Muslim And Hipster, Why 'Mipster' Fashion Is Trending

It is both a cultural phenomenon and a marketing play, but one researcher says that Muslim-inspired fashion is ultimately true to the faith.

Hijabistas cruisin'
Hijabistas cruisin'
Nic Ulmi

LAUSANNE — "Mipster" (= muslim + hipster). "Hijabista" (= hijab + fashionista). Or even "turbanista" for those who prefer rolling up their headscarf into a stylish turban. Two years before the current burst of global visibility, the experimental convergence between the fashion universe and Muslim faith had already been through a major media scrum under these various designations. Most missed it, as the phenomenon was restricted to to the youngest and most trendy niche, at the crossroads between the worlds of appearance and Islam.

That was Layla Shaikley"s world, the young American — a trained architect, digital entrepreneur, co-founder of the TEDx Baghdad conferences — who, in 2014, gave global popularity to the term "mipsterz" with a video where women wearing headscarves and trendy clothing were having fun with skateboards, motorbikes, green spaces or urban property. "Being a mipster, for me, is a way to bring together, with pride and without apologizing to anyone, my Muslim, American, Arab, Californian identities," she explains.

The "mipster" trend is in tune with a larger phenomenon. During the 1990s, the world's Muslims started thinking of themselves no longer only as a community of believers, but also as a market. It was first food-related (with halal food), then financial (especially with the religious ban on interest-bearing loans), and finally clothing-related.

This last part has stirred up tension. For pious Islam, it's a dilution of faith into consumerism. For the identity concerns of a part of the Western opinion, the "chic hijab" trend is, instead, "re-Islamization" of formerly secularized Muslim populations, or even an Islamization project of the world in general.

In the eyes of those in touch with the reality on the ground, the phenomenon is taking root simultaneously in two movements: a revival of religious practices and the assumption of the Western liberal-consumerist culture. This converging momentum leads to new hybrid identities, with varying elements of both religion and consumption.

Inter-faith fashion trends

Reina Lewis, a cultural studies professor from the London College of Fashion and author of Muslim Fashion, published last September by Duke University Press, says that in the 1960s and 1970s, pious Egyptian women took on so-called "modest" or "discreet" clothing as a political act. "Their clothes were essentially made at home or by local dressmakers," Lewis explains. "The simple cuts and modest colors were for them an anti-fashion, anti-consumerist and anti-capitalist statement."

This clothing trend came out of homes and onto the global market at the end of the 2000s, in the dual wake of the aforementioned "Muslim marketing" and a broader trend of "modesty" in fashion that included evangelical Christians, Hassidic Jews and others.

"The Internet has enabled entrepreneurs and designers, essentially women who launched into production because they couldn't find what they wanted in shops, to create brands and reach consumers," says Lewis. "Thanks to the Internet, the market and opinions on this trend developed simultaneously, in an inter-faith way. The bloggers, "YouTubers' and "Instagrammers' of this movement have followers all over the world, also effecting people who don't identify as religious."

So then came the "mipster" era — a word officially invented by the American humorist (and bioethicist) Abbas Rattani in 2012. What does Reina Lewis think about this? "This trend is part of a young, modern, cosmopolitan Muslim culture. Affiliation to the "mipsterz" movement is open, self-defined, inclusive and diversified," she says. "It can be linked to a progressive Islam and generations that have engaged in a personal study of sacred texts and of Muslim cultures to claim their own interpretations."

All this seems to have triggered a global trend in the actual business of fashion: Brands such as DKNY, Tommy Hilfiger, Mango, Uniqlo and Dolce & Gabbana successively launched into it in 2014. "There are two triggers: on one hand, the development of "Muslim marketing," which is still going on, and on the other hand, the fact that trend hunters within major brands have been paying close attention to what veiled fashion bloggers have been doing," Lewis says. "The Muslim population is young and growing. Brands wanted to establish a link with it."

To grasp the current dynamics, the researcher interviewed the main people concerned. "The young women with whom I spoke believe that covering their heads in one way or another falls within a religious requirement. But to their eyes, this practice is considered authentic only when it is really a choice. They will tell you that it's just as wrong to force someone to cover their head than to uncover it."

She concludes: "It's important to note that these women are often among the progressive elements of their communities. If they could feel as safe against exterior stereotypes, they would have more power to defend themselves against internal pressure."

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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