Hijab fervour in Indonesia: Part two

In the second part of her investigation, IA's Maya Notodisurjo looks at the Hijab fashion trend in Indonesia and the marketing campaigns targeting the women who wear them.

Hijab high fashion

In Indonesia, Muslim fashion is a boom industry. The sector has been steadily growing at the rate of 7% per year, and this trend has not gone unnoticed. More and more big names are entering the field, such as Dolce & Gabbana with their exclusive Abaya Collection Debut. With strong interest from both established brands and talented new home-grown designers, Indonesia is well on its way to becoming the heartbeat of Muslim fashion.

But as we saw in part one, the growing trend for many Muslim women to adopt traditional shar'i dress codes means that they are expected to modestly hide their beauty (and anything else that might cause indecent staring, or even lust!) behind loose-fitting garments. Indeed, the hijab - a traditional garment that fully covers the body and a headscarf that covers the head and chest - literally means 'protective barrier'.

So why is the market booming and how do Muslim ladies combine religious modesty and high fashion?

Colourful and confident creativity

Deputy of Marketing and Business Networking for Cooperation/SME, Emilia Suhaimi, cites the colorful tones and variety of designs as Indonesia’s strength – compared to, for example, the black tone of Middle Eastern style, the abaya style of Brunei and Malaysia, and the European style of long sleeves plus trousers and scarf.

The fact that the Muslim fashion industry is relatively new in Indonesia might also be a factor: the sector is still establishing itself and this makes it open to creative competition. With bold designs and creative modern head wraps, Indonesia is competing with confidence.

A sliding scale

Perhaps inevitably, however, there is a dissonance between the religious ideals of modesty and the desire to express oneself, to feel good and to look good.

At one end of the scale, women who are reluctant to compromise look for loopholes and wear a kind of hijab that barely meets the shar’i code, either by wearing close-fitting garments and headscarves, or by styling their headscarf into something that catches the eye or even invites staring. These styles, labelled “jilboobs” and “jilbab punuk unta” (meaning “camel’s back hijab”), tend to make the more conventional hijabers feel uncomfortable.

And, as with all fashion, judgment can be harsh. As one respondent told me, “In our world, hijabists tend to be pitted against each other by the media and sometimes by fellow hijabists. Sometimes it's not enough that we are already covered up, we still need to be categorized into those who wear shar’i hijabs and those who don't. The new trend from fashion brand Zoya for halal hijabs creates another divide. Then there are the 'fashion police', hijabists who love to go around on social media telling others that their lipstick is too red, or how inappropriate or overly colourful their clothes are."

Emergent styles

So Muslim women need to feel comfortable when they put on the hijab - from both a religious and a fashion perspective. How do they do it? To find out more, I interviewed five ladies who wear the hijab. Along with Sekar, Dewi, and Fathia who we met in Part 1, I caught up with Nadia, a mum of two who runs an online shop selling bedsheets, and Tina, who works as an English teacher in a junior high school and has a young son.

All my ladies agreed on three things. Firstly, Jakarta’s heat and high humidity causes discomfort, so the most important thing is for the fabric to be the cool on the skin. Neatness is important too, so the fabric should not easily crease. Thirdly, all preferred to shop online. Whilst all are aware of Muslim fashion centres like Thamrin City Mall and Tanah Abang, they are not keen to shop there: some dislike the heat and crowds, others dislike the temptation of so much choice!

Beyond this, however, each interviewee had their own favourite fabrics and styles, their own purchasing habits, and their preferred online shops. Nevertheless, I found three distinct approaches beginning to emerge. Let's take a closer look.

Keeping it simple

Photo credit:  Jilbab Syar’i

Photo credit: Jilbab Syar’i

Nadia and Tina both like to keep things simple and modest. Their headscarf collections are relatively small, at around 15 – 30 pieces each, and I found them to be the least fashion-conscious and the most keen to observe the spirit of religious compliance. They like to wear a simple, loose garment with a headscarf that is wide enough to cover their chest properly. 

A Simple Shar'i approach closely resembles the classic Arabic hijab, but with a greater range of colours and fabrics.

Both Nadia and Tina will go for a bergo, an 'instant headscarf' which is already sewn to frame the face, so no need to secure with a pin. For more formal occasions they have a few rectangular satin hijabs, although even here a smart bergo may be worn.

These ladies may sew their own hijabs – especially for everyday attire. For something more special, they may buy online at shops they have found via social media.

They like shopping to be quick and simple, and when they find a store they like they will repeat purchase.

“I don’t have a favourite, but there are some online shops I use again and again, as the service is friendly, they are quick to respond, and the products meet my expectations.” - Tina

Creative styling

Photo credit:  Hijabina

Photo credit: Hijabina

Fathia is passionate about fashion, so for her the simple approach is not enough. She wants to respect her religion but also express herself in her choice of clothes and is happy to spend time to creatively blend the two. So for example she might create the illusion of a loose garment with an oversize t-shirt or long vest. 

