SHAFAQNA – Young Southeast Asian Muslim women are more cosmopolitan and global and yet more religiously observant compared with the older generation of female Muslims, according to a recent study.
The study — conducted by the New York-based Innovation Group, J. Walter Thompson’s in-house creative think tank — provides insights into the shifting outlook of Muslim women in the region, and how that could affect the fashion, beauty, technology and food industries.
Some 1,000 Indonesian and Malaysian Muslim women were surveyed. The majority were millennials (77%) aged between 18-39 and 23% were aged 40 and over; most respondents (90%) lived in urban and suburban areas. Religion is cited as a key aspect of life for most women, with many saying Islam is “very” important to them (94%). About a third of the women say they travel outside their country at least once a year, and nearly all felt that there are many more opportunities available for women now than in the past. However, many surveyed also felt that young women should have more freedoms than they now do, and also a stronger voice in their communities and in local and national government.
For starters, these findings reflect the emergence of a crop of unconventional Southeast Asian Muslim women who are more progressive and career-driven. U.S.-based Malaysian singer-songwriter Yuna usually opts for a turban instead of a traditional headscarf. There are Muslim women who incorporate the hijab into superhero and anime-inspired costumes at cosplay conventions. In Indonesia, three teenage “hijabis” formed thrash metal band The Voice of Baceprot, much to the dismay of more conservative Muslims in the country. “With the resurgence of public piety, more and more Muslims are aware of the need to balance being religious and being modern,” Eva Nisa, a lecturer in religious studies at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, told the Innovation Group. “For them, these are not opposed.” Her research specialties include Muslim youth in Malaysia and Indonesia.
Southeast Asia’s Muslim population accounts for 240 million, or about 40%, of the region’s population. In Indonesia, 87.2% of the population identify as Muslim, making it the country with the largest Muslim population in the world. In Malaysia, 60% of the country’s 30 million people are Muslims.
Growth of modest fashion industry
The attitude shift is influencing the growth of the modest-fashion industry. Mainstream sports brand Nike will be launching its Nike Pro Hijab next year. In 2015, Japanese casual-fashion chain Uniqlo had introduced a modest-fashion line by U.K.-born designer Hana Tajima.
In recent years, Malaysia has witnessed the rise of local entrepreneurs in modest-fashion. Media influencers Noor Neelofa Mohd Noor, founder of Naelofar Hijab, and Vivy Yusof, cofounder of FashionValet, who both have a large following on social media, are among the trailblazers in the local modest-fashion industry. The duo appeared this year on Forbes’ 30 under 30 Asia list in the retail and e-commerce category. In Indonesia, modest-fashion is led by 31-year-old Diajeng Lestari’s e-commerce site HijUp.com, Indonesia’s first and biggest online platform for modest-fashion, which boasts seed funding from California-based 500 Startups.
All in all, Muslim spending on clothing is growing. It was estimated at $243 billion in 2015, 11% of the global market and 5.7% more than the previous year. Revenue from modest-fashion clothing purchased by Muslim women, on the other hand, has been estimated at $44 billion. Total Muslim consumer spending may reach $368 billion by 2021, according to the latest numbers from the State of the Global Islamic Economy Report 2016/2017, by Thomson Reuters and DinarStandard.