Meet Zulfiye Tufa, the Australian woman shaking up modest fashion

Words by Maeve Kerr-Crowley

Her Mod Markit is one of a kind.

One of the coolest things about fashion is how personal it is. But often, we only pay attention to styles that interest us on an individual level.

Unfortunately, this can create an industry that’s unwelcoming and even hostile to those whose styles don’t fit into a particular box.

Modest fashion is a huge market, catering to millions of people across different cultures. Largely, it impacts Muslim women, who choose to dress modestly in accordance with their religion. It’s also a matter of empowerment for many people, who find freedom in covering up rather than showing skin.

But mainstream stores rarely cater specifically to modest fashion, unless you count big brands and design houses who briefly dabble in what they see as a lucrative trend – remember when Dolce & Gabbana released a collection of luxury hijabs and abayas back in 2016?

For most of us, this isn’t something we ever have to think about. We see three-quarter sleeves or midi skirts and think that’s heavy coverage. But for women following modest fashion, shopping can be an incredibly frustrating experience.

‘Modest fashion’ is somewhat of an umbrella term and refers to a mode of dressing rather than a specific sense of style. Modest dressers are just as likely to have their own personal taste as anyone else, and should have just as many options to facilitate their individuality. But unfortunately, the modest clothing market is not nearly wide enough to accommodate its customer base, and many modest dressers are forced to get creative by layering up pieces they find through mainstream retailers.

On the bright side, this obligatory creativity has birthed multi-hyphenate trailblazers like Melbourne’s Zulfiye Tufa.

By combining modest fashion with personal style and sharing it online, Zulfiye found a gap in the fashion industry that desperately needed filling. She steadily built a dedicated social media following that was hungry for outfit inspiration.

Starting out as a modest fashion Instagrammer called @thehijabstylist, Zulfiye turned quickly to entrepreneurism and advocacy when she realised how popular her message was becoming online.

“These are people who need clothes, and they want to express themselves in the same way that anyone would express themselves,” she says of her followers. 

Not content with just encouraging her following to make do with what was available, she started thinking of ways to actively create the tools they needed. After a stint designing, interrupted by a difficult pregnancy and much-needed break, Zulfiye realised her skills were better suited to a role as facilitator slash savvy businesswoman.

In the end, her decision to ditch designing came down to seeing the bigger picture. She explains, “I realised I could have so much more of an impact if I were collaborating with brands, and providing them with a space to gain exposure and serve their clientele.”

Thanks to her time on Instagram, Zulfiye knew just how powerful the internet could be as a vehicle for a cause. Like many socially-conscious millennials, she’s started a podcast, and has plans to develop an app. But it’s all in support of her main goal: carving out space for women like her in the real-life fashion landscape.

This mission is what led to the inception of her second child, Mod Markit.

Mod Markit is part market space, part clothing swap, and part runway, all with a focus on modest fashion. Zulfiye and her team have set out to create not only a business but a community by hosting biannual events. She describes the environment as “the only place where we’re not an afterthought, we’re the primary purpose”, where she can help provide women with the things she didn’t have access to growing up.    

While she believes every brand that releases modest fashion collections – even the opportunistic ones – is a plus, she acknowledges that the most tangible change is going to come from within the community itself. Sometimes, the only way to ensure you’re a priority is to take control and make yourself one.

“At the markets, all women are welcome, all men are welcome, everyone’s welcome,” she says. “But the people who actually run it, the people who have the actual power and control, are Muslim women and women of colour.”

Her podcast, The Real Us, complements market events by giving the cause as many human faces as possible. It features members of the Mod Markit team to demonstrate the community and sisterhood they’ve formed. The first episode sees Zulfiye joined by the team’s head of marketing and media producer.

Determined to talk about “everything but Mod Markit”, the trio cover topics ranging from rejecting the term ‘hijabi’ to their relationship with makeup and their own faces. It’s done cheerfully, though, with plenty of laughter, gentle teasing and enthusiastic encouragement.

“Well, this is my face, just deal with my face,” Zulfiye says with a laugh, echoed by her teammates. “Why should I have to be apologetic for my face?”

Episode two, released just this week and cheekily titled ‘You’ve Got Hair WHERE?!’, takes a similarly honest, unsubdued approach to body hair, cellulite and stretch marks.

If they did let themselves talk about Mod Markit, the team might mention the significantly larger scale of this year’s event as opposed to previous markets. Thanks to a partnership with Melbourne Fashion Week, we can expect a two-day program, including separate new and secondhand-focused market days and two nighttime runways.

Zulfiye approached MFW organisers herself, determined to point out the important work she and her team are doing.

“The whole essence of Melbourne is that we’re multicultural, and that there’s no one way of being a Melburnian or being Australian,” she says. “So, approaching Melbourne Fashion Week, I didn’t even have to think twice about it. I’m just really happy that they agreed, and I feel like they want to give us a chance.”


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