Revealing the Need of the Veiled Consumers: A Look on Indonesian ‘Hijabers’

“It’s not about following a trend. It’s not about fashion or style. It’s about showing who I am, my identity. It’s about me, daring myself to be what I want to be.”

The author(s)

  • Diani Savitri (Vivi) Technical Advisor - Qualitative
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Instating the Identity

The quote above may have been said by someone talking about his prominent looking tattoo. Or a body pierce on an unobscured part of her body. Or a mohawk–the hairdo being a passé despite the fact that this new world welcomes almost any style of hair experimentation.

But that statement came from a young Indonesian woman, timid and aloof at her appearance, talking about the headscarf she wears in a manner of hiding her hair and covering her neck and bosom. Timid no more, she was very enthusiastic when she and I discussed about her life and choices, including the history and experience of her wearing the hijab for a couple of years now, in a study about young women Ipsos Indonesia conducted for a local client in this Q1 2018.

That exhaustive qualitative research study on young women garnered interesting findings on how some women, typically younger segment, would use their hijab as a material manifestation of what they believe as their character: persistent, adamant, unique from the ‘commonly accepted norm’ (where ultra-modernity and unsparing westernisation are seen to be the regulating norms on the daily life of these millennials). The motive goes as far as heroism (heroinism, to be gender sensitive) by posing themselves as the more modern, progressive representation of a religion often seen and criticised by international eyes as patriarchal, oppressive, and backward.

Similar themes appear consistently across different segments of young hijab-wearing women we researched, who are from lower-middle to upper-middle class, young women residing in both the capitol city Jakarta and in suburban and remote areas in Sumatera island. Their ‘progressiveness’ and individuality (instead of commonality which usually motivates religious adopters) sprung from, predominantly but not exclusively, their having access to internet, thus opportunities to be exposed and take part in the discourses on religious issues, in tandem with political and sociological issues, in both online social and news media.

Swinging Spirituality

Studies found that individuals with lower education and / or lower socio-economic level would tend to be more religiously fanatic. These are the people who would find themselves fragile in the face of social dysfunction, and their adoption of stronger religious belief / practice is a psychological coping mechanism.

The middle class on the other hand, too embrace the religious doctrine but may observe their religiousity with different complexity. It may involve a conscious decision to show group belongingness. Their bond with the respective group may further form some level of exclusivity, allowing the individuals to feel both belong to certain others and yet special from certain another.

These complex motives make observation of religious rituals and practice a less dependable indicator of their religious piety. For some middle-class Muslims in Indonesia, Islamic practices could sometimes be tinted with considerable social nuance.

Some middle-class women may revamp their hair covering into fancy hijab, and like with other outside garment they use it as social status despite its inceptive purpose of modesty and humility. The middle-class families and social groups might break their fast in Ramadhan fasting month with alternately different set of friends at varying restaurants, uploading the photos and videos of the event on social media, mixing social (re)networking and culinary experience. The past few years are also the reemergence of regular majlis taqlim or religious learning forums and preaching gatherings held at middle and upper segment houses. Amongst some of these women, the same forum sometimes is used for arisan or kitty party, and impromptu sales spots for small, home businesses of the group members. The product sold ranges from home-made food, to high-profiled branded goods, to jewelries and diamonds. 

Thus, the strengthening of religiousity had multiple facets, not least including a praxis of consumerism, and a channel for social image building. These facets, applied along with the daily Islam practice, play almost like a balance, a moderation.

Commercial Implication of Covering Consumers

As long back as in 2012, the Directorate General of Small and Medium Industry of Ministry of Industry stated in an event that from the 750,000 small and medium business in Indonesia one-third of it is Muslim fashion industry. As context, fashion industry contributes to 50 % of state revenue from the creative industries.

The widening use of the term hijab in replacement of the long-used word jilbab is not necessarily because of the reception and adoption of the different meanings and manifestation. For some Indonesian women, the difference merely signifies the associative attributes.

