Diversity is a much-broached topic in fashion – but often this conversation centres around representation in fashion imagery and on the catwalks, not the actual products on sale. 12.4 per cent of London’s population and five per cent of England’s identify as Muslim, but many high street retailers fail to recognise the needs of these communities. Last July however, Uniqlo released a range of hijabs and “modest wear” designed by British-Japanese designer Hana Tajima. Unfortunately, however, this collection was only available in Malaysia. This changed last week when the Japanese retailer launched its second range of hijabs, also designed by Tajima, that is available throughout the UK, including its newly-reopened London flagship.
Born and raised in Devon, Tajima says she grew up in a creative environment (both her parents are artists) and so becoming a designer felt like the most natural thing to do. At 18, she went to college and, after making friends with a few Muslims and doing a lot of reading, converted. Post-conversion, she continued to design – she launched her a womenswear label, MAYSAA and received attention for her fashion blog hanatajima.com (formerly stylecovered.com). Last year, Uniqlo approached her, asking her to help them understand their South-East Asian market better. Instead of trying to capitalise on the market without engaging with Muslim communities (something other brands have drawn criticism for), the retailer enlisted Tajima to design a collection for them and star in its accompanying campaign.
Here, she tells us more about her approach to design and the influence of her faith on it, as well as the hijab and the importance of women’s choice.
What’s your first memory of fashion?
Hana Tajima: I remember a kimono that my grandfather had brought back for my mum and I was wearing it as a dress – that feeling really stuck with me and that’s the kind of feeling that I’m trying to repeat.
What are you trying to achieve through your fashion design?
Hana Tajima: I’m trying to reinterpret beauty in a different way. I’m trying to find a way to make that feeling of beauty something that is felt, as opposed to seen.
What has the response to your designs been like?
Hana Tajima: It’s really interesting, I guess at first it was a lot of people who were really grateful that there was something they could identify with. A lot of second generation immigrants growing up in Western countries don’t necessarily fit in with their parents’ generation, so having something that really belonged to them was really great.
Can you tell me about your relationship with the hijab?
Hana Tajima: Actually, the first day I started wearing hijab out in public was the day I became Muslim. I guess that in the beginning, I didn’t feel necessarily compelled to do it. I just wanted to experience it and see what it was about, and it really opened my eyes and made me aware of the way that people’s perceptions of me has changed just because of the visual difference of my appearance. It was really interesting, and being freed from that by being aware from it was a liberating thing.
“I tend to identify with women who want to uncover themselves to feel that sense of liberation. It’s not in how much or how little you are wearing, but in having choice and the freedom to enact it” – Hana Tajima
In the Channel 4 feature on you, you talk about women’s choice and how important that is with the hijab. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
Hana Tajima: I tend to identify with women who want to uncover themselves to feel that sense of liberation. It’s not in how much or how little you are wearing, but in having choice and the freedom to enact it. So for me, it’s about that.
Why do you think modesty is a good thing?
Hana Tajima: I think it’s just really important to have that voice in the conversation, I think mainstream fashion tends to be more geared towards something that is a very sexualised version of what beauty is. So to have another perspective is a really valuable thing.
Do you think that British mainstream fashion is doing enough to cater to the needs of Muslim women?
Hana Tajima: I think there’s always the opportunity to do more – any brand trying to connect to a real reflection of London or somewhere that’s so multicultural has to address the needs of different people.
Follow Ted Stansfield on Twitter here @ted_stansfield