Muslim Fashion – On the Street and Online (Part 2)
“Fashion with Faith” and Hijarbie
This is the second in a three-part series examining independently created Muslim fashion social media projects that appeared online between the summer of 2014 and the spring of 2016. You can read the first part here.
Hijarbie is an Instagram feed produced by Haneefah Adam, a Nigerian pharmacy professional who studied in London and also has a Muslim lifestyle brand.
Adam creates handmade, miniature versions of fashionable ḥijābī outfits, carefully sewing, embroidering, and painting her own prints. Adam then photographs dolls in various poses wearing her outfits and posts the results to the Instagram account. The first posts to the Hijarbie Instagram account appeared on December 11, 2015. The scope of my sample includes all the posts from the beginning of the project until April 14, 2016.
The posts during this time period featured thirty-seven outfits, usually with three pictures posted per outfit, plus three additional pictures that were “group shots” featuring two or more dolls. There were also some inspirational, announcement, and advertising posts; I will discuss the advertising post in more detail below. For the first twenty-eight outfits, only light-skinned dolls are featured. In the group shots, as well as in five of the last nine outfits featured during the period reviewed here, dolls with non-European features were used. In a post on February 4, 2016 in which she introduces herself, Adam also explains the lack of diversity in the posts up until that point: she was unable to find racially diverse dolls locally, and had to order some online from an international retailer.
Adam’s model for her Hijarbie Instagram was the Barbie Style Instagram feed, which poses Barbie dolls wearing on-trend styles in photos that mimic the style pages of a fashion magazine.1 By choosing to base her Instagram format and name on a widely-loved, iconic doll, Adam immediately created a cross-appeal that would attract a curious non-Muslim audience.
Adam states in an interview with Al Jazeera that she “set up the account initially to create an avenue to make modest outfits for dolls, because I haven’t really seen one before… This account provided that hijabi style avenue.”2 In her interviews with media outlets, Adam frequently mentions the religious nature of the ḥijāb and the need for Muslim girls to have a doll that is culturally and physically relatable.3 Adam stresses that “the hijab is actually more about modesty than fashion but who says you can’t incorporate both together? Fashion with faith.” 4 In an interview with Mic, she adds that she wants girls “…to be inspired — this is about having an alternative and creating an awareness of having toys that adopts [sic] your religion and culture and in your own likeness, which at the end of the day, leads to an improvement in self-esteem.”5
The vast majority of the news stories I found discussing Hijarbie talk about the doll in conjunction with the new “realistic” dolls recently released in the Barbie line. These new dolls come in a variety of body shapes, sizes, and skin tones. The first few lines of the story about Hijarbie on CNN note that “Barbie has had another makeover. This time as a hijab-wearing Muslim. It was only last month that Mattel gave Barbie a dramatic transformation with a variety of skin tones and different body types…” The CNN story on Hijarbie appears on the site’s “Style” page but is also labeled as part of an “African Voices” series.6 The article in Al Jazeera notes that the official Barbie collection features dolls modeling looks from around the world, including “tribal” and Inuit Barbies, but none donning the ḥijāb.7 The mainstream media coverage of Hijarbie downplays both the fashion and faith elements that the character embodies and instead categorize her as representative of one of many “others” that include not only racial minorities but also women who do not fit conventionally acceptable standards of beauty.
Barbie was marketed from the start as a “fashion model” doll. She was the first modern doll that was modeled after an adult, and not only allowed girls to experiment with fashion and style, but also to role-play lifestyle and career scenarios.8 By linking her images to Barbie, Adam implies that her dolls are not only modeling fashion, but role-playing a lifestyle as well. Documenting lifestyle choices, experiences (whether vacation pictures or a cafe around the corner), and careers are common tropes in personal style blogs (whether ḥijābī or non-ḥijābī). Barbie Style, the model for Hijarbie, is heavily focused on lifestyle, with most posts showing Barbie engaged in some kind of activity, for example meeting or hanging out with friends.
Most of the early posts on Hijarbie are posed as street shots, in a style similar to street style photography, which I discussed in more detail in relation to Hijabis of New York. Most outfits are given three shots to show different details in the garments and the looks from different angles. In these earlier posts, the emphasis is on the fashion and garments, with Adam describing the fabric, cut, detailing, and styling behind the look.
In later posts, the scenes are given more context and the doll begins to role-play a lifestyle. On February 14th, her outfit is said to be “perfect for a dinner date.” On February 16th, the doll is said to be “heading to an award show.” Hijarbie takes “selfies” and is shown with a miniature smartphone, demonstrating she is part of the current social media-driven culture. She juggles a number of shopping bags during a trip to the mall.
