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Umma Models: The Modelling Agency Where Modest Style Is More Than Fashion

Modest fashion is a big deal.

Over the past few years, we’ve obsessively tracked developments in the modest scene, covering everything from mainstream brands launching modest lines and Muslim supermodels like Halima Aden, to London’s first Modest Fashion Festival and even men’s style Instagrams.

It’s a reflection of a booming industry, one that’s reportedly worth $250 billion worldwide.

Despite the success of the style and the growing reputation of models like Aden, modest fashion—much like any trend—has often been misinterpreted or appropriated. This often comes in the form of brands booking non-Muslim women to model the clothes.

This is not only a touch dubious from a cultural standpoint, but it also erases the very women who made the style so popular in the first place.

In order to address this issue, one Muslim woman set up a London agency for models who not only dress modestly but actually practise it in their daily lives. Turning her dream into a reality, Shannie Hammouda launched Umma Models in 2017 as a way to give Muslim models a platform in the fashion industry.

For Hammouda, modest fashion is not a trend, but something that reflects her relationship with her faith so, she set out to establish something that would remain long after interest from the fashion industry turned to the next big thing.

Unique in not only providing a platform for aspiring models within the Muslim community, Shannie’s agency also includes a place for male Muslim models. By creating an agency that caters to both women and men who share the same values, she can ensure the principles of modest fashion endure even if the mainstream interest eventually wanes.

In a very female dominated industry, modest fashion has become somewhat synonymous with Muslim women despite it not being limited to a specific gender. Many fashion conscious men like Zaahid who we featured, want to adhere to more modest styles that allow them to freely practice their faith.

Having an agency such as, Umma Models that also caters to men means that there’s a platform for them if they wish to pursue a career in the modelling world.

“One of our core values is that our models have modesty in their daily lives,” Hamouda told Buzzfeed News. “They don’t just switch it on…It’s for those who, day in, day out, breathe modesty.”

As an agency, Umma Models wants to not only promote modest fashion but to safeguard the interests of those who wear it. This is why all the models on their books are contractually guaranteed the right to observe their religious beliefs, be it adhering to prayer times, refusing work during Ramadan, or requesting halal food on a shoot.

This policy sets the standard for broader protections, too, ensuring no Umma model is asked to do something he or she feels uncomfortable with while working.

The agency also places a premium on authenticity, especially in relation to the hijab. Explaining the approach to Buzzfeed, Hammouda said: “for our models, if they wear a hijab—in the sense of an Islamic hijab—then they will wear hijab in photographs. If they don’t wear scarves, we won’t put scarves on their head because we’d like it to be authentic.”

There are currently over 70 models on the agency’s books, both women and men. With Umma Models on the rise, Hammouda’s goal is to collaborate with a major fashion label—a distinct possibility after the agency was featured on Marc Jacobs’ Instagram account last year.

But for now, Hammouda explained, “It’s not about taking over the mainstream, but making modest models part of the norm.”

With modest fashion appearing on couture runways and high street stores, it’s easy to forget the values behind it. Like any style, it’s easy to alter.

Yet thanks to models wearing it for the right reasons at an agency that shares their values, Umma Models is championing the true meaning of modest fashion.

Check out the Umma Models website and don’t forget to give them a follow on Instagram (@ummamodels).

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