As a Muslim fashion model, Azizah Hosein’s career has some unique elements to it.
During a recent fashion shoot for Nike, for example, a man who was on set ended up leaving to make her feel more comfortable.
As part of her modeling contracts, Hosein stipulates that men don’t touch her or see her with her hair down during her shoots. She’s represented by Underwraps Agency, which creates the guidelines for each of their modest models, half of whom are Muslim.
“One thing about being a Muslim model is not having the men physically touch you, your hair, your makeup, things like that. I really appreciated it because [the Underwraps CEO] talked to the people and talked to the company and made sure that was really clarified,” Hosein told NBC News. “When I got there, there was one male on set, but before we started getting into the makeup and dress like that, he did leave, and he completely understood.”
In an industry known for pushing boundaries and where body positivity may mean going au natural, the models at Underwraps focus on empowerment through their own personal comfort level, whether that means no skirts above the knee or wearing a hijab covering their hair.
“Women should be able to be comfortable with keeping a balance,” Underwraps Agency CEO Nailah Lymus told NBC News.
Underwraps bills itself as the first global agency focusing on representing Muslim female fashion models. The agency also represents women of other backgrounds and religions. The key is a modest mindset, Lymus said.
Lymus said she learned about the complexes some women have in terms of showing too much skin while working as a designer. She also had Muslim friends who she said could be models but never thought they would have the opportunity.
“They really had what it took to be a model as far as … typically what agencies look for, such as high cheek bones and symmetry,” Lymus said. “And they were interested but they never entertained it because they didn’t feel they could go anywhere with it because they wear a hijab or dress with modest clothing.”
In 2012, Lymus launched Underwraps. Today she represents 10 women, five of whom are Muslim and five who are modest-minded from different religious backgrounds.
“Being a Muslim model and wearing the hijab, it gives other young girls encouragement,” said Hosein, 20, who joined the agency about a month ago. “In today’s society, they need that encouragement. They need to know this is not something forced on them. This is something we want to do and we can do it how we want to. Everyone wears different things, and we style it a different way. It just gives everyone a more open mind.”
Ayana Wildgoose, another of the agency’s models, grew up Christian and said it’s important for her to live a Christ-like life. Underwraps, she said, represents the same moral values that she has for herself.
“It’s important for me to stand for something or fall for anything,” the 23-year-old told NBC News.
Charlotte Rogers, meanwhile, is a curvy model for Underwraps. A kindergarten teacher during the day, Rogers said she believes she doesn’t have to sell sex to be a successful model.
“I’m very comfortable in my skin, but I don’t want to show everything in order to be successful as a model,” Rogers, who is in her late 20s, told NBC News.
With such a diverse clientele, there’s learning experiences among the women, Lymus said, adding that there are “healthy religious conversations” among the women.
For Wildgoose, interacting with the other models has helped her become more tolerant and learn more about Islam, she said.
“For me, I have developed much more respect for the faith, for the culture, and I understand more about them,” she said. “And I’ve become more tolerant, and I’ve learned that the more we have these conversations, the more we’re opening up ourselves to each other, the more, I guess, the veil is lifted, and we can see each other for who we are inside, not just the way we present ourselves.”