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Market Grows For Fashionable But Modest Clothing


When Melanie Elturk was 13 years old - a young American teen - she chose to don the hijab as part of her Muslim faith. She went on to found a business that added a touch of style to that traditional headscarf, Haute Hijab. We reached her to talk about another fashion event, the first Istanbul Modest Fashion Week. Islamic dress covers most of the body. And the market for a high-style version reached $230 billion last year. Melanie Elturk is in Istanbul, readying for the big event. Good morning.

MELANIE ELTURK: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: I'm looking at the website for Istanbul Modest Fashion Week. And many of these clothes probably could be on any high-fashion runway. Describe, say, even just one design to give us a sense of what makes it modest.

ELTURK: Sure. So you're going to see a skirt that goes all the way down to the ankles. It's going to be free-flowing. So it won't be super tight around the hips or the, you know, behind. So then you'll have a really beautiful top. Think of like a white-collared shirt type of blouse. And, you know, a really beautiful headscarf. It will be tailored. It will fit well. But it's not going to be so, so tight or hugging the body because that also kind of goes against boundaries we have to work in as Muslims.

MONTAGNE: In the Islamic world, there's always been modest fashion. How long has the world of designer, modern modest fashion existed?

ELTURK: Well, it depends on where you're talking about. For Turkey, it's existed for quite some time. And that's why Turkey is the number one modest fashion industry - because Turkish women are inherently stylish. And they've always dressed fashionably while maintaining and adhering to their religious values. But if you're looking at the West, for example, Haute Hijab came out in 2010. And we were one of the first American companies to introduce modest fashion.

MONTAGNE: Well, then, what can those attending Fashion Week expect to see?

ELTURK: I think that there's going to be a lot of formal wear and formal pieces. That is something that, as Muslim women, we really struggle with, especially if you're younger and you don't want to look like the mother of the bride, because since we have to be covered up, we'll be wearing things that kind of age us. So you're going to see a lot of really beautiful formal wear - gowns to wear to weddings, parties, et cetera - that are intricately beaded. Definitely lots of formal wear - that's going to be the hit on the runway.

MONTAGNE: Well, you know, why is it important for modest fashion to have a fashion week?

ELTURK: It's important, number one, to get everyone together. This industry is so small, and it's in its infancy. And I think all of us, as designers, were kind of living in our own little bubbles. And at the same time, for the participants and the attendees, it's going to be amazing for them to finally feel and hear their very real needs acknowledged and served - that yes, you have a space in fashion. And it's OK to dress modestly. And here are some beautiful options for you.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

ELTURK: Thank you so much for having me. It was such a pleasure.

MONTAGNE: Melanie Elturk is the CEO of Haute Hijab. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.