While jilbab connotes religious submission, and is personified as traditional woman wearing modest wear covering her hair and body, hijab is more freely associated with younger and more modern women, the segment self-named by the mushrooming communities of wearers as hijabers. Thus, the birth of special communities housing hijabers of the same interest (e.g. hijabers in photography, cooking classes, parenting classes, home decor) which respect their certain limitations (e.g. meet ups need to agree with one of their main tasks as a married woman which is mothering and taking care of children according to religious values so schedule would be arranged around children’s activities, venue should provide a convenient place where they could do their daily prayer).

Hijab is a way of fashioning the faith. Hijabers are familiar with the ‘less-religious’ adds-on like makeups and accessories. Their makeup might include prominent lipstick shades, tinted contact lenses, redefined eyebrows, extended eyelashes. Their accessories might include all types of footwear from stiletto, wedges, sneakers, military boots, and slippers revealing well-pedicured toe nails. The wears would include, naturally, from more modest loose cut designs, to more ‘casual’ shirts, sweatshirts, outer wears, flexing the style from more local with the batik ornaments or kabaya-adopted style, to more international reference with the Japanese kimono style or the use of layering technique and mixing the oversized element of Korean style.   

Hijab-themed fashion and style (and Muslim lifestyle) spark business innovation and marketing idea creativities. Local brands produce hijab of different prints and different fabrics in all sort of sizes for more flexible and stylish donning.  Gramedia Pustaka Utama, a prominent publisher in Indonesia, has published nearly 30 book titles of tutorial to wear and adorn hijab in 2016., a local company initiated by gen Y entrepreneurs is a market place for Muslim fashion products, and has to date secured at least IDR 5 billion monthly revenue, and tripling it during Ramadhan period. Other local and international brands release their brands and products specifically addressing the needs of hijab wearing consumers – hair products that manage and overcome problems resulting from concealed hair, for example. The halal certification is heralded by some producers as guarantee of quality, not only as a hygiene factor but also as a stamp that the business is being conducted fairly and honestly. Thus, the certification is appealed not only by brands for edible products but also others including personal care and beauty products.

Product Needs vs Psyche Representation

In the country where Muslim is the majority, producers might overlook the need to have a better understanding on what “Muslim market” is about and who “Muslim consumers” really are. Product communication that specifically cater to Muslim consumers is typically in the form of advertisements themed with Islamic festivities, showing talents wearing religious symbolism, doing religious rituals. Marketing programs are scheduled in accordance to Ramadhan and Eid festivities and consumer’s finances and spending habit during those times. But that, for majority, is where brands stop at.

That, is not how it should ideally be.

More advanced clients have come to Ipsos Indonesia desiring to go further. We are consulted for services and research solutions that would provide them with deeper understanding on Muslim psyche, as after all the consumer (and consumerist) side of each individual is embodied along their spiritual side. Their worldview, life decisions and daily choices are impacted by their individual and spiritual being.

Women – in this context the hijabers – being the main decision makers for many product categories become the main subject of the research. At least two recent major studies we conducted for leading international brands specially focus on hijab wearing consumers. Of the different studies we conducted for the same research subject, these two studies are very eye opening since the result provides us with the indication of how layered and segmented the hijabers are. With that, how different their motives in life can be. Both clients have found that the studies are so useful, that they are to use it not only as a feeder of how they are to communicate their brand and reach out to these specific market segments, but also to reposition their brand and sub-brands to better fit into consumers’ lives.

This understanding of consumer psyche including their self-imagery of being a hijaber, would allow brands to connect with these consumers at a deeper emotional level. It too would provide the direction on how to better create representation of consumers’ idea and ideals about themselves. The understanding would include embracing consumers’ worldview on how they think the world might see them – a view that encourages these hijabers to assert the sense of individuality, appreciation for uniqueness, and acceptance of differences, going far beyond the mere topic of halal certification and Eid celebration.

The author(s)

  • Diani Savitri (Vivi) Technical Advisor - Qualitative