Models pulled on flowing pants, floor-length dresses, capes, turbans and headscarves .ackstage at the Houston Event Venue Sunday afternoon.
All of pieces were examples of what the fashion show’s host, Nadeen Mustafa, said was often missing in retailers: modest fashion.
“Who else has experienced that?” she asked an audience of over 150 women who nodded and raised their hands. “That’s why we’re all here.”
The show, Beyond the Veil, was organized by the Muslimat Collective, a group founded to meet Muslim women’s needs, which in fashion can include head coverings and high necklines. Houston is home to the fifth-largest Muslim population in the country, according to the U.S. Religion Census, and that population is quickly growing — in 2010, there were an estimated 158,000 Muslims in Houston, up from 54,000 in 2000.
Beyond the Veil was designed to cater to the portion of that growing population that chooses to dress modestly. And, with a set list that included Punjabi, Beyoncé and traditional Nigerian drumming, it set out to prove that high-coverage fashion can be fun.
Habiba Muya from Houston called the show inspiring. She was selling a laundry detergent made by a Muslim-owned business, True, and said that before attending, she hadn’t realized how many Muslim-owned businesses are in Houston.
“Seeing events like this gives you hope — despite everything going on in the world and all the backlash,” she said. “It empowers me.”
Haniyyah Juneja, also from Houston, said the event showed that Muslims can be business owners, designers and models.
“It helps overcome the stereotypes,” she said.
Meanwhile, 15-year-old Naimah Ocana from Orlando helped models ready for the show backstage. Ocana grew up making dresses for her siblings and watching “Project Runway.” She has always known she wanted to be a designer and believes her religion brings something to the table that many other designers overlook.
“A lot of people don’t tap into modesty, because when a lot of people think ‘modest,’ they think boring, covered up,” Ocana said.
Her clothing includes wide-legged pants printed with iridescent florals and a white silk dress paired with a cropped pastel jacquard jacket — modest elements that “people won’t necessarily notice at first,” she explained.
Some clothing, like Ocana’s, were sleek and contemporary; others drew from different cultures from around the world, including African, Arabic and South Asian fashions.
The diversity appealed to the model Sadia Jalati of Houston, who said each culture had found a way to fuse beauty with Muslim beliefs.
“This could be straight out of my own closet,” Jalati said, gesturing at dress she wore — pink, with silvery gray embroidery. “It’s Pakistani; I’m Pakistani. But later in the show, I’m in a Moroccan kaftan.”
She said Beyond the Veil, which she first took part in last year, had helped her make friends with people of different backgrounds.
“There’s not a lot of things like this,” she said of the show. “I think a lot of stereotypes about Muslim women are drab, dull — and the fashion that we’re showcasing shows that’s not true.”
Tayler Middleton of Atlanta agreed that the looks on display were far from dull. While she is not Muslim, she found the elegant silhouettes and bold patterns — take, for example, a yellow-and-black houndstooth cape with matching pants and headscarf — captivating.
“To me, it’s not a religious thing,” she explained. “It’s a classy thing.”
After one designer’s show, she eagerly tapped her family members sitting a row before her.
“I saw three things that I want,” she whispered.