Melanie Pitkin, Assistant Curator
In the course of developing the Faith, fashion, fusion exhibition, I undertook some research into online retailing, social engagement and Muslim fashion. I started my research by trawling through countless websites, blogs, forums and Facebook pages, before looking into existing research to see what has been studied and where the gaps are. I read and listened to all the podcasts for Modest Fashion: Faith-based fashion and internet retail, a British-based project led by Reina Lewis, Professor of Cultural Studies at the London College of Fashion and Dr Emma Tarlo, Reader in Anthropology at Goldsmiths, London. But there was one question which prevailed – how are Australian Muslim women engaging with fashion online?
With the assistance of Karen Rivera, the Powerhouse Museum’s Manager of Evaluation and Audience Research, we decided to conduct an online survey. Our goal was to find out a few things – the demographics of the women participating in the survey (e.g. age, place of residence, cultural background); whether or not they used the internet to browse or purchase fashion online and if so, how often this took place and where specifically they went to shop; what the frequency was of shopping in Islam-specific versus mainstream stores; the motivations behind online shopping and the extent of engagement with Islamic and online modest fashion blogs, forums, discussion groups and magazines. We then also wanted to be able to run cross-tab analyses to see how the demographics of the survey participants impacted on their particular online shopping and engagement habits.
The survey, which ran for one month in November 2011, attracted more than 60 respondents. These respondents were predominantly aged between 20 and 29 years, were Australian born, lived in Sydney and were of a very diverse mix of cultural backgrounds – Lebanese, Egyptian, Pakistani, Turkish, Bangladeshi, Anglo, Indonesian, Samoan, Palestinian, Fijian, South African and Syrian.
The survey showed that despite a limitless choice of online retailers, there is still a preference for women to shop from Australian based e-tailers. The main reasons given for this were convenience, affordability and product appeal. The survey also revealed that Australian Muslim women place just as much value on local mainstream fashion sites as they do on specifically Islamic ones with the most popularly mentioned online retailers including Hijab House, Sportsgirl, baraka and Forever New. Women are mixing and matching outfits sourced from Islamic, modest and mainstream stores and adapting these to accommodate their faith as well as the latest fashion trends. Other highly rated online sites included eBay, Dotti, ASOS, Witchery, Integrity Boutique and Ahiida.
Survey respondents, however, indicated that they still spend more time browsing and purchasing fashion items and accessories in shops and retail outlets than they do online, but prefer to use the internet (particularly mainstream fashion sites) for sourcing ideas and to see what is available. Almost 70% of respondents also indicated that they like to use the internet to participate in online communities (blogs, forums, discussion groups and magazines). The most frequently mentioned Islamic and modest interactive fashion sites included Facebook (specifically, Hijab House, Amalia Collections, Blossom Instyle, baraka, Pyre Wear, among others) and Muslim Village. Other cited ones were MuslimStreetFashion blog and Hijab Style.
We also asked participants about the types of fashion items or accessories they purchase or browse from Islamic, modest and mainstream fashion websites. This was to try and observe any patterns in shopping for particular products. Perhaps not surprisingly, Islamic clothing like abayas, burqas, niqabs, chadors and jilbabs are purchased or browsed from almost exclusively Islamic sites. Hijabs (headscarves), on the other hand, are popular across each of the different online stores, as are skirts and dresses. Pants, jackets and coats on the other hand, are predominantly browsed or purchased from mainstream sites. This is also the case for accessories like bags, jewellery and make-up.
You can read more about the phenomenon of Australian Muslim fashion online in our section ‘Faith fashion blogging’ with local Sydney bloggers Delina Darusman-Gala and Mya Arifin. There is also a feature on this in the exhibition and the accompanying publication.