Chenille: Bringing Colorful Prints to Modest Fashion

Many Muslim designers today try to bring more colors to modest fashion. Modest ID talked to Afsana Haji -the designer of Chenille- at the International Islamic Fair (IIF) 2016 about her brand, design inspirations, and Indonesian modest fashion.

Chenille: Bringing Colorful Prints to Modest Fashion

Modest fashion isn’t always about dark colors and plain theme with no pattern. Many modest fashion designers today are experimenting with the trend and trying to bring more colors and new taste to the industry. One of them is Afsana Haji, the designer of Chenille. The Dubai-based designer has been playing with prints on her collection, making quirky prints her unique point. Chenille itself means fabric that is similar to velvet. The name was chosen because that’s Afsana’s favorite type of fabric. This is also reflected in her design which often uses velvet as the fabric. Chenille’s collection isn’t only available for women fashion. While Chenille’s womenswear is more about prints, its menswear collection has been seen playing with symmetrical and asymmetrical patterns.

Chenille’s market target isn’t limited to young Muslim women in the Middle East. Her quirky design also attracts people from the Western, even the non-Muslims. With more colors and cheerful design compared to the mainstream Middle Eastern clothing, Chenille represents the fun and more experimental personality of young people. Chenille has been doing a good job in marketing her products to the Western, that is by using her prints to tell more relatable stories to the audience. It is easier for a design to be accepted and appreciated when the audiences can relate to it, and that’s what Chenille has been doing through its collection.

Every Chenille’s collection offers different theme which is shown through the prints. Chenille launched her latest collection on Sunday (23/10) at the International Islamic Fair 2016. Her theme for this collection is called “Be-jewelled.” This theme talks about jewelry, or diamond jewelry, as girl’s best friend. So in this collection, you can see many jewelry prints on their outerwear, dresses, and bottoms. Even though Chenille’s design has been playful with colorful prints, this “Be-jewelled” collection shows that they don’t make modest clothing any less classy than the plain-designed ones. Afsana’s fresh ideas on her prints design make the modest fashion audiences always look forward to her next unique collection. 

Modest ID (MI) talked to Afsana Haji (AH) about Chenille, her design inspiration, and Indonesian modest fashion industry.

MI: Can you tell us about your brand?

AH: Basically we started the brand about 7 years ago. I want to do something different with modest fashion. I want to bring colors and prints. As you can see, our brand is more focusing on quirky prints. So, I want to make it colorful and fun for young people to wear. But not only for Muslims, I want to make it attractive to the Western world as well. So basically, that’s what we’re about: fun quirky modest fashion.

MI: So, you’re based in Dubai?

AC: Yes, I work from Dubai. My studio is based in Dubai but our flagship is in England because that’s where I’m from originally. So, I moved to Dubai now because of the business. The flagship is in London but the production is based in Dubai. I handle the production.

MI: Are your stores in Dubai too?

AC: Yes, we actually don’t have a standalone store we supply to a lot of boutiques around Dubai, the Middle East, like Oman and Iran. So, distribution is mainly from Dubai.

MI: So, I can see that your style is different from Dubai style. How did you come up with that?

AH: It’s different as you’ve noticed. When you do something different, there’s always a risk of it being either appreciated or completely sort of knocked back. Alhamdulillah though, it’s been received very well. In Dubai, the local people, meaning the Arab people, are also being quite welcome to the color. But Dubai itself is quite a cosmopolitan country, so you know we have people from all around the world. We want to dress modestly, even the western people. But you know, they don’t necessarily want to dress in the black, that is more custom to the Dubai locals. So that’s where we’ve kinda come in and fill the gap in that market. We have a lot of British clients and Russian clients, like people who are not Muslims but want to wear Abaya yet not look so religious if you know what I mean.  So that’s what I’m trying to do: open the modest fashion to the West as well, not just the Muslim. But having said that, there are a lot of young Muslims who are now more open to fun fashion but at least covered. Like, you know you want to look good and at the same time you want to follow your faith, but then still be fashionable. 

Chenile on IIF 2016 runway

MI: Your design is distinguished and there’s a character in there, so tell me what is your style and what is your inspiration behind this collection?

AH: Every collection, before I’m doing a collection, I kind of have a concept. So basically, in essence, a story to tell. For example, the first print that I ever did on an Abaya was a London bus. I opened that in a show in London. It was very cheesy but at the same time, it was like welcomed amazingly because we introduced an Abaya with a London bus. So, that was my story because I was from London. Then after that, every collection that I did had a story to tell, depending on my mood, what I was feeling at the time. So then we did this one, which was the newspaper collection. We did some maxi skirts as well. I mean we don’t just do Abayas, we do a lot of tops, a lot of tunics. This story was basically in the news with a lot of motivational prints. “She believed she could so she did.” That’s a poetry from Rumi. I wanted to kinda like have it to the woman power, you can do what you want. That was a story behind it. So, every collection has a little story to tell. On Sunday, the catwalk we’d be doing will have another story to tell. I’m launching that exclusively here. 

MI: Do you find it difficult to produce these kinds of prints in Dubai?

AH: No, not really. Not anymore. Because we all have been in the business for a little while now. So I’ve prepared myself way in advance for little hiccups such as say if I do the prints and they don’t come out right then I’m prepared for that because I’ve done them so many times now so I work way in advance to avoid such problems. You never know what to expect when it comes to your production side. There’s always something or some deadline you haven’t been able to meet because of other issues such as your prints haven’t come out right. But to avoid that now we just work way in advance. If I want to launch collection this spring, I will start from now. So if I do, for example, get the prints and they don’t come out right then I have time to revamp them. So it’s actually much easier to work in Dubai compared to England.

MI: Why do you want to perform here and join the IIF 2016?

AH: I have been keeping an eye on the Indonesian fashion because you have a huge Muslim population here and I see that you like colors. I see that you’re also not just all black in terms of Abayas. Franka was actually the person who introduced me to this market because she believes that there’s a market for my product here. So we started doing shows through Franka. I didn’t manage to come but this time she said it’s an opportunity for me to personally come and see for myself, and so far I’m seeing maybe we can fit in this market somehow. But we’re still trying so we’ll see.

MI: How do you see the modest or Muslim fashion industry here in Indonesia?

AH: I see that you’re modestly dressed definitely. I’ve seen different levels, there are the ones that are traditionally dressed but I guess that’s in every culture. I went to the ITC Mangga Dua and I spotted this really interesting long hijab with a skirt underneath maybe and I just found it really interesting because it was red and it had golden embroidery on it. So I was like, I don’t know it just made me take a step back thinking, “okay, even though it’s an Islamic dress, it’s still so colorful,” and I was wondering if you blatantly do wear it, but I’ve seen people go pass. I think it’s interesting, modest fashion industry in Indonesia is really interesting.

Follow Chenille on Instagram @chenilleboutique and visit their website at to get the latest update of their quirky modest fashion.

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