Mod Markit runway: 'Here is a show where everyone looks like me'

After a weekend of hardcore shopping and a runway show, Melbourne’s Mod Markit is winding down with an afterparty. I find myself taking in a crowd of elegantly dressed women: a milieu of designer pantsuits, meticulously pinned hijabs, stilettos and thickets of eyelash extensions.

“I came here and thought, ‘Oh my god!’” says Samira, a young Somali-Australian entrepreneur from Melbourne’s west. Samira was one of dozens of volunteers involved with Mod Markit. “This was more than a shopping experience… We got to see a modest fashion show! I have never seen one in my life! Here is a show where everyone looks like me, and I could wear all of those outfits.”

Reactions like Samira’s are exactly what the Mod Markit founder, Zulfiye Tufa, was hoping for. “Covering your body comes in and out of fashion but wearing hijab is here to stay; it is not a fashion trend for us. So we wanted to create something around that.”

The Mod Markit team, including Zulfiye Tufa (centre, in pink) sitting on the edge of the catwalk at Mod Runway

The Mod Markit team, including Zulfiye Tufa (centre, in pink) sitting on the edge of the catwalk at Mod Runway. Photograph: Annette Ruzicka/The Guardian

Tufa held the first Mod Markit in 2018. The event’s success led to bigger things this year, including a weekend-long partnership with Melbourne Fashion Week. The 25-year-old fashion event has never highlighted modest fashion before, but this year Mod Markit was one of two modest fashion showcases under the ‘Fashion Week’ umbrella. The other, Australia’s Modest Fashion Runway, took place at Federation Square on 31 August.

With a current global valuation of $US270bn, according to Thomson Reuters’ State of the Global Islamic Economy report, projected to grow to $US361bn by 2023, the fashion industry has started taking modest tastes seriously. “Some people think modest fashion is different to regular fashion, but it really isn’t,” Tufa says.

“We had so much footage from our previous event, this concept sold itself.” Over two days, 1,500 people attended Mod Markit’s shopping events – first a Thrift Edition, dedicated to secondhand modest fashion, then a higher-end Fashion Hub, which featured pop-ups from designer boutiques, not all of which trade exclusively in modest clothes. “I came to Mod Markit for the shopping,” says Meriem, an Algerian-Canadian-Australian, who works as the CEO of a not-for-profit. “It is an event where everything is coming to you. To me it is also about supporting and empowering other women and supporting modest fashion. This is something that is not really found elsewhere.”

After the shopping concluded, on the evening of 1 September, fashion fans paid between $30 and $250 to attend the Mod Runway show. Without doubt, the runway was the jewel of the experience, filling its venue to capacity. In all, seven Australian designers showcased their collections, ranging from ethereal to avant-garde ensembles.

For Rose, a counsellor of Italian-Australian heritage, the event was about styling inspiration. “Finding outfits to ‘hijabify’ ourselves that [are] relevant to the way that we want to look… It is about looking and feeling comfortable without going out of what the faith entails.”

It’s not just exciting for us watching, but also for them, the young individuals who are modelling.

The most striking feature of the Mod Runway was not the clothes. It was the diversity present on the catwalk. “Growing up I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere, and having Mod Markit is intertwining with our healing,” Sumeyye, a paediatric nurse of Turkish-Australian heritage, said at the runway show. “I loved it. Everyone was so excited to see the girls. [It’s] not just exciting for us watching, but also for them, the young individuals who are modelling. It is making them feel like they are welcome in their body size and colour.”

Adut Akech, the face of Melbourne Fashion Week, remarked that “Australia has the most work to do,” after Who magazine published an article about her using an image of another black model, Flavia Lazarus. This error illustrates the subtle racism permeating an industry that has for too long cast a monocultural gaze on Australian fashion design and consumption.

By contrast, Mod Markit was the antithesis of that approach. Diversity was manifest in the models, designers and the audience. Aisha Dani, co-founder of SistrV8, a women’s mentoring and advisory business who sponsored Mod Markit, took to Instagram to praise the event. “We’ve seen fashion for all, young, mature, women of all shapes and all heritages… This celebrates the best of home grown talent. Those who make Australia truly great – we are unapologetically Muslim, and unapologetically Australian.”

A printed, black and white look from Omi Kay on the catwalk at Mod Runway

A look from Omi Kay on the catwalk at Mod Runway. Photograph: Annette Ruzicka/The Guardian

I think Samira would agree.

Modest Australian brands to watch

Divinity Collection
Established: 2010
The look: Accessibly priced, feminine styles in pastels and cotton with flowing lines. Divinity Collection also offers activewear.

Omi Kay
Established: 2017
The look: Custom-made glamour wear – pantsuits and ballgowns with bold colours, prints and glitter. These futuristic designs wouldn’t look out of place in Wakanda, while still incorporating modest fashion’s needs of length and flow.

Ozmah Boutique
Established: 2015
The look: Neutral tones, tiered maxis, gowns and cardis. Based in Melbourne and made in Turkey, each piece has been designed with modesty in mind, so there’s no need to layer.


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