Why this political science student founded a fashion site for Muslim women that’s now a global phenomenon

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SHAFAQNA – Hijup is an Indonesian online marketplace for Islamic fashion and says its goal is empowering Muslim women.

It was founded in 2011 by political science student Diajeng Lestari. She wanted to change the world, but she also wanted easier and greater access to the fashion she loved.

So she combined the two.

“I want to empower people, Muslims, especially Muslim women, the ones who design the product with their passion, with their love, with their beautiful things, I want to empower them to not only create for themselves,” Lestari told Business Insider.

“It can be sold to another Muslim woman out there. And we can empower each other.”

The company claims more than 400 designers in Indonesia, the majority of whom are women. They design and fabricate thousands of garments, which Hijup curates, sells and ships.

And of the 90 people who work directly for Hijup, only 20% are male.

Its YouTube videos, many of them instructional videos on how to create different looks with hijabs, can rake in millions of views.

“This is the era of we can do anything,” says Lestari. “There is a lot of opportunity. We can do a lot of things by internet. We can design very easily. We can find people easily also.

“So we can do anything. We can do everything.”

While Western fashion may be dominated by fashion centres and fashion houses, Islamic fashion varies wildly with culture and political acceptance. Lestari talks of the influence, both ways, between Islamic women in different countries.

“The thing thing is now, there is globalisation,” explains Lestari. “I can accept how the UAE Muslim woman looks like. And it looks cool.

“I want to wear something like that. Because women love a lot of choice.”

With Hijup exporting their designs to Muslims all around the world, not only in Muslim-majority countries, Lestari thinks it is an opportunity to influence other cultures, and change the way Muslim women dress.

“Maybe in most of Muslim countries they are more strict or the political background is not really as open as Indonesia,” says Lestari.

“It’s okay if you like to wear something black, but it’s okay if you like to wear something colourful. It’s fine.”

She cites Indonesia’s multiculturalism as a strong counter to what can be seen in other countries. “It is acceptable to our community if today I am wearing an abaya, and tomorrow I will be wearing a contemporary design and yesterday I was wearing a very colourful Indian das.”

This is an advantage not only for her cause, but also her business. It allows Lestari to cater to the entire Muslim world using the designers she has available at home.

Lestari’s 400 designers can produce the sedate clothing preferred by Muslim women in one country, the colourful versions sought after in another, and myriad customisations and blends in between.

But e-commerce isn’t the only strategy to change hearts and minds. A lot of Hijup’s efforts also go directly towards the education of the target audience.

The company doesn’t use traditional marketing, but uses social media in an interesting way: producing inspirational videos and tutorials on how to wear certain garments. Some of the videos have millions of views.

Hijup also boasts an Instagram account with 254,000 followers. The feed is chock-full of images of models posing powerfully in Hijup designs.

“We want to educate the market that you can wear this,” says Lestari. “You don’t just have to wear one type of clothes… ’cause it’s boring!”

Most recently, Hijup launched a magazine. Along with Hijup designs and clothing, it features articles which Lestari thinks can change the perception of beauty and Islam.

“Islam is embracing beautiful things. We have 99 names for God, and one of them is Jameel. It [means] beauty,” explains Lestari. “So God himself is also embracing beauty. If you are practicing Islam, we should be being beautiful.

“So it is very important to be beautiful in Islam.”

In four years, Hijup has stormed the market and is well placed to take a huge slice of the $US250 billion plus Muslim fashion industry.

But its biggest success may be its impact on both its producers and consumers.

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