The inventor of the burkini says nearly half of her customers are not actually Muslim

The inventor of the burkini says nearly half of her customers are not actually Muslim

The burkini has been everywhere these days. The full-length swimwear garment that is a portmanteau of burqa and bikini has been making headlines after a number of French cities banned them on their beaches.

But nearly half of the women who purchase burkinis are not in fact Muslims, Aheda Zanetti, the swimwear's creator, said to Politico on Monday.

"Over 40% of our sales are from non-Muslim women," the Lebanese-Australian designer said. "The Jewish community embraces it. I've seen Mormons wearing it. A Buddhist nun purchased it for all of her friends. I've seen women who have issues with skin cancer or body image, moms, women who are not comfortable exposing their skin — they're all wearing it."

Zanetti suggested the recent bans are more an exercise in policing women's wardrobes than preserving secularism. 

"It doesn't matter why they make these choices," Zanetti said. "The beach is there for everyone to enjoy. We are women. We should be able to wear whatever we want to and do whatever we want to do, whenever we want to do it."

Recently, images of French armed law enforcement forcing a woman to remove her burkini on a beach went viral, leaving many questioning the ban. 

If Zanetti's estimations of her customers' faith are correct, it would be very much at odds with the justification of the ban, an attempt to eradicate overt evidence of Islam. 

"We are not talking about banning the wearing of religious symbols on the beach ... but ostentatious clothing which refers to an allegiance to terrorist movements which are at war with us," Thierry Migoule, head of municipal services in Cannes, one of the cities instituting the ban, told Agence France-Presse.

A number of women who wear the burkini have publicly argued the ban is also motivated by religious intolerance — as Migoule's comments suggest — considering no such ban exists for wetsuits and swim caps, which, if worn together, would amount to the same thing. 

This article of clothing, burkini proponents say, is the opposite of oppressive. Rather, they argue, it liberates women otherwise restricted by sartorial modesty. 

"The burkini did wonders for Muslim women and girls," Zanetti told Politico. "It created confidence to get active. Now the French say it's not their values. I don't understand what French values are then. Is it French values to force someone to wear a bikini?"