Modest fashion is more than just clothes

Since creating Modest Fashion Week six years ago, Franka Soeria's commitment to the industry hasn't faltered. Her passion for those she works with is undeniable, and her philosophy toward the concept is clear. Modest fashion is about more than just clothes.

Photographer: Stephen Chung/Lnp/Shutterstock

"The identity is not just about style, it’s about how you do things, it’s collaboration and it’s giving a voice to the voiceless," she says.

Soeria started her journey working with in 2014. Inspired by meeting with modest brands and influencers across the world and listening to their struggles, she felt a connection and duty to help develop the industry.

"I listened to their stories, and they told me their challenges, it became so personal and I became so attached," she says.

Through her work, Soeria recognised a disconnect within the modest fashion industry. Developing Modest Fashion Week as a response to this, she began her mission to build a stronger community and unite the industry globally.

Modest Fashion Week, which visited London in 2017, is an event independent of the mainstream fashion weeks that brings together modest fashion designers, influencers and investors from across the world in a showcase of the industry’s talent.

"It’s a million-dollar industry but no one is connected to anyone. I knew how to make events, I knew the brands, the designers and the community, so I thought let’s make something international where everyone can know each other," she says.

Born and raised in Jakarta, Indonesia, she credits her upbringing and experience in various industries as the driving force in her passion to create and her ability to constantly rebuild her projects from the ground up.

Taking Modest Fashion Week to five cities in just four years, Soeria utilised her ability in researching each location and re-organising the event to fit the host country specifically.

"If you host an event in one place, in one country, it is easier because you already have a solid foundation. But because you travel, you start all over again, you don’t know anyone and you have to find out how the country works. It is really hard, but because of the dedication to modest fashion I went through the process," she says.

Despite her strong commitment to the concept, Soeria is not currently involved in Modest Fashion Week after her business partner and co-founder unexpectedly took over the event, holding it in Dubai without her inclusion last year.

But, whilst Soeria is trying to regain control through court proceedings, she refuses to let it distract from her mission to create a stronger community for the modest fashion industry.

In December 2021, Soeria hosted TOGETHER[E], a four-day virtual summit with 100 modest fashion brands, featuring fashion shows, presentations and talk shows at no cost to those involved. She has also set up the Modest Fashion Founders Fund which involves workshopping upcoming brands before connecting them with potential investors.

"If Modest Fashion Week was all about creating the buzz, now we need to think more about the sales part so the designers who were really affected by Covid-19 can make money and we can create something sustainable," she says.

Soeria, describing herself as a problem solver, is now focused on promoting sales, hoping her initiatives will foster a more sustainable presence for modest fashion in the wider world - using them to tackle the problems the industry faces and create solutions to build a stronger global platform.

She heads the Council of Modest Fashion, a non-profit organisation established in 2018, whose leadership works across eight regions to combat Islamophobia and educate the mainstream market on what modest fashion is.

"As an Asian woman and a hijabi, I have to work four times as hard. They underestimate me because of my hijab or because I’m Asian. I know how it feels," says Soeria.

Franka Soeria

Although the concept of modest fashion is independent of any specific religion or culture, Islamophobia poses a huge challenge to the development of the industry in mainstream fashion.

Soeria explains how the media often reports on a designer’s collection and then discusses a specific political or cultural issue within the same article.

She elaborates further that attaching such issues to modest fashion and making designers token spokespeople for them puts added pressure onto those who choose to wear the style to do the same.

"It’s a business, it’s not anything related to any politics, it’s a style. If women have a choice to wear a bikini, they have a choice to be covered, or to wear a hijab or not, without any pressure," she says.

Soeria emphasises the need for mainstream fashion to focus on collaboration with modest brands and designers, believing such collaborations will create authentic collections for a more widespread market, expanding the modest fashion industry on a global scale and tackling the issue of Islamophobia.

She believes the mistake mainstream brands often make when undertaking a modest fashion collection is to try and replicate a specific culture rather than simply altering their already established collections into a more modest look.

"If I need to buy from my culture then I will buy from my culture. What I expect is for you to make longer versions of your previous collections. What is modest fashion? It is a longer version of what you already have," she explains.

Describing the style as long, loose and not transparent, she maintains that modest fashion can be worn by anyone regardless of their religion or culture. Mainstream brands would benefit from simply extending their current collections to include modest fashion alternatives.

Soeria hopes that collaboration between modest designers and mainstream brands will lend itself to a more authentic presentation of the style as well as recognise those individuals who have been dedicated to modest fashion for a long time.

She hopes that her work will elevate those who deserve such recognition and bring them forward into a space where they are able to flourish and succeed.

"At the moment I do have power, not a lot, but what I do have I try to share," she adds.

Soeria’s confidence in the industry and passion for her work is admirable, and her vision for the future of modest fashion is clear: building a stronger community, connected across the globe with mainstream collaboration is the key to elevating the concept of modest fashion and creating a more permanent place for the industry in the wider world.

This is from the Kindred. Identity issue, out now. Purchase the copy through the link here.