Meet the hijabster – young, hip Muslim women in S-E Asia, SE Asia News & Top Stories

PETALING JAYA (Malaysia) • Young, dynamic and devoted – South-east Asia’s young Muslim women are more career-driven and “global” than the generation before, and yet, are more Islamic, says a study.

This is seen in an increased adoption of the hijab, or Muslim headscarf, by young professional women as well as students, according to marketing trend and research outfit J. Walter Thompson’s Innovation Group.

Its report The New Muslimah: South-East Asia Focus shows more than half (58 per cent) of Malaysian women aged 18 to 39 said a career is important to them, with 80 per cent putting education first, while about one-third of the respondents travel overseas at least once a year.

Around 1,000 women in Malaysia and Indonesia were surveyed in August for the The New Muslimah report. Religion is a major part of their life, with 95 per cent saying Islam is very important to them and “halal” is a top priority when travelling, buying food (98 per cent) and personal care products (71 per cent) such as shampoo and clothing.

This is posing opportunities for not only businesses but also the young women who are driving an explosion in halal fashion, beauty, technology and food.

With the global Muslim population hovering around the two billion mark – and 40 per cent or some 240 million of them in South-east Asia alone – the Muslim market was estimated to be worth RM5.7 trillion (S$1.82 trillion) in 2015 and is expected to grow to RM9.3 trillion by 2021.


  • 95 per cent: Islam is very important

    93 per cent: Want a stronger voice in community and government

    58 per cent: Career is very important

    54 per cent: Marriage is important

    4 out of 5 women spend at least four hours a day online

    58 per cent: Shop online at least once a month


Malaysia is seeing a rise of young Muslimah entrepreneurs.

For example, actress Noor Neelofa Mohd Noor, 28, is leading the pack with her Naelofar Hijab brand.

Ms Vivy Yusof, 29, co-founder of omnichannel modest fashion platform FashionValet, is another well-known businesswoman.

Both of them were recently named in Forbes 2017 “30 under 30 Asia” list in the retail and e-commerce category.

“Young Muslim women are showing a new set of aspirations and behaviours which represents both opportunities and challenges for brands,” said The Innovation Group Apac director Chen May Yee.

“Broadly speaking, they are more cosmopolitan as consumers than the older generation of female Muslims and are also more religiously observant, ” she added.

This can be seen in the world of fashion and entertainment where Malaysian Muslims are setting trends in the global music scene. Among them are Yuna, who is blazing a trail in America; Shila Amzah, who is popping into the East Asia music scene; and fast-rising indie darling Takahara Suiko of electropop band Venopian Solitude.


Young Muslim women are showing a new set of aspirations and behaviours which represents both opportunities and challenges for brands. Broadly speaking, they are more cosmopolitan as consumers than the older generation of female Muslims and are also more religiously observant.

MS CHEN MAY YEE, The Innovation Group Apac director.

Many have even labelled these young women “hijabster” – the hijab-wearing hipster.

The New Muslimah report also shows that nearly all (94 per cent) of the respondents feel there are more opportunities for women, although many identified a need for a stronger voice in their community and in government (93 per cent).

One avenue they are not complaining about is access to technology: four out of five spend at least four hours a day online.

Final-year Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia student Zakirah Zainan, who is busy building her fledgling e-commerce fashion business @Zakeyra, cites technology, especially social media, as an enabler for her.

“I have started taking orders from Singapore,” the 22-year-old said. “I also feel there is a lot of support from society for young Muslim women to venture into business and start their own companies.”

Ms Dina Zaman, executive director of Iman Research, a Kuala Lumpur think-tank that studies society and religion, said of the trend: “As our young women across the board become more educated and more empowered, they will seek opportunities or be part of a growing professional demographic.”

But Ms Dina cautioned that while this is a cause for cheer, “we also need to be mindful of the fact that while there is a huge number of young women who are part of this group, there are many more young Muslim women who are left behind economically and politically”.



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