Nailah Lymus is challenging the stigma against Muslim women who wear traditional garb — one photoshoot at a time. The 32-year-old Brooklyn-based designer has made it her mission to increase the visibility of Muslim women in the fashion industry, founding Underwraps in 2012, a modeling agency whose stated mission is to “represent the Muslim Female Fashion Model.” Lymus was motivated to launch Underwraps as a way rectify the lack of diversity within the modesty fashion industry, as she explains in a 2013 piece by Madame Noire covering the rise of Haute modesty fashion: “I think it is important for these women to see themselves in the industry.”
The need to combat whitewashing in the modesty industry has never been more urgent — major fashion houses have increasingly become aware of the lucrativeness of appealing to Muslim shoppers — but that awareness hasn’t led to accurate representation. Recent examples include the advertising campaign for Net-a-Porter’s 2015 Ramadan capsule collection, “The Ramadan Edit,” which features two willowy white models, as well as the catwalks at Anniesa Hasibuan’s New York Fashion Week show (a show which has been rightly celebrated as a historic first for the modesty fashion industry), and at the first Istanbul Modest Fashion Week, which included mostly thin white models. Underwraps breaks this mold — Lymus hires women of color who represent a range of sizes.
In a short video by Alexandra Nikolchev and Ryan Brown published on Narratively, Lymus expands on this idea: “You can be comfortable, you can be sexy, you can be sensual and still be covered.” In the same clip, she describes the stigma she’s working against: “The way we’re portrayed, the media makes it seem that we don’t go to school, or we don’t have rights, or we can’t work, we can’t wear any bright colors, it must be black.” The pieces in Lymus’s fashion line, Amirah Creations, certainly bust that myth: her work bursts with color and energy, drawing from the patterns of the African diaspora.
Unfortunately, the stigma surrounding Muslim women who wear traditional garb remains formidable: The burkini bans in French towns this August prove as much. Despite Western hostility towards people of the Muslim faith, particularly Muslim women of color, Lymus remains unapologetic. “I’m a very confident woman. I’m not hiding from the fact that I’m Muslim, that will never be my story, and that helps me be confident being African-American…All these different things help to make me who I am.” Lymus’s brave refusal to compromise her identity is making the fashion industry a more equitable place for Muslim women.
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