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Burkini debate distant in Turkey as Islamic fashion booms



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The model adjusts her clothing, stares at the camera with a hint of a smile, holds her head high and the photographer starts snapping. But at this photoshoot on the Asian side of Istanbul, the models, impeccably made up, sport no body-hugging Western styles.

All wear headscarves and loose fitting outfits in a shoot for one of the industry's fast growing sectors -- modest but trendy Islamic fashion. Istanbul is positioning itself to be a hub in this nascent industry, which according to the Dubai-based Islamic Fashion and Design Council could be worth almost 500 billion US dollars within decades.

Modanisa, a Turkish online Muslim clothing retailer, started small in 2011 and today is one of the biggest names in the market. It offers more than 30,000 products -- from casual tunics to shiny evening wear to sports gear, shoes and accessories -- from 300 brands and ships to 75 countries.

The firm calls itself the "first online fashion and shopping website for women who embrace a modest dressing style". Modanisa's CEO Kerim Ture said that in years past there was so little choice that a religiously conservative young woman had no option but to wear the same clothes as her mother.

"If that was happening in a country (Turkey) where 99 percent of its population is Muslim, we wondered how the situation was around the world," he added. "That's how we've started our worldwide web business."

He was surprised by this summer's furore in strictly secular France over whether Muslim women had the right to wear the burkini swimsuit, which covers all but the hands, feet and face.

'We are the same as you'

French courts ultimately ruled that a burkini ban by some 30 towns was "clearly illegal" and a violation of fundamental rights. For Ture, the burkini is not a symbol but a choice. "I barely understand how a country, one of whose main pillars is freedom, can oppose the Muslim swimsuit," he said.

His firm's catalogue offers a range of "fully closed swimsuits" starting at 40 euros (45 US dollars), and, ironically, its burkini sales jumped during the debate by 15 to 20 percent to France itself and 30 percent to the Netherlands. In May, Istanbul hosted its first conservative fashion week at the historic Haydarpasa train station to showcase this rapidly growing market.

It was organised by Franka Soeria from Indonesia, another centre for Islamic clothing. As a global consultant on modest fashion trends, she decided three-and-a-half years ago to move to Istanbul -- whose position straddling Europe and Asia, some say, gives it an edge.

The point of offering stylish modest clothing was not to tell people to cover up but to show that "we are also the same as you ... we don't want to be excluded, we don't want to look different," she said, wearing an elegant black hijab.

"We are showing that, hey, I am modest, I like to cover. I also like fashion. This is just my style. Just accept," Soeria said. Osman Ozdemir, a Turkish designer of modest fashion, is the in-house designer for Modanisa but is now also working for several other firms.

"I believe Istanbul will be trend-setting on Islamic fashion," he said. Even high-profile and luxury brands are getting into the act." At the start of the year, legendary Italian fashion house Dolce & Gabbana launched their first line of hijabs and abayas -- some extravagantly patterned-- for Muslim customers in the Middle East.

islamic fashion