In April, 32-year-old Tiandarinie wanted to buy a few new pieces of clothing for the Eid-al-Fitr celebrations, which mark the end of Ramadan. She was looking for a new hijab, a tunic, and a dress.
As a practicing Muslim, Tiandarinie did not want to buy just any clothing. She wanted them to be halal — adhering to Islamic ethics and laws — or at least, as close as possible to halal. “Of course I want [to consume] good stuff, things that have the same values as mine,” she told Rest of World. “I would want to know things like the fashion brand’s values, who its founders are, or whether they have been involved in scandals.”
But even in Muslim-majority Indonesia, it can be hard to find out if a garment meets that standard. For a product to be certified halal, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), Halal Inspection Agency, and Halal Certification Agency have to determine that it doesn’t include ingredients, such as pig products or alcohol, which are prohibited in Islam. This certification is well-established for food and beverages, but not for fashion.
When assessing a garment, inspectors need to be sure that the fabrics and dyes are free of proscribed ingredients, and that the product is stored and distributed through separate channels from non-halal goods.
Some sellers — such as Riel Tasmaya, founder of the now-defunct e-commerce site Muslimarket.com — interpret the requirements relatively liberally. “You can just check the labels for the raw materials — if it’s like cotton, and not containing elements like pigskin leather, then it must be halal,” Tasmaya told Rest of World.
But people who more strictly interpret halal standards may also want to know that a garment’s producer uses Shariah-compliant financing, and that the workers throughout the supply chain are treated ethically.
“If you want to really trace it, it could be a long trail,” Ronald Yusuf Wijaya, chairman of the Indonesian Sharia Fintech Association, told Rest of World.
This divergence of views and standards mean that consumers have to make their own judgments about whether products are halal enough. Brands wanting to tap the huge and growing market need to pay for their own certification, which can be complex and expensive, so not all companies that claim or aspire to be halal have the official certificates.
In April, Tiandarinie finally opted for a soft, gray hijab that she found on Hijup.com, a fashion e-commerce platform geared towards Muslim women, where she has been a loyal customer since 2013.
Hijup was one of the first e-commerce sites selling Islamic fashion in Indonesia. The company’s warehouse and headquarters are located in a four-story building in South Jakarta. When Rest of World visited, workers were busy carrying boxes up and down the stairs. Products shipped from the brands it carries are received on the first floor, where they are checked by quality control officers, before being sent upstairs to be packed and stored in rows of shelves on the second floor. The company processes between 200 to 300 orders a day.
When Hijup launched in 2011, it promised to offer 100% certified halal garments. However, after finding that its suppliers struggled to get certified, it has since relaxed its requirements, and now provides a marketplace for around 500 brands that Hijup considers suitable. “We are now just curating the brands and products that will be on Hijup, making sure that the products sold are modest and Muslim products,” Annisa Nurrizky, the company’s spokesperson, told Rest of World.
The scarf that Tiandarinie bought was designed by a local brand, Kami Idea, and manufactured in Jakarta from textiles most likely sourced in Bandung, West Java, according to Istafiana Candarini, Kami Idea’s founder.
Although not all of the factories that supply Kami Idea have halal certificates, Candarini said they make sure that its suppliers do not use non-halal ingredients, such as pigskin leather, for other brands. “We also make sure that our in-house employees are treated well and that we’re following the minimum wage law,” Candarini said.
Indonesians spent nearly $170 million last year on halal products using e-commerce platforms in 2021, according to the country’s central bank. Muslim and modest fashion made up 90% of the transactions.
This certification will soon become mandatory. By 2026, under the Halal Product Guarantee Law, all goods — from medicine to cosmetics and clothing — in Indonesia must be certified halal.
Complying with the law will be hard for small to mid-sized brands like Kami without compliance from their suppliers, Candarini said. “We’re just waiting for our suppliers to get the certification,” she said. “Because if we wanted to completely switch to other suppliers, that would be difficult.”
But knowing that the gray scarf was produced ethically makes Tiandarinie appreciate the product more, she said. “Honestly, I love fashion and doing mix and match, so [it’s] not tiring to find the best product that I can afford,” she said. “I’m trying to shop mindfully.”