- Published on Friday, 26 October 2012 00:00
- Category: Culture
With the rise of Middle Eastern-inspired fashion and the blend of “modest” dressing with high fashion, kaftans are no longer reserved for covering up at the beach.
International designers such as Camilla Frank, Emilio Pucci and Missoni have already refashioned the kaftan as couture according to Western silhouettes and textures; but, now young Americans of Middle Eastern heritage are reviving the kaftan to cater to the growing modest Muslim fashion market by using traditional embroideries and less revealing cuts.
Mohajababes, another fashion label that we discovered at the Fashion Fighting Famine Charity Runway Show in Irvine, California, offers kaftans as modest alternatives to evening wear. The brainchild of two sisters based in California and London, the label gets its name from a stylish play on the Arabic word “Muhajiba,” which refers to a woman who is veiled. The sisters started the line after being complimented on and asked about their outfits at countless weddings and social events from the UK to the US. They soon carved themselves a niche, filling a gap in the market for beautifully handmade, modest kaftan dresses. Aslan Media style writer, Alnas Zia, got the opportunity to talk with the sisters behind the Mohajababes label and to discuss what makes their selection of kaftans so popular and well-liked by women all over world.
Aslan Media: When was Mohajababes founded and what was your family’s — and the public’s — original reaction to the line?
Mohajababes: Mohajababes was launched in November 2011 by us after three years of being asked where we got our outfits from every time we were at weddings or parties in the UK or US. We recognized [the] gap in the market and began sourcing beautiful kaftans in a variety of colors and designs, each hand embroidered with beads, sequins and jewels. We wanted to bring kaftans to the US, Canada, the UK and Europe so Muslim women would have other options for evening wear. You'd either see women in traditional outfits or about five or six women in identical dresses that you knew where they were from. Buying a Mohajababes kaftan means you’ll be wearing a garment you can feel special in and genuinely be the only one at a party dressed that way! Our family and friends have been incredibly supportive and proud of us, and it is this support that helps you gets you through all the hurdles associated with setting up your own business.
AM: What has been Mohajababes’ biggest break yet?
M: Having Dina Toki-o feature us on her YouTube channel really boosted our international and UK fan following. Taking part in the Fashion Fighting Famine Fashion Show was also excellent for business, and really gave fans and new customers the opportunity to learn more about us and see our products in person.
AM: How do you view Mohajababes as a transcending brand that makes feminine and stylish kaftans for women across various social and religious classifications- both Muslim and non-Muslim?
M: We recognize that parameters of ‘hijab’ are interpreted differently by every Muslim woman and there are varied understandings of Quranic hadith or ayaat related to hijab. How we interpret the rules is attempting to source clothing that is not see-through (or at least provided with a lining to ensure it no longer is see-through), too fitted, short, and with as high a neckline as possible. As for sleeve length, we recognize some Muslim women are happy to wear sleeves that are three-quarter length whereas others prefer full sleeves. We sell sleeve fabric with our dresses so our customers are able to determine the sleeve length that works for them. This applies to our non-Muslim customers as well who wear the kaftan as they deem fit within the parameters of what is an acceptable dress code for them. We prefer not to dictate what is best – we look at our products as items that are unique, flattering on all body shapes and sizes and want to share them with the world – that is all.
AM: What are some of the factors that set your kaftans apart from other brands in the market?
M: We believe we stock a perfect mix of heavily embroidered kaftans versus ones that are more subtle yet elegant and ensure we only source high quality chiffon fabric, embroidery that is on trend and applied with excellent workmanship. We also never sell anything we wouldn’t wear ourselves and I think that sets us apart from the rest – we don’t look at a catalogue and pick random colors and styles. We look at colors that work for our market – for Caucasian skin tones, African and Asian skin tones and we include colors that are on trend and ‘safe’ colors for those that prefer them. Our kaftans are probably the most affordable around as well, which is why they are so popular. We keep our costs down by only selling online and have worked really hard to find excellent reliable suppliers, and manage our Facebook pages and marketing ourselves. All this helps towards offering our customers kaftans that look like they cost an arm and a leg but are very affordable.
AM: How do you market and promote your brand?
M: Social media is huge for us. We’ve focused a lot on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and are working on building up our YouTube channel and potentially launching some styling videos so our customers benefit from taking a look at how we style our kaftans. We take part in fashion shows when possible and also donate to charity auctions on a frequent basis so we promote our brand as one that is constantly giving back to society. We try to support causes that are close to our hearts, ones that are most in need depending on world events and ones that are relevant to what we do – such as donating to a project that encourages young girls from developing countries to develop skills that will help them set up their own businesses.
AM: Muslim fashion is a growing market, and has established its own niche in the American society. There is also a growing demand for local designers of hijabs, abayas, kaftans and other modest Muslim fashions. How do you feel about this trend?
M: We think it’s brilliant! A lot of the girls starting up these businesses are setting themselves up as entrepreneurs and balancing caring for their families with running their businesses and it is very impressive! We are hearing a lot more from Muslimah fashion bloggers and they are brilliant sources of inspiration and excellent sources of ideas even for your own day to day style!
AM: What is your design philosophy for your kaftans and where do you get your inspiration from?
M: We do take into consideration current fashion trends but ensure our kaftans adhere to what our customer base love about them so much – that you can dress them up or down, that they are suitable for hijab wearers and non-hijab wearers and that they are unique and one-off pieces that they can be all but certain they probably are the only person that owns that specific kaftan in their town!
AM: What type of colors and fabrics you like to work with?
M: We only work with high quality chiffon – this falls beautifully on the body, is an incredibly forgiving fabric and is easy to dry clean. We love working with colors that are your classics, black, red and deep purples, but we push the boat out and have got people buying royal blues, yellows, teal and turquoise kaftans too! Our color choices change depending on the season, so we’ve had a lot of bright colors for our Spring/ Summer collection but are bringing in more muted colors for our Fall/Winter collection.
AM: Have you had, or plan to, do any collaborations with other artists, bloggers or celebrities?
M: We’ve collaborated with Dina Toki-o, who is absolutely brilliant, and we do try to collaborate with Muslim fashion organizations that do hijab swaps. We are relatively new but are building relationships with bloggers and celebrities in the Muslim fashion world.
AM: What’s in the future for Mohajababes?
M: We’re looking forward to continuing to provide beautiful kaftans to our customers and are looking at increasing our hijab collection and accessories that complement the kaftans. We’d also like to be able to offer custom-made kaftans to suit our customers soon.
To find out more about Mohajababes, or to check out this season’s catalog, visit their site at www.mohajababes.com. To stay updated on new styles, be sure to follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
By Alnas Zia, Aslan Media Style Writer
Photo Credit: Mohajababes