Macy’s announces new line of Muslim clothing
Muslims continue to grow as a community and its not surprising that Muslims are not only being targeted as voters by politicians, but also as retail consumers by businesses. One of the latest businesses to appeal to Muslims is Macy’s one of the nation’s largest retail department stores which features clothing for women. If it is done right, it can be very productive for the businesses, but there are some minefields and Muslims should be respected. Macy’s move is brilliant, but it is also about time!
By Ray Hanania
Macy’s the national retailer best known for its retail clothing line announced this week that it would be offering a new line of clothing by Verona that will target Muslim women.
Called “the Modesty Line,” the clothes will appeal to the growing Muslim American population and will feature designs by Verona, a Muslim-owned clothing retailer.
It’s a smart business move. Muslims are a growing constituency. There are an estimated 7 million Muslims in America. We say estimated because the U.S. Census discriminates against Muslims and Arabs by excluding them from the Decennial Census. The largest majority of American Muslims are African American, an estimated 36 percent. Only 22 percent are Arab, the traditional perception that Americans have of Muslims.
Muslims are also very active as voters, and they also are very wealthy, although poverty is a real challenge in the Muslim and the Arab Worlds. In America, politicians target Muslims seeking their votes and financial campaign support.
So why shouldn’t businesses campaign for them as customers?
Macy’s is joining a growing trend. Nike and American Eagle both began selling Muslim clothing, hijabs, abayas and other Muslim fashions in 2017.
Verona is a very reputable Muslim company with a powerful message.
The company defines itself online this way:
What’s now viewed as a successful, international modest clothing brand, wasn’t how it was always perceived. Verona Collection was simply an idea, that was conceptualized by a single mom who had converted to Islam in 2011. After embracing Islam, she had a stark realization: modest and fashionable clothing were both hard to acquire and difficult to afford. After doing a bit of research, she realized that many other women, both Muslim and non-Muslim, felt the same way.
Out to solve a problem, this single mom embarked on a journey to bring her vision to life. Dedicated to helping Muslim women and serving the community, she invested $7,000 and launched her company online. Doubling as a photographer and business woman, she captured and launched her products through the lens of her artistic perception. Interested buyers swarmed in from across the globe. Verona Collection’s products increased in demand, thus causing the brand to expand. And within a matter of a 2 of years, Verona Collection opened two shipping distributions, a physical store and received honorable recognition from publications such as Huffington Post, NPR, Refinery 29 & Fusion Network.
The brand is more than just a clothing store. They stand for women’s empowerment and taking pride in one’s Muslim identity, especially in these critical times. Having a purpose beyond selling clothes doesn’t just make them successful, but it also sets Verona Collection apart from their competitors as a distinct and meaningful brand.
And Macy’s isn’t new to the Arab World. Here’s an overview from their website:
Macy’s, Inc. is one of the nation’s premier retailers. With fiscal 2016 sales of $25.778 billion and approximately 140,000 employees, the company operates more than 700 department stores under the nameplates Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s, and approximately 160 specialty stores that include Bloomingdale’s The Outlet, Bluemercury and Macy’s Backstage. Macy’s, Inc. operates stores in 45 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico, as well as macys.com, bloomingdales.com and bluemercury.com. Bloomingdale’s stores in Dubai and Kuwait are operated by Al Tayer Group LLC under license agreements. Macy’s, Inc. has corporate offices in Cincinnati, Ohio and New York, New York. Prior to June 1, 2007, Macy’s, Inc. was known as Federated Department Stores, Inc. The company’s shares are traded under the symbol “M” on the New York Stock Exchange.
You can’t avoid controversy though in the Muslim community. Being Muslim is monolithic in one respect, religion. Muslims believe in Islam and their Holy Book is the Qu’ran (Koran). But Muslims are not monolithic when it comes to society, culture and race. There are more than 50 countries in the world that are Muslim so Muslims are diverse racially.
The Arab race dominates the religion, although the majority of Muslims are not Arab. Like any religion, it has believers in every corner of the World and from every race.
That’s where some tensions might arise. It’s usually between Arab Muslims and non-ArabMuslims.
In addition to offering clothing, the company also offers opinion commentary on issues related to Muslims and Islam. Although the commentary is not offensive or racist, it addresses controversial topics including the blog commentary “5 Ways Islam Oppresses Women” by author Nashiha Pervin.