Three posts from February 12th show the doll going to a library. She is given a sachel bag and a miniature book, and two of the three posts feature reading and book-themed inspirational quotes. The creator even invites her readers into the story at times, for example writing on February 19th:
When Hijarbie first put on her hijab, she got a lot of feedback from it, ranging from positive to negative, a lot of people said she should “rock on!” And some also said she needs to put off that rag —If only they knew how much a scarf can cost, its [sic] definitely not a rag. And she’s just a doll! A lot of muslim women have had a few #hijabstories of their own. If you have had make a decision to wear the hijab, what were your challenges and victories? We’d love to hear your story. Please share!
Here, Barbie is not only modeling the look of her audience, but also their experience as English-speaking ḥijābīs, many of whom presumably live in minority contexts in which Islamophobia is prevalent.
Hijarbie also “breaks the fourth wall” in other ways. Five of her outfits are modeled on those worn by ḥijābī style bloggers and/or fashion designers. Those posts show the full-sized and doll-sized outfits modeled side by side. The real women featured hail from all over the world, demonstrating Adam’s engagement with transnational style culture. There are four ḥijābī style bloggers featured, one each from the United Kingdom, the United States, the Netherlands, and Estonia, the last of whom now lives in Qatar. The fifth woman featured is an Indonesian fashion designer.
While the mainstream media has characterized Hijarbie as just one more example of a trend toward more physically and ethnically diverse dolls, Adam articulates directly and indirectly a deeper meaning behind and vision for the Hijarbie project. She stresses the spiritual meaning that imbues the ḥijāb and the way that this religious consciousness informs a whole lifestyle. Adam is also clear that she wants to provide girls with a doll that not only models a certain interpretation of Muslim culture but also connects to real-life role models of the transnational Muslim lifestyle, of which fashion and aesthetics form an integral part.
Hijarbie’s modest outfits trouble certain markers of extreme femininity in secular fashion, using clothing to conceal instead of highlight gendered body parts such as the hair and breasts. However, by adopting and adapting an icon that embodies the ideal of Western femininity, Hijarbie also implicitly accepts these gender conventions. Many Hijarbie dolls wear the typically exaggerated and heavy makeup of their Western counterparts. The early Hijarbie posts all featured light-skinned dolls because, though the creator of the account is Nigerian and lives in Nigeria, she was not able to easily source dolls without European features and skin tones.
As innovative and unique examples of the new transnational Muslim fashion culture, the three social media projects that I examine in this series are all quickly being drawn into the new ḥijābī marketing trend. However, of the three, Hijarbie has become the most intertwined with the global market. In a post featuring one of her ḥijābī blogger-inspired outfits, Adam posted an ad for the first Istanbul Modest Fashion Week, which is taking place May 13-14, reminding readers that she (and presumably Hijarbie) would be in attendance.
Additionally, since I began this research project, Adam has partnered with a UK-based, Muslim-focused toy manufacturer to produce and sell a limited number of dolls dressed in one of three outfits she designed and previously featured on the Hijarbie Instagram. Adam’s quick success in marketing Hijarbie is not surprising. Dolls modeling Muslim dress, including Razaane and Fulla, have already been manufactured and marketed via the Internet. These dolls are similar to Hijarbie in that they are modeling a lifestyle as well as fashion. However, unlike Hijarbie, Razanne and Fulla wear enveloping robes when outdoors and are specifically marketed as a counterpoint to the perceived evils of the secular Barbie.9 In contrast, Hijarbie plays upon the already established brand and, as part of the new transnational Muslim fashion culture, embraces certain aspects of the Barbie lifestyle, most obviously her love for fashion. Hijarbie’s take on the Muslim lifestyle is arguably more broadly appealing and marketable than that of the more conservative Razanne or Fulla.
CLAIRE SADAR is a freelance writer and journalist based in Boston. She holds an M.A. in Religious Studies from Boston University, where she focused on the intersections of religion and politics in Turkey. She is a co-editor for the online magazine Muftah.org, which strives to highlight a diverse array of voices from the Middle East, North Africa, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia.
 Rachel Lubitz, “This ‘Hijab Barbie’ May Be the Cutest Style Star on Instagram,” Mic.com, February 2, 2016.
 “Meet Hijarbie, the Popular Doll Wearing Muslim Fashion,” Al Jazeera, February 14, 2016.
 Stephanie Busari, “The Hijab-Wearing Barbie Who’s Become an Instagram Star,” CNN, February 8, 2016.
 “Meet Hijarbie.”
 Lubitz, “This ‘Hijab Barbie.'”
 Busari, “The Hijab-Wearing Barbie.”
 “Meet Hijarbie.”
 Peter Morey and Anna Yaqin, Framing Muslims: Stereotyping and Representation after 9/11 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011).