Macy’s new Muslim clothing line launches to accolades and anger

Photo: Macy's
Feb 13, 2018
Tom Ryan

Macy’s is introducing a line of women’s apparel online specifically for Muslim women, becoming the first U.S. department store to sell hijabs.

The collection of maxi dresses, ankle-length cardigans and hand-dyed hijabs called the Verona Collection was founded by Lisa Vogl, a fashion photographer and convert to Islam who graduated from Macy’s development program for minority- and women-owned businesses. Ms. Vogl launched the brand after finding it hard to find “fashionable and modest clothing” after her conversion.

“Verona Collection is more than a clothing brand. It’s a platform for a community of women to express their personal identity and embrace fashion that makes them feel confident on the inside and outside,” she said in a press release.

The launch comes as Uniqlo, H&M and some fashion houses are viewing young Muslim women as a lucrative opportunity. Thomson Reuters projected that Muslim consumers would spend $368 billion on fashion by 2021. Nike last year debuted a hijab designed for female Muslim athletes and American Eagle began selling denim hijabs with receiving.

In November, Mattel announced it would introduce a hijab Barbie modeled after Muslim Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad. L’Oreal recently hired Amena Khan, a Muslim beauty blogger, as its first model to wear a hijab.

Such moves have earned praise for inclusivity and reaching out to the needs of minority communities. Some have also touted the appeal of less revealing, fashionable options for non-Muslim women as well.

But the decisions have also been criticized by conservatives and women’s rights activists who believe the hijab, in particular, promotes an oppressive culture. Recent news reports have shown Iranian women publicly removing their hijabs in protest of a law that compels them to wear headscarves.

Social media posts calling for a boycott of Macy’s could be found across social media as news of the launch arrived in early February, as well as praise.

The collection will be sold online starting February 15.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Is selling Muslim fashion a win-win for retailers or is it too controversial? How would you weigh the inherent risks?

"Retailers need to pay their money and take their chances knowing that wherever they place their bets they are likely to offend somebody."
"Bravo to Macy’s for adding the so called Muslim clothing line. This fashion line is very likely to find demand beyond any Muslim audience."
"I’ll echo most folks here by agreeing that this is just smart business, in that it’s an educated risk."

Join the Discussion!

23 Comments on "Macy’s new Muslim clothing line launches to accolades and anger"

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Brandon Rael

What may appear on the surface as a controversial move by Macy’s is honestly a strategy being employed to address a market segmentation and a business opportunity for the department store. The key to success for retailers and department stores in general is to know your customers and capitalize on emerging trends. If the demands are there, then it’s the right business move for Macy’s to start selling Muslim fashion.

While this may create some friction, other lifestyle and fashion-focused brands such as Nike and H&M might recognize this opportunity as well. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Lee Kent

I would just like to add to this that last season’s Project Runway had Muslim contender Ayana Ife, who was a runner up in the end. Her objective was to introduce modesty to fashion design and she succeeded. The judges certainly felt that her aesthetic was fashion forward and that the public would buy it. So perhaps Macy’s action will catch a little friction but I’m with Brandon, let’s see where it goes. For my 2 cents.

Paula Rosenblum

I was going to say the same. We are NOT a Christian nation. We are a multi-cultural melting pot and it’s glorious.

Neil Saunders

This is very simple.

This country is based on freedom. That includes the freedom to dress as we please. If some women wish to voluntarily wear modest clothing, then so be it. If Macy’s wants to cater to that demand, then so be it.

However, at the self-same time, we must be clear that freedom gives all of us – regardless of gender or religion – the right to make our own choices. No women should be forced into wearing modest garments against their will, nor should they feel oppressed.

Bob Amster

This is another business-versus-religion, or retail-versus-politics discussion. If there is a market among religious Muslim women with money to spend on clothing, the market forces will see it as an underserved market and will cater to it. The end to the repression has to come from those who are its subjects. When Muslim women abandon the hijab, supported by their male counterparts, there won’t be a market for it anymore.