“Your bigot friends and prejudice peers might be onto something. Islam seriously might be oppressing women. But the question is…why have Muslim women been ignorant to this fact for so long? I took it upon myself to do some digging and soul-searching into my religion. After my close scrutiny, I was shocked as I was exposed to the ways we were oppressed in our daily lives. And like an enlightened child, I started doodling down these very facts. So without further ado, I bring to you the top five ways Muslim women are oppressed…”
Pervin makes some great points in the post, although some will roll up their sleeves to argue. But debate and discussion are important. And we shouldn’t just talk about the good in the Arab and Muslim World. We also need to talk about and discuss the controversial.
The fact is the topic is important not just to Muslims but also to the American public, which is so poorly educated about Muslims, especially Muslims from the Arab World.
There are other issues, though. Events in the world have made the topic of Arabs and Muslims very controversial in the West, in America, in Europe and in places like France.
The International French cosmetic line L’Oreal tried to do the same thing. But it backfired in negative publicity. L’Oreal announced in January that it chose Amena Khan, a Muslim model and fashion blogger, to represent the company’s new hair care line, Elvive.
The move was considered historic as Khan wears a hijab and would have been the company’s first hijab-wearing woman to be promoted as the face of a major cosmetic product.
L’Oreal was praised across the board for the move, applauded for shattering the glass ceiling that prevents many Muslim women from being used to showcase products not just in the cosmetic industry but in industries across the board.
But before L’Oreal could bask in its groundbreaking glory, critics began attacking the company, first complaining that a hijab-wearing woman couldn’t represent a hair product because you can’t see their hair. It’s covered by the hijab, a non-religious head scarf often used by Muslim women to adhere to the modesty parameters of both their culture and religious beliefs.
As that controversy gained momentum, other Western news media explored Khan’s social media history and discovered, to their amazement, that Khan, a Muslim, had dared to criticize Israel.
In Twitter posts dating back to 2014, Khan expressed sympathy with Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, where more than 2,200 civilians had been killed and more than 10,000 had been injured during Israel’s massive six-week military campaign.
She criticized the harshness of Israel’s assault and expressed sympathy with the Palestinian cause.
But in the West, criticism of Israel is now considered a crime and Khan was immediately forced to resign from her celebrated position.
In response to the news, L’Oreal issued a statement to media stating, “We appreciate that Amena has since apologized for the content of these tweets and the offense they have caused. L’Oréal Paris is committed to tolerance and respect towards all people. We agree with her decision to step down from the campaign.”
The tragedy is that the controversy involving L’Oreal and Khan demonstrates the power of demonization fueled by the anti-Arab and anti-Muslim Western news media.
Americans harshly, and wrongly, criticize Palestinians, and Arabs and Muslims all the time. Yet, there are no consequences. But whenever someone criticizes Israel, the punishment is extreme.
Some argue that the perfect spokesperson for any company is one who has no opinion that is controversial. But in truth, that rule only applies to those who criticize popular topics, like Israel. Had Khan criticized the practice of “Honor Killings” in the Arab and Muslim Worlds, you can bet that no one would have complained and she would still have her job.
Khan could have argued forcefully that her views denouncing Israel’s brutality in the Gaza Strip made her an even more important icon for a company claiming to embrace diversity and that wishes to reach out to Muslim and Arab consumers.
As it is now, L’Oreal is basically brushing aside the Arab and Muslim market. Any Arab or Muslim woman who purchases a L’Oreal product after this incident would be betraying their cultural pride and their honor.
Let’s hope that Macy’s doesn’t fold. Verona is a great company symbolizing the future not just for Muslims but for a world of true diversity.
We should respect all religions, and service the needs of all religions, too. That means providing them with clothing that is appropriate to their culture, customs, beliefs and religion, and even some opinions on controversial topics.
America is a nation of education. So instead of stifling debate, or choices, we should broaden the debate and broaden the choices.
Despite L’Oreal’s problems, I think Macy’s decision to feature Verona’s clothing line for Muslim women is not only brilliant, it’s about time!
(Ray Hanania is an award-winning columnist, author and former Chicago City Hall political reporter. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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