Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 August 2019

Banana Republic is now selling hijabs but launch has sparked cries of cultural appropriation

The American brand has been slammed with accusations of 'capitalising' on the modest market, as it brands the line 'insensitively'

Banana Republic has produced a limited line of hijabs. Courtesy Banana Republic 
Banana Republic has produced a limited line of hijabs. Courtesy Banana Republic 

Banana Republic is known for being an all-American brand, so news that it was releasing a small collection of hijabs felt inclusive during a time when the garment is treated with hostility in certain parts of the world.

However, the launch of the line has been mired by controversy, with some accusing Banana Republic of handling the collection "insensitively". In some shots released to mark the collection's launch, a model wears a short-sleeved top, a move that has prompted backlash.

The brand announced the line of hijabs on Instagram, in a now-deleted post which read: "We are so excited to announce our first-ever line of hijabs. Four colours. Two fabrics."

Banana Republic added: "[Fatuma Yusuf] joined us in the studio and showed us how she styles them for summer."

American model Fatuma Yusuf modelling the Banana Republic hijab. Courtesy Banana Republic 
American model Fatuma Yusuf modelling the Banana Republic hijab. Courtesy Banana Republic

The post was accompanied by four photos, one of which has model Yusuf wearing a short-sleeved top and another in a grey dress with a high slit.

Melanie Elturk, the British-Moroccan model and influencer who founded lifestyle blog Haute Hijab, wrote: "While I love that hijab is becoming more mainstream and applaud Banana Republic for their efforts in inclusivity ... I have to pause at the way it’s portrayed.

"If people were on the fence about the short sleeves or exposed neck photos, no one could get behind the dress slit photos," Elturk adds. "Backlash quickly set in on their post (I advised everyone to educate them while applauding their efforts and left my own message to this effect) and within an hour or so, it was taken down."

Melanie Elturk shared photos of the Banana Republic campaign, with the model wearing a short-sleeved top and dress with a slit. Instagram / Haute Hijab
Melanie Elturk shared photos of the Banana Republic campaign, with the model wearing a short-sleeved top and dress with a slit. Instagram / Haute Hijab

The photos in question have since been cropped to show just Yusuf's head and shoulders.

"I personally am going to let them know that while I love that they're representing our community, there are guidelines to hijab outside of just covering hair," Elturk wrote on Instagram, before adding a poll that asked her followers to tell her what they thought.

She had many replies, one of which implied Banana Republic was appropriating a religious symbol for profit, saying, "They're capitalising on a market they know nothing about." Another added: "They're trying to jump on the bandwagon without even making a tiny effort."

Many of the responses, like Elturk's, were measured. One in particular that she highlighted came from a follower who wrote: "It's step one ... knowledge begins one step at at time." Elturk replied: "Agreed! That's why we should applaud the effort, but also educate at the same time."

Elturk has kept the entire discussion in her Instagram Story highlights, under the title Banana with a hijabi emoji.

The hijabs are currently available to buy for $20 (Dh73) for the indigo and pink satin square style, or $25 for the leopard print or floral rectangular hijab. They are online exclusives.

There is no word yet whether the hijabs will be available in Banana Republic stores in the UAE; The National has reached out to Banana Republic ME for comment.

Updated: August 1, 2019 04:16 PM

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