Officials at DFAT have demonstrated once again that bureaucrats living in the Canberra bubble can sometimes surprise us by being ahead of the views and values of middle Australia.
Someone at DFAT had the idea of sponsoring an exhibition featuring an Australian company manufacturing ‘modest fashions’ for Muslim women. DFAT then took the exhibition to Malaysia.
The demand for Islamic clothing is said to be booming. Aussie designer Aheda Zanetti, who invented the ‘burkini’, has her eye on selling to Muslim women in the lucrative Malaysian market.
DFAT says it expects the Muslim modesty market to increase by more than 7% by 2021 — and is, of course, equally keen to promote a wide range of Australian designs and textiles.
Promoting trade is a key task of DFAT and supporting Australian manufacturers and exporters is vital for the growth of our economy. And it’s great that the work of Aussie designers is also encouraged.
Yet DFAT’s decision to sponsor the fashion exhibition — called Faith, Fusion, Fashion: Muslim Women’s Style in Australia — drew stern feminist rebukes ranging from Caroline Overington to Peta Credlin.
The most notable critic was former PM Tony Abbott. “It’s not our way,” said Abbott. “We want Australians to be free and open.” And so they are. But some Australian Muslim women also prefer to adopt more modest forms of dress in public.
Muslim modesty fashions will never become the style of choice of mainstream Australian women. But some Aussies who happen to be Muslim women do prefer to adopt that fashion style.
And when an Aussie fashion designer shows Muslim women how they can be both contemporary andmodest, we should embrace it as part of our open multicultural society — and promote it.
After all, the DFAT exhibition was destined for Kuala Lumpur and not Klosters. Muslim women in Malaysia are going to buy their clothes from somewhere: why not encourage it to be from Australia?