Fathia is creative, so she loves to mix and match and is not normally interested in an off-the-shelf garment and headscarf set. Similarly, she tends to avoid a readymade bergo. Instead she enjoys styling her headscarf herself, and watches hijab tutorials online for the latest tips and trends.

Being style-conscious, Fathia knows what she wants from her fabrics. Tie Rack scarves, cotton and viscose are favourites for everyday as they are cool, easy-care and do not crease. For parties and more formal occasions Fathia goes for something more glitzy - maybe pashmina, diamond georgette, Japanese cotton, stretch glitter or fabric made of pineapple fibre, and cerutti.

Fathia has about 50 – 60 headscarves. She has fewer garments though: “... the clothes can be the same, but the headscarf should differ every time."

Not surprisingly, Fathia has the longest list of favourite shops and online stores, and will spend time browsing for the right item. If the price is too expensive, however, she will copy it and have it made.

For hijabs, Berrybenka.comHijabenka.com and vanilahijab are her favourite. For clothes she buys at popular outlets such as Atmosphere (at Matahari Mall), anditagallerys, or geraiwarna.  Role models include Jenahara Nasution and Fitri Aulia


Photo credit:  Putri DMR

Photo credit: Putri DMR

Whilst Fathia likes to make her own style, Dewi and Sekar are fashion followers: they like to be up-to-date with the latest brands and collections. Their wardrobes are the largest - Dewi says she has hundreds of headscarves, and when the product appeals, she will often buy in large quantities. 

They like to be stylish and up-to-date, image is important to them, but they are not as individually creative as Fathia. They are not as choosy about their fabrics, and will wear a bergo for daily errands such as dropping the children at school or picking up groceries. For work they will go for a rectangle satin, as it looks more formal, and for a special occasion, pashmina is preferred for its chic and exclusive look.

Dewi and Sekar will shop online at Hijabchicofficial.com, ermaniaID, and raia_ID. They love strong colour, and this might be influenced by the designer they look up to most: Zahratuljannah. Jenahara Nasution is also admired.

“At least once a month I buy new collection. Mostly online, but sometimes at a bazaar when it is held in my office building. When I have some extra money to spend, I will buy a lot of Hijabchicofficial’s latest collection.” - Dewi

Looking ahead

These initial responses suggest that there is more interesting work to be done here. How Muslim women choose to wear the hijab might indicate different types of consumers, and I suspect that digging deeper will reveal opportunities to create specific products and claims which appeal to their different needs.

For some, perhaps those who tend to follow religious conduct most closely, the opportunity might lie mostly in the fast moving consumer goods market – including food, beverages, and perhaps even household products. This segment cares less about fashionable appearance, but our hypothesis is that these ladies might be interested in products that make their whole life shar’i.

For those who want to express themselves and feel good, there might be opportunities for complementary shar’i products such as shar’i cosmetic and shar’i spa, whilst for those ladies who like their designer brands, products can emphasize chic beauty within the shar'i code.

Whatever happens, I suspect we are already starting to see the emergence of several types of hijab style that are uniquely Indonesian. The Muslim fashion industry here is one to watch!

Hijab marketing awakens

In the meantime, marketers are already looking for ways in which to reach out to the distinct challenges that Muslim fashion presents. Shampoo is naturally the product most related to the hijab. Unilever, for example, has featured the hijab in campaigns for two of its shampoo brands, Lifebuoy and Sunsilk.

Lifebuoy aired a TV commercial called “Pakai Hijab” ('Wearing the Hijab'), and even used the hijab theme as their activation, by following up with a hijabist mother and daughter photo competition.

Sunsilk, meanwhile, developed a talent-scout programme called “Sunsilk Hijab Hunt”, won by Bella Amira, who received as her prize an umrah (a type of pilgrimage to Mecca) and 50mio rupiah (approx. USD 5,000) cash.

Muslim health and beauty markets are blossoming too. Wardah Cosmetic, founded in 1995, started with a simple mission to fulfill the need for halal (religiously compliant) cosmetics, cutting out animal fats, colagen and other proscribed ingredients, and now leads the field here.

On a smaller scale, several products specifically target Muslim women. Established in May 2002, Muslim beauty salon and spa Moz5 (pronounced "Mos-Lima", a phonetic derived from “Muslimah” or "Muslim women") serves only women, and most importantly only uses products with halal ingredients.

HijUp.com is a Muslim e-commerce fashion mall. Founded by Diajeng Lestari in 2011, HijUp.com already features over 120 brands from local designers, selling not only headscarves and garments, but also children's products and home and lifestyle items too.

Finally, HiLo Soleha is a milk product from Nutrifood specifically designed for Muslim women (the word “Soleha” itself is the feminine form of an Arabic word meaning “pious”). Supported by a TV Commercial, HiLo Soleha links the Muslim fashion of fully covering the body to a possible Vitamin D deficiency – a condition they believe their milk product might help overcome.  

A fascinating future

These ladies have given me an intriguing glimpse into the fast-moving world of contemporary Indonesian hijab fashion. Given the worldwide growth of the Muslim faith, I suspect there are plenty more opportunities ahead: this is definitely a trend worth watching!

Posted on March 15, 2016 and filed under Culture.