Murcyleen Peerzada had good reason to design an abaya that would, for the first time, let a little sunshine in. "I am vitamin D-deficient, like most people," says the Dubai-based designer from Mumbai. "I'm only 27, and most of my friends have the same deficiency as well." Some of her friends have even been taking shots to address the issue. "I wanted to do something," says Peerzada.
A vitamin D deficiency can lead to a variety of symptoms in the short term, including muscle and bone weakness, low immunity and mood, while long-term, the condition has been linked to a variety of serious health conditions including dementia and heart disease. Last year, a study in Dubai showed an estimated 90 per cent of the UAE’s population is vitamin D-deficient.
Although severe cases can require injections or supplements, for everyone else, doctors recommend 15 to 30 minutes of sunscreen-free sunlight per day – depending on skin tone – over 40 per cent of the body. “The population as a whole tends to recognise vitamin D deficiency as an issue, however, measures to rectify the problem are insufficient, in part due to the lack of understanding of just how important it is to maintain a normalised level,” says Dr Nas Al Jafari, a family medicine consultant at Intercare Health Centre in Abu Dhabi.
Vitamin D supplementation has become the norm, even if the amount most people take is insufficient. There is no replacement for the sun, he says, adding that “people need to conscientiously incorporate regular healthy sun exposure into their weekly routine”.
Of course, getting that daily requirement is easier said than done, particularly when it comes to dressing modestly, which is how Peerzada found herself researching whether there were any fabrics on the market that the sun’s rays could permeate.
She tested many different types, searching for the right density, looking for a fabric that was breathable but wasn’t see-through but came up empty. She finally found what she was looking for in MicrosolV, which has a weave that allows some of the sun’s UVB rays to permeate through to the skin. Peerzada says the fabric, which companies have been using to make swimwear for years, has been fully tested and she is confident it is safe. “It’s light, which is really good,” she says. “It’s easy to wash, you don’t need to dry clean it and it’s affordable.”
She didn't waste any time in getting to work with MicrosolV. The result is the Healthy Abaya, which she has launched on her website, www.murcyleenpeerzada.com, and will be produced on a custom basis. Many women wear sleeveless or short sleeves underneath their abaya, which should provide enough of a surface area for the sun's rays to sink in. "When you wear an abaya or any piece of modest clothing, you're not necessarily wearing full clothes [underneath]," says Peerzada. "So at least your hand or your neck area is able to absorb Vitamin D when you step out."
Peerzada has 40 abaya designs in total, seven of which can be made with the new fabric. They are available in traditional black and with accents, including a fanciful option adorned with assorted charms, such as a butterfly.
Fashion wasn’t originally on the cards for Peerzada, who launched her modest fashion line in March 2016 and is one of India’s first abaya designers. She comes from a political family and was working for Yash Raj Films – leading her to build a network of Bollywood stars – when she started a personal journey that brought her closer to Islam. “I started wearing a hijab as a commitment to my Creator,” she says. “It’s only recently that I found a balance between my faith and my love of fashion.”
For now, Peerzada is focused on building her brand, after a successful showing of abayas inspired by fairytales at the recent Modest Fashion Week in Dubai. She has big plans that MicrosolV and the Healthy Abaya, which is priced from Dh450 to Dh850, will become something “more meaningful”. “I want more things made out of it, because modest clothing is not just limited to abayas – they have pants, jackets and long coats.”
The fabric is easy to work with, "behaving" just like the traditional abaya fabric, nidha. For now it is only available in black, so Peerzada is limited in what she can create. "I am sure they will have to come up with [more], once the idea catches on," she says. "This is just the first time someone is doing it. So I really hope more colours become available."
More funky fabrics
Expect to see more multi-purpose fabrics hitting stores in coming years, as industry and science cater to growing demand for wearable tech and functional clothing. Here are a few to watch for.
The bomber jackets Ralph Lauren designed for Team USA to wear during the upcoming 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics will be extra cosy, due to a heat-conducting ink that can keep the wearer warm for 11 hours. The temperature is even adjustable via smartphone.
Scientists have been working on this for years, but this month a team at the Korea Research Institute of Chemical Technology announced they have developed a new material called “elastomer” that has the ability to repair itself. Colour-changing fabrics
With applications far beyond fashion – changing camouflage in the military, for example – multiple researchers are at work testing a variety of technology. In Canada, scientists are trying to use charges from the human body to enable fabrics to change colour – subtle currents of electricity are sent into fine wires sewn into the fabric.
They are called “photocatalysts” and there is growing demand for them in all markets. In China, engineers have created a cheap, eco-friendly coating – composed of titanium oxide – that acts as a catalyst for sunlight to prompt cotton to rid itself of stains and odours.
A Canadian company called OMsignal is already selling a Biometric Smartwear shirt, with embedded health sensors transmitting information via smartphone. Scientists around the world are looking at different technology that could weave imperceptible sensors into fabric to measure a range of changes that can predict possible health problems.