x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Denim abayas proving a hit in Kerala

For Muslim women in the southern Indian state of Kerala, Hoorulyn is a household name – it’s a retail outfit of 250 shops where they go to shop for their abayas (called burqa in India), but the brand is in the news for making a funky new denim abaya.

For university students and young professionals who want to be covered when they go out, yet be fashionable, the denim abaya seems to be a welcome alternative to the traditional black one. Courtesy Hoorulyn
For university students and young professionals who want to be covered when they go out, yet be fashionable, the denim abaya seems to be a welcome alternative to the traditional black one. Courtesy Hoorulyn

Amrit Dhillon

For Muslim women in the southern Indian state of Kerala, Hoorulyn is a household name – it’s a retail outfit of 250 shops where they go to shop for their abayas (called burqa in India), but the brand is in the news for making a funky new denim abaya.

Until about 10 to 15 years ago, Muslim women in Kerala wore the same clothes as their Hindu counterparts, usually a sari, which has been popular for centuries. But with the large numbers of Keralites now employed in the Middle East, especially the UAE, Arabian influences are becoming more prominent in the state – from mosque architecture to the popularity of the abaya.

Denim may hardly seem like the fabric of choice for an abaya, given its thickness and weight. But that’s where the ingenuity of Razool Gafoor, the managing director of Hoorulyn, comes in. He realised that the fabric had to drape properly and the only way to ensure a “flowing” look was to work with lighter denim.

For university students and young professionals who want to be covered when they go out, yet be fashionable, the denim abaya seems to be a welcome alternative to the traditional black one.

“The denim used in jeans weighs about 11 ounces [311.8 grams] per square yard. I have sourced a lighter denim that is only eight ounces and hangs beautifully. It gives a new twist to a traditional garment,” says Gafoor.

Gafoor claims this is the first time denim has been used for an abaya and says it has been a great success – nearly 400 pieces are sold every day.

“It helps me stand out from the crowd. There is only so much you can do with a black abaya by giving it a nice trim or using expensive fabric. But the denim abaya makes me feel more trendy,” says Fousiya Kazi, a college student living in Calicut.

The creation has also won the approval of the Girls Islamic Organisation of India. “It can boost the confidence of Muslim women. It is totally suitable for young girls and even working women. I think they look cute in it,” says the organisation’s state president P Ruksana.

However, in more orthodox circles, people say that looking cute is not the objective – if using denim makes a woman attract attention, it has defeated the very purpose of an abaya, which is to deflect attention.

In recent years, the abaya has been at the centre of several incidents in India. In 2009, in the south-western state of Karnataka, a college student was not allowed to attend classes wearing an abaya. Later that year, in Hyderabad, in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, a college principal told a Muslim student not to wear an abaya. And in 2010, a female teacher at Aliah University in Kolkata (in the western state of West Bengal), which specialises in Islamic studies, was not allowed to teach without wearing one.

But for Hoorulyn, the new demand for denim abayas has been great for business. Gafoor says he wants to offer coloured ones next. And speaking of the future, he says he has no plans yet of exporting his creations to the Gulf but that when he does, he is confident of good sales.

“Denim is cotton, so it’s light and airy. It’s perfect for Kerala’s tropical climate and for the Middle East. We’re going to come up with more designs – both inexpensive and high-end – that will cost from 3,000 rupees [Dh178],” says Subhash Bose, a manager at Hoorulyn.

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