Anne Howe

I believe a retailer should be able to make a decision to serve an underserved shopper segment, as long as the products aren’t illegal. Macy’s should do well with this line.

Dick Seesel

I’m not going to take sides on the hijab issue – but the reality is that there are almost 3.5 million worshipers of Islam in the U.S. and the population is growing faster than the country’s average. Macy’s appears to recognize a business opportunity, stronger in some markets than others, and is joining other marketers in trying to include Muslims in American life rather than excluding them. (You only have to watch this year’s Super Bowl TV commercials to recognize a growing trend.) So credit to Macy’s for taking a position bound to stir up some controversy and putting a business plan behind it.

Ken Lonyai

I think it’s the wrong move for two reasons:

First, from a business perspective, this is window dressing on the greater problem of growing sales and long-term viability. Although I doubt there’s much of an investment, there’s just not enough value to the bottom line.

Which leads to the second issue: why only address specialty fashion from women of one non-Western culture? Where are the native African, Indian, Asian, South American, or other fashion lines?

To me, this seems like a poor attempt at multiculturalism without thinking through all the ramifications. Back to the drawing board.

Gene Detroyer

Over time, we have seen fashions from India, Asia, South America and Africa. OMG, remember the Nehru suit?

Gene Detroyer

I think my wife said it best when she saw this story. “These fashions are beautiful. I think they will sell more to non-Muslim women than to Muslim women.”

Sara Mays

Retailers have been selling conservative clothing to women and men of various religions for many years. Understanding your community and serving the needs of that community is smart business, and the retailers that can adapt to the needs of the local communities will benefit.

Smaller retailers that continue to thrive do so because they listen and adjust their inventory to their customer’s needs. Chain retailers that encourage and empower local managers to understand and support the product needs of their communities will reap the profits.

Ryan Mathews
I think this is yet another — as if we needed it — example of how it is becoming increasingly difficult to do, “the right thing.” If Macy’s, or any other fashion retailer, ignored the dress requirements of more conservative Muslim women, they would be accused of cultural insensitivity. If, on the other hand, they provide these choices, they are obviously going to be attacked by some progressives, feminists and even less conservative Muslims. So, the question is, “Is providing options the same thing as taking a position?” And while retailers would no doubt disagree, the answer is, “Yes,” at least as far as certain communities of interest are concerned. It is, in short, the classic, “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario. Some will argue that offering these options is not an endorsement but — in the current environment where people are polarized around almost every issue — any offering is an endorsement and the lack of an offering can be seen as a condemnation. Bottom line: As they used to say,… Read more »
Doug Garnett

Kudos to Macy’s for introducing the line. Fascinating that the anger comes from two extremes. Yet it seems fundamental to the free market that if there’s a large enough group of interested women to support the line, then it should be carried.

Ricardo Belmar

This is a smart business decision from Macy’s designed to address an underserved market. They are not alone in addressing this market as the article points out. Given the political and cultural ramifications, I wouldn’t call it a win-win for Macy’s as almost any move in fashion is going to encourage haters to attack you no matter which end of the spectrum you are on. It’s part of what makes fashion, fashion! If everyone loved it equally, it wouldn’t be fashion, it would just be clothing.

It’s interesting to note that they are introducing this online vs in-store and that may be indicative of Macy’s wanting to try it out first and gauge demand before fully committing. I suspect as others here have noted that the fashions themselves will appeal to more than just Muslim women and that may affect how Macy’s judges success of this new line.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.

Macys is working to be more competitive and that means selling to an increasingly fragmented market. Providing stylish clothing for Muslim women is consistent with this approach. In a diverse world, not all consumers will approve of all products offered by a retailer but that is life in an increasingly segmented world.

Joanna Rutter
5 days 18 hours ago

I’ll echo most folks here by agreeing that this is just smart business, in that it’s an educated risk. There’s a market here in the U.S. and mainstream brick-and-mortar retail has been slow to catch on. Adding the Verona Collection may bring in foot traffic that hadn’t previously felt served by Macy’s product line, and converting those visitors into customers will probably be successful as long as some educational material for staff is made available so they can meet Muslim customers’ needs well.

