To the uninitiated, a Muslim woman wearing a hijab is a sign of piety, which may have seemed the case before. But wearing the head scarf actually has a significance deeper rooted in modesty and privacy.
However, it has also become a fashion statement now, and the fare available these days caters to a variety of tastes and styles. So popular is the hijab that World Hijab Day was just celebrated on Feb 1.
Online sales portals are offering them and other Muslimah products, all of which are flying off the racks and catering to a burgeoning industry.
One such portal is SE Good Product’s Good Hijab, a venture started by former engineer and entrepreneur Radziah Mohd Radzi, who not only has a keen eye for social enterprise, but for education, too.
In 2014, while she was on an educational tour in the United States – under the programme International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), organised by the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur – she was inspired by a story from another participant who was operating the social enterprise Socialgiver in Thailand centred in the tourism sector.
“I felt a stronger urge to start my own social enterprise and I thought of focusing on education,” Good Hijab’s Radziah revealed in an interview recently.
Viewing this as a sensible business initiative wasn’t that tricky either, seeing as even Japanese casual wear designer Uniqlo has started a Muslimah fashion collection.
The steady increase in Muslimah fashion brands, with the likes of dUCk, Ariani and Naelofar Hijab all in the fray, convinced Radziah to take a leap of faith and dive headfirst into newly-charted waters.
Since its rebranding late last year (the company began as Hijab For Good two years prior), the online sales venture has grown in strength, an upward swing which began with a seed funding of RM30,000 from MaGIC (Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Centre), under the Social Enterprise Accelerator Programme, which took almost four months to complete. Good Hijab also welcomed an angel investor, who pumped in an additional RM30,000.
“People are starting to recognise our brand, understand our mission/vision and accept our beliefs. A lot of awareness needs to be created, so the market understands and supports our ethical and socially-conscious products,” she added.
Good Hijab’s edge over its competitors is a two-pronged affair. Selling Muslimah goods obviously services its overheads, but its social conscience of serving society is its greatest asset. Selected staff comprise underprivileged youths (aged 14-17), and the company is committed to giving these individuals a proper crack at life in an environment that’s healthy and dynamic.
“We want to give them a job, connect them with skills colleges and teach them to become entrepreneurs. And from this, they will hopefully learn marketable abilities, gain motivation to develop new skills, grow confident in their capabilities and pursue independent living,” Radziah explained, revealing that the ultimate goal is to make them Good Hijab Agents Of Change.
According to her, there are no qualifying prerequisites for these youths – they only need to be underprivileged youngsters living at shelter homes aligned with Good Hijab. These unfortunate individuals generally come from poor families, are orphans or find themselves in the sticky situation where their parent or parents have been subjected to the long arm of the law.
Research led Radziah and her team to learn that there are few options for these youths once they hit 18, which is when they are required to head out on their own.
“The problem is, many of these youths lack skills, making it very difficult for them to survive in the challenging world outside of their shelter homes. Imagine, without a proper support system, many of these youths could end up jobless or even homeless because they don’t have any marketable skill or simply cannot earn an income on their own.”
Good Hijab considers itself fortunate for having a working relationship with fellow socially-conscious brands who aspire to give back.
“At the moment we work with various Muslimah fashion brands that want to be involved in social impact projects which empower marginalised communities by producing the pashmina,” Radziah said.
Good Hijab’s target for its products are urban women aged 20-45, online shoppers and those with a social conscience.
“We want to provide an opportunity for people to have a more meaningful experience of shopping for Muslimah lifestyle products through making a positive contribution to the future of our youth.”
And Radziah acknowledges that the hijab is no longer just a reflection of religious beliefs: “Yes, it has become a lifestyle, trend and fashion statement, but wearing it is also influenced by the family. Of course, religious influences are the main factor.”