Malek Fahd Islamic School were in the process of change. An evolution away from what it once was to an inclusive, Islamic-first school, where all students are nurtured into the well rounded muslims that the world needs them to be. It took a change in philosophy from top to bottom, in education, in everyday practice, and in its visuals to the world with the help of S1T2. A flagbearer to this new direction in philosophy within and to the outside world would be the brand and uniform worn by the students every day.
A new direction
Spearheading this new direction is School Principal, Dr Zachariah Matthews, championing a more practical, functional form of everyday wear. One that could be run around the playground in, that was interchangeable with sports uniform, and needed less time-wasted policing minor details by teachers. Whilst on the outset the school had a formal blazer and tie attire, the reality walking into the school on an average day would see an array of different styles of shirts, trousers and jackets, and absolutely no ties and blazers. So a new modern approach was needed. During our discovery sessions we met with parents, and understood the realities of being a parent of 4 growing kids, needing the expense of new uniform, swapping garments and siblings sharing, not to mention all the impracticalities of ripped pants and the usual quirks of growing teens.
Whilst the norm would be to put our new logo on existing off-the shelf uniform, we began our process, by speaking to people. As designers in this process we knew the brand, but we needed to make decisions on materials, fits and colour that we we would not pretend to know best. We undertook a journey of understanding, speaking to fashion designers, young muslim women, muslim sports teachers, and more within the muslim or fashion industries.
Speaking to Female Muslims
Understanding that the male designers in the studio were not best placed to know what’s best for what female students would be wearing, opened the door to this journey of discovery, and it was a great one. We spoke to muslim and non muslim females , understanding what they like to wear, how they style their clothes, what’s going through their thought process in putting outfits together. When we spoke to female muslims, we heard their backgrounds into why they wear particular colours or how they style their garments always balancing their faith, their culture and still looking cool. We spoke specifically to a female muslim collective of creatives giving us so much insight in being a growing muslim girl in their community, and how they navigated through that.
The lowdown from Fashion Designers
We spoke to a variety of fashion designers from Australian boutique fashion brand owners, to a commercial fashion designer from K-mart to boutique Hijab designers. Here we understood trends, materials and fits. We understood the different skirt styles and what would be most practical for growing girls to run in whilst also looking smart. We understood from the muslim designers what certain colours meant for a hijab, what were the social norms.
Listening to Parents and Students
Parents and students were heard from the very inception of the branding project. From the parents point of view, we needed to make sure that the uniform gave them a sense of pride in their children’s school, but also was affordable, especially when you consider that many have more one child at the school. We spoke to a range of student’s from the excited kindergarten girl, to the school captain graduating in his varsity jacket. We used quantitative data through surveys of students when deciding between items or colours of hijabs.
Learning from the experts: Uniform Manufacturers
The school uniform manufacturer’s Midford were our trusted partner in the design and manufacturing of this uniform, with decades of experience producing all kinds of uniforms for the best schools across Australia. This collaborative process took our our brand designs, garment suggestions and sample items to reality using Milford’s expertise to pick out fabrics, dies, embossments and knowledge of the industry.
Understanding Muslim Friendly Sportswear and Weekend Sportswear
The sportswear was a place we realised we could be more louder with the brand, emblazon our pattern brightly, give the school something they could shout about. But digging deeper into muslim culture for boys and girls there was a lot more to consider. For girls they need active wear that wasn’t form fitting and wasn’t hot under the Australian sun. They needed special sports hijab’s that were athletic and breathable. The boys also had to follow rules of modestly, the boys school shorts came to knee length as per school policy. Outside of practicalities we wanted our sportswear to be so cool that students might want to wear it on the weekend. We were inspired by soccer jerseys off today that look cool outside of the sports field.
Winning with Accessibility and Equality
Accessibility was such a key pillar to our philosophy. Moreso than having the most pristine private school uniform. this is because we weren’t designing from afar. We met the children, we met the parents, we saw them run around in the playground and we empathised with the newly migrated mum who second language was English. We heard the voices of young muslim women, who were tired of always getting the hard end of the stick when it came down to buying more expensive uniform. From this we lost a great a idea and born an even better one.
At one point, we were designing a pristine institute of education and had these thobe inspired mandarin collar shirts for the boys. A beautiful marriage of smart western school shirt with the nod to Islamic culture with the collar. But when putting accessibility first and giving the option for students to buy a dark polo, we knew that the smart shirt would not sell well.
The Statement Piece: Unisex Coach Jacket
On the other hand, accessibility and inclusivity birthed the new school jacket. What is known as a “coach jacket” in fashion, replacing the blazer. Meeting in the middle between a blazer that was very formal, never worn by the students, only looking good when fitted exactly, and something more casual like bomber jacket or a hoodie, something seen in public schools, that are practical but looses that smartness. The coach jacket is unisex can be shared between brother and sister, its bunched sleeves means it will look good even when over sized, and its hanging waist allows girls to wear it covering their waist. Something not seen in schools as a main part of the uniform, it was new attire we were placing in the uniform world, a risk that needed a solid case for it to be bought by the school, parents and manufacturers.
A new dawn
Speaking personally now, this whole rebrand project has been amazing, and this uniform design project was the most challenging. Because we did the early ground work in discovery, I personally got a lot of empathy with the students, parents and teachers. As an immigrant from South Asia, I understand my parents struggle’s of fitting into society and a child’s delicate balance of fitting in with your friend’s whilst maintaining the beautiful culture that our parents and grand parents nurtured for us, all whilst navigating growing through your teenage years. This school is home and family to so many people united in their faith and it’s beautiful to see happy faces wearing the uniform that we laboured many stressful hours over.