24 August 2016
Recent bans on wearing the burkini in France have boosted sales around the world, especially to non-Muslim women, according to the designer of the full-body swimsuit.
Aheda Zanetti (pictured above, centre), a Lebanese-Australian who is credited with creating the light-weight two-piece swimsuit, said a series of bans across 23 towns in south-east France had led to a surge in interest.
Authorities in those French towns imposed the ban, citing public concern following recent terrorist attacks in the country. Using language similar to the bans imposed in a string of other resorts on the French Riviera, the city of Nice barred clothing that “overtly manifests adherence to a religion at a time when France and places of worship are the target of terrorist attacks”.
Nice’s deputy mayor, Christian Estrosi, from the centre-right Républicains party, wrote in a letter to the prime minister, Manuel Valls, on Tuesday that “hiding the face or wearing a full-body costume to go to the beach is not in keeping with our ideal of social relations”.
Valls came under fire after saying on Wednesday that the burkini was “not compatible with the values of France”.
He cited the tensions in France after the jihadi attacks to justify his support for the mayors who had banned a garment he said was “founded on the subjugation of women”.
France’s Human Rights League accused Valls of “participating in the stigmatisation of a category of French people who have become suspect by virtue of their faith”.
Burkinis are a rare sight on French beaches, where a small minority of Muslim women can be seen bathing in ordinary clothes and wearing headscarves.
Burkini Sales Up
However, Burkini sales have increased as a result - and mainly among non-Muslims.
These buyers are a diverse group, including cancer sufferers and women who simply prefer to be fully covered at the beach.
“It’s just been so hectic,” Ms Zanetti said. “I can tell you that online on Sunday, we received 60 orders – all of them non-Muslim.”
Ms Zanetti, 48, said that she typically received about ten to twelve orders on a Sunday.
She said she had sold an estimated 700,000 of the garments since 2008, including customers who were “Jews, Hindus, Christians, Mormons, women with various body issues”.
Since the French bans, Ms Zanetti said, she has received a flood of emails supporting her design.
“A lot of the correspondence ... was that they are survivors of skin cancer and they’ve always been looking for something like this,” she said.
“The support I’m getting is somehow about empowering women ... I feel like I’ve been a counsellor.
"Women are standing together on this. It doesn’t matter what race or religion.”
Australia has experienced occasional expressions of anti-Muslim sentiment in recent years, including the election of four MPs from the anti-Muslim One Nation party at a general election last month.
However, the burkini has generated little controversy and has even been adapted for use by female Muslim life savers.
Explaining her inspiration for the design, Ms Zanetti said she “wanted to make sure we blended in with the Australian lifestyle".
"It's just a name that I invented,” she told Fairfax Media. “It doesn't mean anything. It's really an Islamic two-piece bikini, but that sounds stupid."
Police on beaches have been enforcingthe ban in a haphazard manner, sometimes fining women who are wearing regular clothes and not intending to swim.
Images of police confronting a woman in Nice on Tuesday show at least four police officers standing over a woman who was resting on the shore at the town’s Promenade des Anglais.
After they arrive, she appears to remove a blue long-sleeved tunic while one of the officers appears to take notes or issue an on-the-spot fine.
Also told on Tuesday, in the nearby city of Cannes, a mother of two describes how how she had been fined on the beach for wearing leggings, a tunic and a headscarf.
Her ticket, seen by French news agency AFP, read that she was not wearing “an outfit respecting good morals and secularism”.
“I was sitting on a beach with my family,” said the 34-year-old who gave only her first name, Siam. “I was wearing a classic headscarf. I had no intention of swimming.”
A witness to the scene, Mathilde Cousin, confirmed the incident. “The saddest thing was that people were shouting ‘go home’, some were applauding the police,” she said. “Her daughter was crying.”
Jonathan Pearlman, "Burkini designer says French bans have boosted sales - to non-Muslims" The Telegraph UK August 23, 2016
Ben Quinn, "French police make woman remove clothing on Nice beach following burkini ban" The Guardian UK August 24, 2016
"Nice becomes latest French city to impose burkini ban" The Guardian UK August 19, 2016