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There may be more to H&M’s decision to showcase a Muslim model than meets the eye. Pictured: A model wears a creation by Anas Abdullah during the Islamic Fashion Festival at Kuala Lumpur Fashion Week in Malaysia, Aug. 13, 2015. Reuters/Olivia Harris

In an industry known for promoting a certain ideal of beauty, Swedish retailer Hennes & Mauritz AB has made a bold marketing choice. As anti-Muslim sentiment in the U.S. and in Europe experiences an unprecedented rise, the clothier more familiarly known as H&M this month unveiled a campaign that prominently features a Muslim model in garments from the company's autumn line, including a hijab, a head scarf worn in a style typically seen on observant Muslim women.

The move for some fashion retailers to feature Muslims in their advertising campaigns is refreshing, civil rights advocate Ibrahim Hooper said. Without assuming the motivations of H&M, he predicted the casting decision can only be a good thing for the retailer’s bottom line and for Muslims everywhere.

But there may be more to H&M’s decision to showcase model Mariah Idrissi than meets the eye, some Muslim and non-Muslim fashion advertising market analysts said. Retailers are increasingly trying to appeal to a wider consumer base with minority models, and there is some evidence that it works. Although the West is becoming more secular, immigration-driven diversity could mean that U.S. and European consumers will see more religion in ads, just as they are seeing more gay and plus-size models.

“It’s always been my contention that the portrayal of Muslims in popular culture is critical,” Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Monday. “Anytime there are American Muslims shown as ordinary people, I think it’s quite helpful.”

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Muslims are as much a viable market for retailers as any other customer base or audience, said Lorna Hall, head of market intelligence at New York-based fashion forecasting service WGSN. “The fashion industry has been running behind in representing that fashion-loving community,” she said by phone Monday. “I do think we are in a whole new place [where retailers are] more open to diversity in general.”

H&M last week announced revenue surged to 46 billion kronor ($5.4 billion) from 38.8 billion kronor ($4.4 billion) in 2014, the Associated Press reported. “We are looking forward to an exciting fashion autumn,” H&M CEO Karl-Johan Persson said last Thursday, adding that the company planned to have 700 stores in 28 markets by the end of 2015.

The fall ad has appeared in both print and video. Idrissi, a 23-year-old Pakistani-Moroccan actress and blogger, is seen in H&M’s ad wearing a white top tucked into flared trousers, a peach-colored overcoat, oversize sunglasses, a black bag and a Shemagh-designed headscarf. London-based Idrissi also appears in a short film for H&M’s eco-conscious campaign titled “Close the Loop,” which costars an amputee model, plus-size models, a Gulf sheikh and a group of Sikh men wearing turbans.

It’s difficult to predict whether religious diversity in ads will translate into sales, particularly with this fall’s campaign, Hall said. “It’s a very different campaign for H&M because it’s more about their brand [as environmentally conscious] rather than sales,” she said.

Hall added: “What H&M is picking up on is what has been overlooked in the fashion industry. They are seeing bloggers [like Idrissi] doing a brilliant job at discussing fashion and how it relates to the very large Muslim community.”

H&M isn’t the first major brand to target Muslims with ads. In recent years, DKNY, Tommy Hilfiger and Mango have launched collections for Ramadan, the holiest month of the Islamic lunar calendar. In June, House of Fraser launched a line of modest sportswear designed for Muslim women by company Shorso. The line includes unitard bodysuits and lightweight hijab headscarfs for women to wear during aerobics and swimming, the Telegraph reported.

There are more than 1.6 billion Muslim consumers worldwide, with a buying power large enough to be attractive to both luxury and affordable fashion brands. The Muslim consumer base is expected to increase to nearly 3 billion by 2050, Pew Research Center estimated. Muslims are also projected to spend $484 billion on clothing and footwear by 2019, an increase from $266 billion in 2013, according to a 2014-15 study commissioned by Thomson Reuters and the Dinar Standard, a Muslim market research firm.

“With numbers such as these, it is no surprise that businesses are taking lessons in halal so that they can emerge into the expanding Muslim market,” Vanessa Mullen wrote in August for the Muslim Ad Network, a California-based advertising service.

While the inclusion of Muslim models is still rare, the retail industry as a whole is business as usual with racial diversity, according to an analysis of fall 2015 ad campaigns by industry news outlet The Fashion Spot. It examined 460 fashion print ads and found that 84.7 percent of the models were white, which is roughly the same proportion as previous seasons. Asian models trailed whites at 6.2 percent, followed by black models at 4.4 percent and Latino models at 1.7 percent, according to the analysis.

“The need for trendy yet modest clothing has created a market worth almost $300 billion yearly, paving the way for small- and large-scale fashion designers who have established Muslim-friendly clothing lines and successful businesses that cater to wardrobe needs of the Muslim population,” Mullen said.

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