A controversial French ban on wearing the burkini has boosted sales of the swimsuit – particularly among non-Muslim women, says the Australian designer credited with creating the full-body swimwear.
The burkini has sparked huge controversy in France, with bans introduced in 15 southeastern towns by local governments citing “security” concerns following a series of deadly jihadist attacks.
But the debate has merely served to create a new market for her products, says Australian-Lebanese designer Aheda Zanetti, who created her first swimwear for Muslim women more than a decade ago and holds the trademark on the names “burkini” and “burqini”.
“I can tell you that online on Sunday, we received 60 orders – all of them non-Muslim,” Zanetti, 48, told AFP, adding that she usually receives only 10 to 12 orders on Sundays.
“It’s just been so hectic.”
Zanetti did not yet have sales figures for the past week but said she has also been receiving numerous messages of support – and only one disparaging email – since the French bans were put in place earlier this month.
These include messages from cancer survivors and other swimmers who want to wear her light-weight, quick-drying garments as protection from the sun.
“A lot of the correspondence… was that they are survivors of skin cancer and they’ve always been looking for something like this, saying, ‘Thank god we’ve found someone like this producing such a swimsuit’,” she said.
Celebrity chef Nigella Lawson wore a burkini while on vacation in Australia in April 2011; dozens of photos of her sporting the full-coverage outfit quickly appeared in British newspapers and websites along with the unavoidable online commentary.
“Perhaps she thought what she wore on the beach was her own business,” The Guardian noted wryly at the time. “How wrong could she be.”
While there are other Islamic swimsuits on the market, Zanetti has said her designs are the first to be streamlined into two-piece swimwear with a head covering.
“Women are standing together on this,” she said of the messages of support she has received. “It doesn’t matter what race or religion.”
She said the one critical email asked Zanetti why she wanted to help women in France cover up, saying: “We prefer our women to be naked”.
The burkini has not attracted as much debate in Australia, where people regularly cover up even on beaches to protect their skin from the harsh southern sun.
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday dismissed the idea of introducing a similar ban, saying Canadians should rise above the controversy and calling for the respect of individual rights and choices.