The woman who invented the burkini has reaped a tenfold jump in sales since France banned her swimwear, and says her coveralls have opened a whole new sporting life for Muslim women.
Thousands of women in Europe – many non-Muslims – now buy her swimsuit to cover up at the beach, while many Muslims use the burkini to work out more freely.
No matter the buyer, designer Aheda Zanetti said her business had boomed with the controversy, which saw police parading French beaches to root out burkini-clad offenders.
“Whoever it was in France [who banned the burkini] has done so much good for my business and for women who thought they could never buy a swimsuit like this,” the Lebanese-born designer, who has lived in Australia for more than 40 years, said.
Zanetti said her invention had encouraged Muslim women to take part in sports as it gave them an unprecedented confidence to work out with modesty, in keeping with Islam.
“It was all about women’s rights,” Zanetti said in an interview.
The burkini is a loose-fitting swimsuit that leaves only a woman’s face, hands and feet exposed.
Dozens of French towns banned it in August last year, saying the burkini defied French laws on secularism.
A court overruled the ban, saying the garment posed no threat to public order. The crackdown followed a series of deadly attacks in France by Islamist militants but also raised questions about the place of France’s large Muslim and Arab population in its society.
Many conservatives and right-wing French supported the ban; civil liberties campaigners, feminists and Muslims opposed it.
The schism was further fuelled by footage of police trying to enforce the ban on a woman on a beach in Nice.
Zanetti, a former hairdresser, designed the swimsuit in 2004 so that Muslim women who choose to wear a head covering could still participate in water activities and other sports.
Sales had jumped from an average 200 a month to 2 000 since the ban, with most orders coming from Europe, she said.
Forty percent of orders were from non-Muslims, be it cancer survivors, body-conscious mothers or women wanting more sun protection.
Zanetti is far from the only fashion designer competing for a slice of the lucrative Islamic clothing market.
Nike launched a hijab for female Muslim athletes in March, becoming the first major sportswear brand to tap the market.
London-based womenswear brand Aab and Japanese retail chain Uniqlo design clothing for the so-called modest market.
DKNY, Mango, Tommy Hilfiger and Zara all have “Ramadan” collections, while Dolce & Gabbana has a hijab range. – Reuters