With so much to do it’s understandable that this week’s woman in focus Hassanah El-Yacoubi overlooked an important F-word in her blog summary- FUN! With her blog-focus being “Faith, Fashions, Fancies, and Foodie adventures” this busy PHD student definitely looks like she has plenty of fun as she waves the flag for modest fashionistas the world-over.
Her Arab-American duel inheritance stands her in good stead to reach out to people on both sides of the culture-opinion table and her highly lauded annual trunk shows do more than just give women the opportunity to mingle and mix their styles and scarves; it strengthens their individuality and identity, giving them a sense that are an important presence in the fashion world. A presence that Hassanah believes isn’t just being felt in California, where she lives, but the whole world over.
We caught up with this remarkable woman to find out more.
Could you start by telling us a bit about yourself?
I was born and raised in Northern Virginia to an American-Muslim mother and an Arab father. I have always been in a unique position where I straddled both identities with great pride. Since college I realized the extent to which Muslim women were lacking confidence in their religious identity, especially with regard to wearing the hijab. I felt a tremendous sense of obligation to do my part in representing what it meant to be both Muslim and modern. I decided to combine my love for hijab and fashion by starting a blog that promoted faith, fashions, fancies, and foodie adventures of a modern Muslim woman living in California. Student by day and a blogger by night; I am currently a PhD student in Religious Studies at The University of California Riverside focusing on women in Islam.
Can you tell us about your blog and what inspired you to start it?
I have always had an eye for fashion. When I was in college many girls would ask me tips on how to put outfits together – especially on how to incorporate the hijab while still looking fashionable. Also, we live in a society where since 9/11, certain geo-political and socio-political factors have created hyper-negative views of Muslims and Islam, creating what we now label as Islamophobia. Muslim women specifically are constantly perceived and portrayed as uneducated, unsophisticated, and unstylish in most media outlets, which ultimately has shaped the public’s perception of them. This misconstrued portrayal has caused many Muslim women to struggle with their cultural and religious identity, and as such I have become an advocate for enhancing the narrative and image of American Muslim women in multiple ways.
I started the PFH blog to create a place where Muslim women could gain a sense of inspiration and confidence in being modest. PFH stands for Perfect for Her; “her” being a woman who believes in the beauty of dressing modestly. PFH debunks notions that being modest and stylish are mutually exclusive. I’ve made it my mission to cater to this underserved segment of women by offering fashionable modest clothing options, since the marketplace lags tremendously in providing an acceptable selection of contemporary and trendy fashions that meet the religious needs for Muslim women.
Do you have any fashion rules when putting an outfit together?
The key is to never overdo it with too much of anything. Your outfit should look effortless, as if it took you only five minutes to put it together. You don’t want to look like you tried too hard by attempting to match patterns or colors that don’t jive well with each other. Also, always accessorize! Long necklaces, bracelets, rings, body jewelry, anklets, etc – it instantly dresses up even the simplest of outfits.
What tip would you give anyone wanting to start fashion blog or website?
Do it. Don’t think to yourself that too many people are doing it already. I hear that a lot. The reality is everyone offers something so distinctly unique that no one else can portray besides you. It’s kind of like two people wearing the exact same dress but it ends up looking entirely different on each person because everyone has their own unique touch to things. Be confident in your style and your ability to showcase it.
What’s the biggest challenge about fashion blogging?
Timing. It’s crazy how much time goes into even the simplest of posts, and I don’t think people realize it. Sometimes I promise myself that I am going to finish an entire post in no more than 30 minutes, and I’ll even go to the extent of timing myself; of course it ends up taking at least 45 minutes. Being a grad student I’m always tight on time now, but I’ve found that the best thing to do is start a post as a draft and revisit it later once I have time to complete and edit it.
The other challenge is not being able to post as frequently as I’d like. Ideally I would like to post at least twice a week or even three times. With my schedule it’s really hard to maintain that, but what I realized is that we as people are always going to be busy no matter what phase of life we are in. So it’s just a matter of organizing your time properly in a way that suits your lifestyle.
Where do you see your blog in the next five years?
I see it evolving into a mainstream portal providing Muslim women and women of other faiths, inspiration on all things PFH (modest fashions, fancies, faith, and foodie adventures). My hope is that it brings positive light to the Muslim modest fashion market, while demonstrating the beauty of being a hijabi in 21st century America.
Where are your followers from?
My followers range from America all the way to Australia. One thing I’ve learned is that you never know who’s actually paying attention. It’s unbelievable to know the audience you can reach all throughout the world. I’ve had people contact me from different continents and I’m always wondering how they came across PFH. Blogging is an incredible tool that gives you the ability to reach people you would otherwise think are out of reach.
What are your thoughts on the modest fashion industry?
The modest fashion industry went from being completely ignored to being on the horizon in the past couple of years. The fashion industry has realized how underserved, yet lucrative, the modest fashion market is and has begun to take measures to not only fill the vacuum in the industry, but to claim a piece of the pie. More and more we’re seeing mainstream fashion brands catering to Muslim women by releasing exclusive Ramadan lines (DKNY, Mango, Tommy Hilfiger, Gilt), or by simply offering more modest options that fulfill the religious requirements Muslim women adhere to (Nordstrom, Free People, Zara etc). Even brands like H&M have been offering a plethora of long sleeve maxi dresses, jumpsuits, and shirts. Also, in H&M’s latest campaign video they featured a hijabi woman for the very first time, describing her as “chic”. This is a milestone for Muslim women to be recognized by such an esteemed and mainstream fashion house.
The high fashion world hasn’t over-looked the advent of the modest fashion market either. We’ve all seen the gorgeous haute couture long sleeve gowns by prominent designers such as Elie Saab, Valentino, Badgley Mischka, and Tadashi Shoji. It’s my prediction that it’s only going to get better. We are going to see many more designers and mainstream brands start to cater to the modest fashion market. It makes me so excited for a future where our daughters will hopefully not have to struggle to find fashionable, yet modest, contemporary clothing readily available the way we did. It’s a future where hijab has become commonplace in Western culture.
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