Top models Tülin Şahin and Halima Aden call for greater diversity


Two supermodels appearing at the very first Dubai Modest Fashion Week used the opportunity to promote greater interaction and tolerance between diverse groups of people.

Posing for photos and talking to media after the first two fashion shows last weekend, Turkish supermodel Tülin Şahin and American-Somali hijabi model Halima Aden said, “The world needs all of us to be less judgmental. We should be embracing each other, not labelling and pushing away people just because they are different to us.”

The two women had jetted into Dubai to take part in the opening shows being curated by online retailer and modest fashion giant Aden opened Dubai Modest Fashion Week (DMFW) on Friday evening, walking exclusively for bridal wear and evening gown designer Raşit Bağzıbağlı. On Saturday afternoon, Şahin was on the catwalk for Selma Sarı.

Although the United Arab Emirates, where Dubai is located, is a Muslim majority country and has hosted plenty of fashion events, this was the first time the Gulf state had ever staged a Modest fashion week. The showcase, organised by Think Fashion and Red Connect, is aimed at tens of millions of women worldwide who prefer to dress elegantly but conservatively. Mistakenly many view this as a ‘Muslim’ event, but the burgeoning industry attracts customers of all faiths and general fashion lovers too.

Şahin and Aden were also making their Dubai catwalk debuts. Interestingly, both models are from the same Muslim faith, yet they practice their religion very differently.

20-year-old Aden maintains her conservative dress on and off the catwalk. Since entering a beauty contest in her home state of Minneapolis last year, the former refugee has quickly ascended into supermodel status walking for Kanye West and Max Mara at New York and Milan Fashion Weeks, and appearing on the covers of Vogue Arabia and Grazia UK. She shares the same management as the Hadid sisters and Gisele Bundchen, and as the world’s first hijab-wearing catwalk model has become the poster girl for young Muslim women worldwide.

Contrast that with mini-skirt wearing, Cindy Crawford lookalike Şahin. Of Turkish origin, she was discovered in Denmark at the age of 15, where she lived with her family. She started to model professionally in Paris four years later. Since then, Şahin has featured in global campaigns for top designers like Ralph Lauren, Juicy Couture and Tommy Jeans. She regularly walks on the runways of major fashion shows, and graced the front covers of Vogue, ELLE, Grazia, and many other fashion and lifestyle titles around the world. Last year, the 36-year-old was named ‘one of the 50 best models in the world’ by Allure Magazine. Despite all her modelling accolades, Şahin had never before participated at a modest fashion event.


These are difficult times for Muslims and more so for female Muslims, especially those who dare to dress modestly yet fashionably. Such women are considered ‘oppressed’ in the West for wearing the hijab, yet also attacked by conservative Muslims for their supposedly ‘un-Islamic’ dress sense, having opted for attention-grabbing bright colours and flattering cuts of clothing over traditional black baggy garbs, such as the burka and niqab.

Increasingly, such criticism falls on deaf ears. In less than a decade, modest fashion has attracted tens of millions of consumers worldwide, who annually spend in excess of $300 billion. Indeed, it would be fair to say this female-driven sector involving designers, buyers, influencers, and shoppers, is nothing short of a revolution.

It is therefore fitting that the two supermodels, whose chosen lifestyles and attire puts them at opposite ends of the Muslim spectrum, should make a call for greater respect among diverse people.

Aden and Şahin quickly bonded during rehearsals for DMFW. They later posed for media and took selfies with dozens of young guests at the event. In response to media questions, the two top models said there was a need for “greater connectivity between diverse people” and that “everyone needed to respect the choices people make about how they dress and choose to live their lives.”

Embed from Getty Images

Talking to T-VINE Magazine afterwards, Şahin said she was concerned by the “negative use of labels”, which she felt was “unhelpful and unnecessary.” She said her first modest fashion week had been a really “interesting and eye-opening experience”, and “loved the acceptance” of so many diverse women in one place.

As the pictures from Dubai show, the event drew participants from all four corners of the globe, bringing with them their own cultural and fashion traits.

Discussing the similarities and differences between her and Aden were Şahin felt that they helped dispel the common negative stereotypes of female Muslims: “We are from the same religion, but we practise Islam in our own way. We come from different parts of the world, but we are both strong, determined and independent women.”

Stressing the need to “accept of the other”, she said “as long as people don’t force their views on me or others”, there is “room for everyone’s beliefs, views and styles of dress.” 

For Turkey’s first and only supermodel, the key was “tolerance” and this would be easier to achieve if we all “made the effort to get to know different kinds of people.”