessorise with statement heels and big handbags, their perfectly draped headscarves paired with oversize sunglasses.
For the Facebook generation, there's no contradiction in dressing modestly and posting artful selfies for thousands of followers.
Designers like Dian Pelangi and Restu Anggriani, who are the faces of their own brands, see themselves as role models rather than attention seekers. Fashion bloggers and designers often promote their family status on their Twitter and Instagram feeds, adopting labels like 'proud wifey and mommy'.
Young Muslim fashion designers argue that by making Muslim fashion more attractive, they are making it easier for young women to adopt more 'correct' modes of dress. Arfa Nurima, one half of design duo Treimee, describes friends in high school teasing her for wearing a headscarf to the mall. 'Before people would underestimate the person wearing a headscarf. It wasn't very cool. But now there are much better clothes, and we say if we going to wear a headscarf it should look good.'
Online group Hijabers Community not only conducts tutorials on how to wear new jilbab styles but encourages women to share their stories about how they came to the decision to wear the headscarf full time, often as part of a larger decision to more wholly adopt other religious obligations like praying five times a day. Cute clothes play an important role in negotiating the transition from uncovered to covered. As Dian Firlanyi of DeeAndra puts it, 'wearing a headscarf is a process of learning about yourself. Actually, women who wear headscarves are not allowed to wear tight pants, anything that shows the body. But it's about individual readiness, I'm not ready to wear skirts every day, so I wear palazzo pants, that are wider, not tight.'
Where fashion meets religion, however, judgment abounds. One blogger described fashion trends as 'degrading the sanctity of the headscarf'. Criticism also comes from those concerned with the 'commodification' of Islam, and that girls are choosing to embrace Muslim styles of dress because they are trendy rather than for truly religious reasons. In a New York Times article, the editor of popular Muslim women's magazine NooR said 'you cannot assume that because a woman is wearing a jilbab, she's a good Muslim.'
It would be easy to see the increasing popularity of Muslim dress, and the emergence of vocal, hardline Islamic groups, as evidence of a hardening of traditionally moderate, tolerant Indonesian Islam. But the young fashion scene demonstrates that this 'pluralist' Islam is alive and well. Gerg Fealy argues that rather than having a radicalising effect, the makers of Islamic products must appeal to the traditionally moderate mass market, reinforcing the tolerance and choice that characterise mainstream Islam in Indonesia.
Indonesia's take on 'busana Muslim' is a growing cultural export. With the global Islamic fashion market estimated to be worth US$322 billion by 2018, Indonesia's Ministry for Tourism and Creative Economy has thrown its weight behind a campaign for Jakarta to become the capital of global Muslim fashion by 2020 (most recently, it sent Dian Pelangi to represent Indonesian fashion at an exclusive event for Middle Eastern royalty). Restu Anggriani has resellers in Singapore and Malaysia; Treimee has clients in Germany.
In expanding the international market for fashion-forward piety, Indonesia is exporting its own brand of moderate and tolerant Islam, where creativity and self expression are embraced.
Photo by the author; taken at Dian Pelangi.