Shep Hyken

I get the controversy, while don’t agree with it. We are in 2018, and “the world is flat.” People are people, and good people are good people regardless of the color of their skin, their religious beliefs and other cultural differences. Not everyone is open-minded and accepting, and it appears Macy’s is making a public and bold statement that they want to be more inclusive and cater to a demographic that is being under served.

James Tenser

The controversy over Macy’s decision to offer fashions for Muslim women is further proof that there is no longer a “big middle” when it comes to positioning a large retailer.

I think it may be culturally insensitive for Macy’s critics to boil down the practice of wearing the hijab solely to a sexist tradition, but I understand why this is a touchy subject. Of course, some might argue that selling bikini swimwear is a manifestation of modern sexism too. The retailer doesn’t have to prescribe morality. It just needs to offer a range of products that its shoppers want.

Offering conservative dresses and head scarfs in the assortment may be as straightforward as being customer-driven. For me, this is no different than offering kimonos or sarees or sheitls (wigs) in stores where enough members of the local population want these items. To do otherwise is to exclude those shoppers — something no large retailer wants.

Mohamed Amer
In 1971, many of us witnessed the world’s most memorable ad in Coca-Cola’s Hilltop “I’d like to buy the world a Coke.” It epitomized youth, diversity, and a shared love for being real to yourself. At its heart, retail is about people — with all the wonderful variety that makes life interesting for some and for others confusing. In the case of Macy’s, this business decision taps into a deep desire each of us has on creating our own identities through fashion, social posts, tattoos, cars, and tech gadgets. How we construct those identities is highly personal and meaningful. The consternation comes when we try to make sense of what we visually observe as “different.” We look for mental (and social) shortcuts to help us understand. But that understanding starts with a closed mindset that is less capable of incorporating things that are new or that run counter to one’s experiences. Bravo to Macy’s for adding the so called Muslim clothing line. This fashion line is very likely to find demand beyond any Muslim audience.… Read more »
Craig Sundstrom

Probably the same people who wanted to boycott Macy’s after it 86’ed the Trump line will be the same ones not liking this, so it probably doesn’t have much to lose. But once again this shows a problem with trying to merchandise or promote a national retailer, If Macy’s — nee Federated — had retained multiple names, this could have been more easily localized, and less likely to be controversial (though in the age of social media and Fox News it’s probably impossible to keep anything low-key).

And I’m waiting to see “Forever 21’s” line of “fashionable and modest”… guess it’ll be awhile, huh?

Cynthia Holcomb

Minus a hijab, pretty apparel for non Muslims. Lisa Vogel’s initial collection is very well done.

Ed Rosenbaum

I applaud Macy’s for taking the initiative and stepping up to the plate with this. I had honestly never thought about where certain minorities buy their particular brand and style of clothing. This country is based on many freedoms. Being able to wear what you choose as long as it does not offend another one’s rights should be a given freedom. If certain males are able to wear their pants around their knees, why is this an issue to anyone? Macy’s will lose some customers because some people’s anger gets in the way of what is right for all. But, when all is said and the cash register is ringing, we should all be better because Macy’s stood tall.

Marie Haines
5 days 12 hours ago

So why not just market the line as “Conservative,” or “Modest?” Considering that fundamental Christianity, Mormon, Mennonite, Hasidim, etc. encourage and/or require modest dress for women followers it seems that, leaving hijab out of the mix, this apparel line could appeal to a larger audience. Just don’t label it. Google “Modest Apparel” and you will find dozens of sites with fashionable clothing selling to anyone without judgment on the wearer.

"Retailers need to pay their money and take their chances knowing that wherever they place their bets they are likely to offend somebody."
"Bravo to Macy’s for adding the so called Muslim clothing line. This fashion line is very likely to find demand beyond any Muslim audience."
"I’ll echo most folks here by agreeing that this is just smart business, in that it’s an educated risk."

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