UNIQLO has started selling modest, religiously significant clothes made by multinational brands at its stores across Taiwan.

Collaboration between Japanese retailer UNIQLO and Japanese-British designer Hana Tajima began filling the shelves of UNIQLO stores in Taiwan this summer. The collection features the Muslim hijab, which is a first for a multinational clothing brand in Taiwan.

These items are from the third season of the “HANA TAJIMA FOR UNIQLO” collection, which revolves around the theme of “modest fashion” featuring long sleeves, ankle-covering trousers, and long dresses.

The previous two seasons of the collection were available in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia. The collection was developed with the intent of breaking into the Southeast Asian clothing market. Its popularity there led to UNIQLO’s decision to expand the collection globally.

Global changes

For a multinational brand to sell Muslim clothing is new for Taiwan, but the global fashion industry has worked in recent years to expand into the Muslim clothing market, and the Hana Tajima collection is only one of several attempts.

According to Thomson Reuter’s “2015-2016 State of the Global Islamic Economy Report,” the Muslim fashion market is worth US$327 million. As the mainstream fashion market is often at the mercy of the economy, the vast and stable Muslim market is an important beachhead for the industry.

Clothing giant H&M featured in 2015 its first Muslim model, Mariah Idrissi, while the second season of Mango’s Muslim women wear collection was launched this May.

DKNY entered the market in 2014 with its “Ramadan Collection,” followed by Tommy Hilfiger and Net-A-Porter. Marks & Spencer introduced a swimsuit with full body coverage dubbed “burkini,” a mix between the traditional Arabic burka and bikini. Dolce & Gabbana earlier this year introduced its hijab collection.

While the majority of the world’s Muslims live in Asia, most global brands have largely focused their Muslim fashion campaigns in the oil-rich Arab market. These brands have been criticized for interpreting Muslim culture through a Western lens, and insufficient modesty in the collections.

Online clothing retailers specializing in Muslim wear have also emerged. HijUP, staffed with local Indonesian designers, has grown into Indonesia’s main online retailer five years after starting, last year securing seven-digit seed funding. A similar Turkish brand Modanisa has also garnered investment.

UNIQLO is unique among multinational brands in targeting the Southeast Asian market and hiring Muslim designers to better integrate its collections with Islamic cultures.

The fashion industry has only recently paid attention to the Muslim market, reflecting the difficulties Muslims have long experienced in gaining acceptance from mainstream fashion.

“The standards of beauty in mainstream fashion are very sexualized,” Tajima says in an interview. For Islamic wear to cut into fast fashion brands enables diversity, as “Muslims can now make fashion choices in the mainstream market,” Tajima says.


Pricey options

How have Taiwan’s 200,000 Muslims reacted?

“Taiwanese Muslims now have more choice on places to buy the hijab,” a Chinese Muslim Association spokesperson told The News Lens International.

Meanwhile Migrant Park, a Chinese-language website that focuses on migrant issues in Taiwan, said in a recent report that while the mixing of mainstream and Islamic fashion has come slowly and is still too expensive for many, it is facilitating a new dialogue between cultures.

In an interview with Migrant Park, UNIQLO’s Taiwan public relations manager said that Hana Tajima’s collection did not limit itself to Muslim customers. UNIQLO will not emphasize the religious significance of the hijab, but instead market it as stylish headwear.

In Taiwan, items from Tajima’s collection are priced anywhere from NT$390 to NT$1,990, but a full Muslim outfit may cost more than NT$3,000. Although the collection was widely welcomed in the Southeast Asian market, the price could be too high for some Indonesian migrant workers in Taiwan.

During the recent Lebaran – breaking of the fast – celebrations, Wiwin, from Indonesia, wore a light green hijab and long dress. She says her outfit would cost about NT$1,700 in Indonesia, although outfits made of higher quality materials could cost up to NT$3,000.

Photo Credit:Asuka Lee

Before UNIQLO introduced Muslim wear in Taiwan, Wiwin said she could only shop for clothes in Indonesian stores, but that the shops lacked variety. She would buy clothes from Indonesia through the mail and re-sell them on Facebook groups for migrant workers.

Wiwin says Indonesian women are accustomed to wearing single-color outfits, which according to her makes Tajima’s collection, what with its interchangeable pieces of various colors, less appealing.

Giyanti is another Indonesian in Taiwan, but like most younger people in Indonesia, she does not insist on wearing full Muslim outfits. Asked about Indonesian fashion, she enthusiastically referred to Indonesian celebrity Laudya Cynthia Bella’s Instagram account, explaining the latest trends.

Photo Credit:Asuka Lee

For most Muslim migrant workers, seeing mainstream brands in Taiwan introduce familiar Muslim wear is a novelty. “My boss shops at UNIQLO often, now I can tell him ‘They sell our Islamic clothes here too!’” said Wiwin.

First Editor: Edward White
Second Editor: Olivia Yang