The recent ban of burkini swimsuit in three French cities has resulted in a jump in the sales of the outfit which was first designed by an Australian Muslim woman and welcomed across the world by Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
“This is about choice,” Aheda Zanetti, who sold 700,000 swimsuits to clients all over the world over the past eight years, told Sydney Morning Herald.
“The burkini stands for freedom, flexibility and confidence, it does not stand for misery, torture and terror,” she added.
Zanetti is the Australian inventor of the burkini and the swimsuits she sells under the label Ahiida are full body, hooded and inspired by Islamic modesty.
The woman, who hails from Lebanon and moved to Bankstown when she was two, said that 45 per cent of its clients, Zanetti estimates, are non-Muslims.
Over the past years, Zanetti received messages from shoppers of all religions and backgrounds.
One, from a non-Muslim in Warwick, Queensland on Friday morning said “It is just a swimsuit for heaven’s sake.”
Another, from a client in the US: “I am a non-Muslim southern Californian woman. I am a skin cancer survivor, which means I can’t get out in the sun [in a regular swimsuit].”
“We get so many emails from people asking ‘Would the Islamic community be offended if I purchase a burkini swimsuit?’” said Zanetti.
She criticized the French authorities’ decision to ban the swimsuit in Cannes, Corsica and Le Touquet, adding that the outfit has given so many women access to sports and experiences they would have otherwise avoided because of health, body or religious concerns.
“It’s nonsense and it’s silly,” she said of the new rules made by French mayors.
“They have not thought hard enough, they are using a piece of fabric as a political item. Little do they know a lot of non-Muslims are wearing it.”
The news of recent bans in France has only increased sales, forcing Ahiida to change courier companies to enable faster delivery to Europe.
“Every time anyone says something bad about the burkini, I get enquires and sales out of it,” Zanetti said.
She added that the garment, like the veil, is a symbol of female choice and empowerment.
“It’s not a crime to choose what to wear, we’re not restricted, we’re not forced upon,” she said.
“We have more power than people think we do. We choose to be modest. I know women who have divorced their husbands because they didn’t allow them to wear the veil.”
In 2007, when Ahiida was asked to design burkinis for the surf lifesavers, it was a powerful sign of inclusion, she recalls.
“The Muslims themselves were so happy that the Western world accepted it. They felt it was a part of integration.”
For Zanetti, to change the image of a typical beachgoing woman took courage, and women do not intend to lose a hard-won matter of choice.
“We do as we please and we’ll work around it. We’ll find another beach. Maybe [French burkini wearers] should come to Australia. You can wear what you please here,” she said.
“The French authorities are looking silly around the world.”