Sydney-Guardian Post: Clothes shopping as a teenager was a nightmare for me. There were the usual teen concerns about body image, budget, and whether my booty would fit in my jeans (booty hadn’t hit the mainstream in the early 2000s). But there was also the additional challenge that uniquely faced young Muslimahs (Muslim women) like me: almost nothing in stores was suitable for my hijabi needs.
This was before the days of online shopping, so my choices were disastrously limited to the local mall. Days were spent layering long-sleeved skivvies under short-sleeve tees, tights under dresses with thigh-high slits, and singlets under blouses with deep-Vs. These sartorial decisions might have been just about survivable in a cold European climate, but they were not built for Brisbane’s humid summers.
My Sudanese mother did her best to offer alternatives, repeatedly suggesting I try the airy cotton kaftans (jalabeeyas) worn by men and women up and down the Sahara. Kaftans, however, were not what a 14-year-old girl wanted to wear to school on free-dress day to impress Shane from the rugby team. So I’d sweat away in polyester layers and thick cargo pants instead.
Young hijabis like me all around Australia grew up attempting to retrofit clothing to suit their needs but the reality was clear: we were not a demographic considered fashion-forward and with disposable income. We were not a demographic considered at all. We were completely invisible in public spaces, save for the occasional televised debate on banning the burqa. Young girls like me would depend on trips to Muslim majority countries such as Malaysia, Egypt or Pakistan to stock up on clothing that might work, and if a friend or relative was travelling, they’d leave with a list of clothing requests from almost every hijabi in the community. We were nothing if not enterprising.
The internet changed things. With the proliferation of fashion blogs and spaces like Instagram and Tumblr, young Muslimahs were connected to fashion inspiration from around the world, the likes of which we had never seen before. Muslim women quickly learned to capitalise on these platforms and share their tips, style and looks with global audiences – and Dina Torkia was a British Egyptian blogger that led the way.
For me, a dorky Sudanese kid in Queensland, being able to see other young Muslim women take up space, tell their own stories and look fabulous was empowering in the most unexpected way. I’d not grown up being interested in clothes per se, because they weren’t made to talk to me. But online I learned that, hijabi or not, I could express myself in ways that were halal, uniquely my own – and that if and when I did, there would a community around me that got it.
Conversation about hijab is so often wrapped up in ideology, moralising and political bickering that people often forget about the women who are under the garments. Shockingly, hijabis are typically regular human beings doing their best to live their best lives, and some want to look fabulous doing it. We’re also a fashion force to be reckoned with, given the global spending on apparel by Muslims was US$230 billion in 2014.
That’s why we made Hijabistas!: to showcase the range of textures within the modest fashion scene. There are the hijabi fashion designers – some who position themselves as hijabi fashion designers and some who see themselves as designers who happen to wear the hijab. There are social media influencers who have built large followings, sharing their daily outfits and make-up tutorials. There are entrepreneurs who are starting their own businesses, catering to a market that is enormous but so often forgotten. It’s a fun, exciting space that you might not have heard about before, but now get the chance to.
Hijabistas is a look into the world of Aussie hijabis on their own terms, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.