In the Arab/Muslim world, Hafsa Lodi has greatly contributed to giving back to fashion journalism a sense of nobility, by engaging it in a social, societal, cultural, but above all, eminently political, analysis.

Lodi is an American journalist of Pakistani descent, who has been covering fashion in the Middle East for the past decade. She was born in New York City, and at the age of 14 relocated to the United Arab Emirates with her family. After completing her undergraduate studies at the Ryerson School of Journalism in Toronto, she moved to London for a year, where she earned her Master’s degree in Islamic Law at the School of Oriental and African Studies. The relationship between religion, culture and modernity have always fascinated Lodi, who covered topics like honor killings in Canada’s South Asian communities, the use of DNA evidence in rape cases in Pakistan and the industrialization of the holy city of Makkah, before turning to the fashion journalism beat. While living in Dubai, Hafsa has written for The National, Luxury Magazine, Mojeh Magazine, Velvet Magazine, Savoir Flair, Vogue India and of course, FTA’s Pulse.

In 2020, Lodi published “Modesty: A Fashion Paradox”, in which, with the meticulousness and the scientific rigor of a neurosurgeon or a political analyst, she dissected the concept, explaining it and uncovering the causes, controversies and key players behind this global trend that aims to conceal rather than reveal.

Here’s our talk with Hafsa Lodi about modesty, fashion, the Arab world she lives and works in, and of course, herself.

What first attracted you to modest fashion? How do you explain your fascination with it, and your determination to make it accessible to all? Do you define yourself as a convert to modest fashion?

I wouldn’t say I’m a convert, I believe I’ve always considered myself a modest fashion consumer, though growing up in the United States, I found it quite challenging to shop for clothes that were both modest and stylish. Years later, when I saw that we were in the midst of a “modest fashion movement”, with hijabi models walking runways and Western brands designing dedicated “Ramadan” collections, I was drawn to researching the evolution of attitudes and approaches towards dressing conservatively. It’s interesting to see the intersection of faith, culture, politics and feminism in modest fashion.

Fashion, like every artistic discipline, is political. How do you plan to go further in your education of the Arab/Muslim and European publics?

Fashion is very political and this is something I become more aware of every day! While I loved researching and writing about modest fashion, I think that chapter, for me personally, is coming to a close. I’d love to move beyond fashion “trends” per say, and look more at how clothing is used to portray our identity, culture and faith, as Muslims and Arabs in the West. I think step one has been achieved – we know now that modest fashion is a force to be reckoned with in the industry, and now I’d love to dig deeper in my writing and research, to look beyond outer appearances and delve into the more soulful, inner topics of identity and faith.

How hard is it to build bridges between the Arab/Muslim and the Western worlds?

It’s all about making our voices heard and amplified. What would have been extremely difficult to do a decade ago, is much easier to do now, thanks to social media and the globalization of culture and creativity. Art and fashion are effective mediums with which we can build bridges and raise awareness for diversity and acceptance, and I think this is something my generation is really excelling at. Adidas just collaborated with two hijabi women – Amani Al Khatahtbeh and Taqwa bint Ali. Who would have seen that coming a decade or two ago?!

What is the one thing you wish people would stop wearing?

Crocs and low-rise jeans

What creation of yours are you most proud of?

It would have to be my book, Modesty: A Fashion Paradox, and also an article I wrote for Refinery29 on the new wave of “Muslim feminism” – it was even reposted by Riz Ahmed!

What was your worst fashion faux-pas?

Ugh. The horrendous “shrugs” that we wore back in the day before modest fashion become “trendy”. They were little knit cropped cardigans that were neither very effective nor aesthetically pleasing.

If you were to choose one of your looks, or that of any designer, to wear every day for the rest of your life, what would it be?

I’m sure my answer would keep changing, but today, it would have to be the cotton graphic T-shirt I recently bought from Palestinian designer Meera Adnan. It shows two hands holding prayer beads, and I’m obsessed with it! I think it beautifully captures a balance between femininity and spirituality, and it’s oversized and very versatile.

When was the last time you pulled an all-nighter?

Since having a child, my body simply cannot handle all-nighters anymore, even though I used to be most productive while writing overnight. Now, I just need my sleep!

What does the word “sustainability” mean to you?

When I interviewed her for my book, Modesty: A Fashion Paradox, American hijab designer Melanie Elturk said something that will always stay with me – she said that as a Muslim designer, it’s her Islamic responsibility to be a “custodian of this Earth” and implement sustainability into all aspects of her brand – at the time, she was looking into making headscarves out of ground coffee beans and mushrooms. So, I would say that sustainability in its simplest sense means being a good custodian of this Earth.

Describe the MENA region in 3 words.

Blossoming, Bountiful and Ambitious

How is “Young, Arab and Proud” translated in your work?

While I’m not Arab myself, I know that creatives from this region are filled with so much potential and their work often goes unrecognized on international platforms – so I try to give as many of these talents as I can, more coverage through my writing.

What is something that makes you uncomfortable in the MENA fashion industry and that you would like to see changed? 

I feel like, while we demand diversity and authentic representation from Western labels, Middle Eastern brands are still under the impression that using White, “Western” models look more “professional” – perhaps because there remains a lack of Arab models in the mainstream. I would love to see this attitude change to accommodate more Middle Eastern models fronting Arab designers’ campaigns ’ and look books.

How is the gender-neutral trend translated in MENA fashion?

Ideals like comfort have heavily impacted Middle Eastern fashion, which was once known only for its ostentatious, over-the-top approach to glamour. Now, we have an abundance of up-and-coming streetwear brands that create unisex designs, and we’re also seeing women opt for menswear and vice-versa.

What is the Arab dish you could eat every day?

Shish tawook – in a wrap, with rice, anything.

What is the one city in the MENA region you could live in forever, and why?

Having lived in Dubai for the past 17 years, I would have to say I’d love to stay here – it’s become my first home. I love the effortless juxtaposition of sites like Kite Beach at sunset time, when you can find women lounging on bikinis a few steps away from a beautiful mosque from which emanates the call to prayer, and then see both groups joining for a delicious burger at a homegrown food truck restaurant.