Rabia Zargarpur is a pioneer in every sense of the word. A multi-award-winning fashion designer and business woman, who not only embraces world standards, but is helping to set them.
A decade before anyone had thought of the term ‘modest fashion’, Rabia was already designing it. Today, she is at the forefront of championing ethical and sustainable fashion, placing this system and philosophy at the heart of her fashion creations and business practices, whilst inspiring many others to do the same.
In addition to running her own Rabia Z label, last year the mother-of-three launched the Rabia Z Modest Fashion Academy to run alongside her mentoring programme to nurture the next generation of designers.
More recently, she’s found time to collaborate with the world’s leading modest fashion e-tailer Modanisa.com. The collection is being unveiled at the second edition of Istanbul Modest Fashion Week over the Easter weekend, and will go on sale in May.
British Muslim Magazine caught up with the Dubai-based Afghani-American entrepreneur ahead of her Istanbul show, to ask about her career and the new Rabia Z x Modanisa collection.
When and why did you decide to get into modest fashion?
I have been designing womenswear since my early teens and designed bespoke couture gowns for brides when I was in my first year of fashion school in New York, whilst working part-time at Valentino. My first experience with the sector was therefore very much in the mainstream fashion industry.
It was, however, after I took up wearing the hijab in 2001 during the tragic 9/11 events – when I realised that there were no modern ready-to-wear labels or brands which catered to the needs of the modest dressed woman. Not a single one!
For a professional fashion designer and fashionista, it was a shock to arrive at that realisation. This is when I started to create high quality ready-to-wear work wear, tunics and hijabs that were made with breathable fabrics. The first hijab I designed was a ready-made turban, mainly because of the difficulties hijab-wearing women went through, as hate crime was rampant in those days.
Rabia Z was primarily a way to empower myself. I wanted to shatter stereotypes around hijab-wearing Muslim women and to make the everyday practical clothing aspect of women’s lives easier. Friends and women in local communities reached out to me for similar reasons.
By early 2002, I officially started my own online shop. It was one of the first e-commerce stores in the world which specialised in modern modest fashion, ready-to-wear for women. Alhamdulillah. The rest, as they say, is history.
How do you reconcile your desire for sustainable fashion with viable business practices?
For me, sustainable fashion is both a philosophical and a practical approach to the clothes we manufacture. It’s a system that puts the environment and humanity before profit. This shapes my brand outlook and ethos at every level.
It’s not easy to be 100% sustainable, as Stella McCartney – one of the best in high-end sustainable fashion – also says. But that is what we are striving for.
At Rabia Z, from the beginning of the brand’s life, we have always worked exclusively with breathable, pure and natural fabrics and designs that have a much longer shelf life than seasonal trends. This has made it far easier for us to move more towards sustainability over the past five years, working with bio-degradable fabrics that don’t leave a negative footprint on the environment or cause israf (extravagance and waste).
We never produce polyester hijabs, including chiffon hijabs (unless pure silk) because it is harmful to the scalp and for the environment; it doesn’t breathe, nor does it dissolve into the earth when eventually thrown away.
It is a responsibility that I take very seriously. If I won’t wear it knowing that it is bad for me, I can’t offer it to our customers either.
I could write books on these topics, but for now I would like to urge everyone to read about the importance of ethical and sustainable fashion, as well as from an Islamic perspective.
What can you tell us about your new collection for Modanisa?
For my collaboration collection, Rabia Z x Modanisa – ‘Basics, Re-imagined’ line, the challenge was to have sustainable pieces at affordable, fast-fashion prices that were also ethically sourced.
The aim was to prove to everyone around me that ‘yes you can be ethical, sustainable and affordable’, which many still think is not possible.
It’s a really versatile high-street capsule collection with my signature ‘effortless-chic’ aesthetic and breathable fabrics.
We’ve called it ‘Basics, Re-imagined’, because it transforms basics into high fashion for every woman. The capsule consists of dressed-up long organic t-shirts, paired with eco-friendly jeans, and chic shirt-dresses and pants in sustainable tencel and high-quality cotton-sateen, as well as some exclusive pieces for Ramadan/Eid – all within an accessible price range for Modanisa.
It has been wonderful working with Modanisa’s amazing in-house team to bring this much-awaited collection to life. InShaAllah, my sisters around the world will love it!
The new Rabia Z ‘Basics, Reimagined’ capsule collection is now available exclusively at Modanisa.com