Has the hijab become as American as Apple and blue jeans?
American Eagle Outfitters thinks so, considering the breakout star of its Fall 2017 campaign is a Somali refugee turned American model sporting a denim hijab.
“Thank you @americaneagle for encouraging young America to follow their passions, express their individuality, and pursue their unique paths,” Halima Aden, 19, wrote in an Instagram post.
Aden is having a moment, scoring a coveted IMG modeling contract after competing in the Miss Minnesota pageant wearing a hijab and a burkini last year. She landed the cover of Vogue Arabia in June, and became Allure magazine’s first hijab-wearing cover girl this month.
The religious headscarf worn by some Muslim women is in the spotlight in other ways lately, such as Apple revealing a hijabi emoji among its pending icons this week.
— Halima Aden (@Kinglimaa) June 20, 2017
Marketing to Muslims feels long overdue, considering the global Muslim population spans nearly 1.7 billion people, with 3 million living in the U.S. And Muslim shoppers spend an estimated $230 billion a year on clothing, according to the 2015-2016 State of the Global Islamic Economy Report, which is projected to grow to $327 billion by 2019.
So it’s not surprising that American Eagle’s $20 Dark Indigo Hijab sold out within a week of its July 8th debut.
Hiba Tahir, 21, from Mississippi has already received hers.
“I never could have imagined, when I started wearing the hijab in middle school, that I’d purchase one someday from American Eagle of all places,” she told Moneyish.
Tasha Cannon, who told Moneyish she recently reverted to Islam, also can’t wait to get her hands on one.
“There are days when I cover, and days when I don’t. I’m looking for something stylish and trendy, and I think denim is really timeless and classic,” said Cannon, 34, from Philadelphia.
“It was just really beautiful, really awesome to see, especially from American Eagle,” she added. “It’s such a mainstream brand embracing the hijab, and bringing in a Muslim model, which made me feel really proud to be a Muslim-American woman, myself.”
“We are unfortunately in a time where discrimination against Muslims and other minorities is far too high,” Houston customer Sabina Mohammed, 29, also told Moneyish. “The AE hijab coupled with the model, Halima Aden, sends a message of not just acceptance, but also celebration of diversity.”
American Eagle isn’t the only major fashion label embracing the religious head covering worn by some Muslim women.
In March, Nike revealed the Pro Hijab, a $35 breathable performance headscarf featuring its famous swoosh, to help female Muslim athletes like U.S. Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammed and figure skater Zahra Lari just do it. It goes on sale next January.
Japanese retailer Uniqlo teamed up with Muslim fashion designer Hana Tajim in 2015 for a collection that included colorful turbans, scarves, hijabs and wraps. It launched in Southeast Asia, and came to the US last year.
And Barbie and her Toyland squad can also try inclusivity on for size thanks to $6 Hello Hijab scarves from the Pittsburgh nonprofit For Good, which crafts the doll-sized head coverings from hijabs donated by Muslim women.
But the often misunderstood religious headgear still sparks a lot of hate and fear. Many of the comments on American Eagle’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds feature furious shoppers calling the hijab “un-American” and threatening to boycott the brand.
And Wajahat Ali, an attorney and New York Times op-ed writer, told Moneyish that while the hijabs marketed by mainstream fashion brands are a step in the right direction of inclusivity, he’s worried that they also perpetuate stereotypes.
“It continues a long, troubling pattern of fetishizing Muslim women through the hijab. We have to radically change the image and understanding of what being a Muslim means, and what Islam is,” he said.
Many “Master of None” viewers probably didn’t realize Aziz Ansari’s character Dev was Muslim until he addressed his religion in a recent episode, considering he eats pork, drinks alcohol and is never seen praying. His mother doesn’t wear the hijab, either, except for when she visits the mosque.
“Being Muslim includes the hijab, but it also includes a hipster in Brooklyn who skateboards and doesn’t pray five times a day, or a Pakistani entrepreneur, or a white convert from Colorado who doesn’t wear the hijab, either,” Ali said.
Companies need to engage with Muslim communities on the grassroots level, he said, and to give Muslims more representation in their editorial departments and corporate headquarters.
“They need to advance the diverse narrative of what it means to be an American Muslim, over simply jumping on the bandwagon and using a fetish item to sell clothes,” Ali added.
But shoppers like Cannon note that American Eagle has been leading diversity campaigns, such as embracing plus-size models like Ishka Lawrence, and no longer following the industry standard of Photoshopping its models.
“Even if this [hijab] is driven by business … it still can draw controversy, and people boycotting the business,” said Cannon. “So one way or another, American Eagle is embracing the hijab, taking a stance and standing up as an ally. So for that, I am grateful.”