Arwa Osman would never wear the sleeveless, low-cut baby-doll top as it is shown on the rack at Wet Seal. But the 17-year-old grabs the revealing garment. She asks herself: "How do I 'Islamize' this?"
Finding creative ways to reconcile modesty and trend-consciousness has become so pervasive among young Muslim American women, there's now a verb for it.
Getting dressed is a constant balancing act for Osman, a senior at Central High School in St. Paul. On the one hand, she's a typical American teen - devouring fashion magazines, wearing jeans tucked into Ugg boots and shopping the malls with non-Muslim friends. On the other hand, her deep religious beliefs compel her to cover her head with the traditional hijab and refrain from showing any skin from the chin down - modesty is a core teaching of the Koran.
With the American Muslim population estimated at 6 million to 8 million, and the Islamic Society of North America reporting the number of women dressing modestly is on the rise, Osman is hardly unique. Yet she is virtually ignored by retailers and mainstream designers.
"Modest, pious and prolific shoppers, Muslim women ... are fast becoming a key high-fashion demographic," declared Ann Mack, trend spotter for New York advertising agency JWT, in a report last November.
This year, JWT released a major study on marketing to Muslims, which estimated American Muslim buying power at $170 billion. The study found American Muslims are more educated and more brand-conscious than the average U.S. consumer, even though virtually no major brands target them.
"We didn't realize how overlooked they felt," Mack says. "It shows you that there is such an untapped need, and as of yet, not many retailers are addressing it." (MORE)