The CEO and chief designer of Haute Hijab, Melanie Elturk is a one-woman-wonder of energy and creativity. As attorney at the DIFC Courts in Dubai she is more than a little familiar with standing up for what she believes in and, in this vein, what started as a modest endeavor has unexpectedly transformed Haute Hijab into an international support system for women struggling to find ways to reconcile their commitment to both fashion and modesty. Fiercely determined yet considerate and surprisingly humble, Melanie doesn’t just walk the talk, she wears it too.
What or who inspired you to start Haute Hijab?
Despite always being interested in fashion, I never thought I could succeed in fashion on a professional level. So many strive to make it in the fashion industry and I also had passions elsewhere that I wanted to pursue. When the notion was brought to my attention that I could actually do something with fashion while making a difference in my community by designing and providing clothing and hijab options for hijab-wearing Muslim women, everything changed. I actually saw a niche that I believed I could excel and make a difference in. The inspiration came from working with the Muslim youth in my hometown Detroit. I noticed that hijab was an issue for young girls, not only for the girls who already wore it and struggled to keep it on, but for girls who didn’t wear it and had no desire to put it on. At that time, there were no real hijabi fashion influences one could look up to for inspiration. Haute Hijab was born out of a necessity that I saw in my Muslim community to not only design stylish hijab-friendly clothing, but to be a source of support and inspiration for hijab-wearing women everywhere. The social component of our company is just as, if not more important than the fashion aspect. We provide support services for women struggling, we have a Hijabi of the Month campaign where we feature amazing women contributing to their community in positive ways in addition to inspirational posts on hijab and Islam itself. The main goal of HH is really to instill confidence in hijab-wearing women all around the globe.
What has been the hardest thing you have experienced starting up your fashion business in the modest market?
Definitely the amount of work that is involved – in all aspects. I wasn’t formally trained in fashion so I didn’t realize how much went in to manufacturing your own line. I was good at design, I knew how to sew and create a basic pattern but there’s so much more to it than that. And then there was the business side – the marketing, photography, graphics, brand development, creating a website, etc. There’s so much work that goes in to creating and executing your own brand. My husband and I endured sleepless nights turning our living room into a photography studio to take photos for each week’s collection of vintage hijabs – it was exhausting! To top it all off, I’m a perfectionist to a fault and will spend hours perfecting a blog post or photo so you can imagine how much work goes in to every aspect of the brand.
And what has been the most rewarding?
The most rewarding part has been connecting with so many women across the globe. Whether they’re elated about the fact that they now feel energized and excited to pick out a hijab in the morning or they tell me that the blog posts on struggling with hijab has helped them in some way – the connection with these women is by far the most rewarding part of what I do.
Your website inspires a community feel, almost a one-stop support service for women who want to wear or struggle with wearing the hijab, was this something you intended?
Absolutely! Like I said above, the social component of our company is just as, if not more important than the fashion aspect. I didn’t want to just be a fashion brand or a hijab store. The goals and vision is so much deeper than that. It’s this support and sense of community surrounding the brand that’s really at the core of what we do. It keeps me going and helps me stay motivated on those days when you need an extra push.
Would you say the recent popularity in modest fashion has been due to a genuine shift in how women actually want to dress, or just another fashion statement?
That’s a great question. There’s been so much buzz in modest fashion lately (read my piece in ELLE.com on the H&M model Mariah Idrissi and what it means for Muslim women here) and to be completely honest with you – I actually think it just comes down to dollars and cents. These mainstream brands and higher-end luxury brands are catering to a demographic that they know will drop top dollar on clothes that cater to them (particularly in the gulf countries) – so it’s no wonder that we’ve seen a rise in clothing catered to modestly dressed women. At the end of the day, fashion is fickle. Crop tops are ‘in’ one summer and long tunics will be ‘in’ the next. I don’t truly believe that there’s a genuine shift in how women actually want to dress – they dress based on what stores provide – which is largely dictated by the fashion runways in Paris and Milan.
What I will say is that this hijab fashion phenomenon currently taking place on Instagram and other social media (see New York Times article on this) has definitely raised the eyebrows of many people in the fashion industry who are now taking note of a really cool, expressive niche. Just look at Tory Burch and Ascia AKF for example.
You once said that you grapple daily with reconciling the hijab with making a fashion statement. Is that still the case?
You know I’ve learned to separate fashion from hijab. I think in the beginning there was all this buzz about whether or not hijab could also be ‘fashionable.’ At the end of the day, we all have to wear clothes – and the clothes we choose to wear say a lot about ourselves. I’ve always put extra effort into presenting myself in a respectful and put-together way – and I don’t see anything wrong with that. To be able to infuse that sense of stylishness with hijabs and hijab-friendly clothing is an amazing thing – and looking presentable is part of Islam!
How much does your background as an attorney influence the way you approach your blog?
I think it’s helped a lot in terms of my writing style. I love to write and I have fine-tuned my writing skills as an attorney, which has helped with the blog. It also helps me articulate issues clearly, which is helpful when answering questions different women have and reading in between the lines when they ask vague or complex questions.
Where and from whom do you draw your inspiration for your designs?
I get most of my inspirations from throwbacks. I love all things vintage – especially the 40’s and 50’s. The clothing of that era had such feminine and modest lines and silhouettes. My inspiration really comes from watching old black and white movies and being drawn to the fashion icons of that era. I have this book called American Vintage Fashion that I’m always flipping through. That and everyday girls! I love to travel and people watching is one of the best parts of traveling to any new city. Real women who are incredibly chic and stylish are very inspiring to me. (It’s the reason Paris is my favorite city on earth!) I have to admit that I don’t really pay much attention to what’s going on on the runway!
Describe a typical day for you and, being the busy and successful woman that you are, how do you simplify making your wardrobe choices?
A typical day for me starts by waking up early for fajr prayer and getting ready for work – I work as an attorney at the DIFC Courts in Dubai. I work part time so I get home in the early afternoon and put in another good 3-5 hours of work before I start cooking. After dinner my husband and I take some down time to ourselves before spending another hour or so on work and then finally getting to bed! I’m a really efficient person and I hate wasting time! I barely watch TV and keep social media to a minimum (outside of consistently posting to my @hautehijab Instagram and Snapchat accounts of course!). I try not to work on weekends as I like to take that time to really recharge and relax and get in good quality time with my husband and friends.
As far as simplifying wardrobe choices – it’s all about having your go-to ensembles already created so you’re not standing in front of your closet for 20 minutes each morning wondering what to wear and complaining about how ‘you hate everything in your closet’ lol I’ve been there! Read this HH Style Guide on 5 Foolproof Tips to Look Fab Everytime you Walk out the Door for more tips on this 😉
How would you describe your fashion style?
I would describe my style as classic with a twist. I definitely do not follow trends. I have my own distinct style that I may tweak every now and again, but I’m much more into timeless, classic pieces with an edge rather than following what’s ‘in.’ (When I was getting to know my husband, he told me he loved my style – that it was classy but cutting edge at the same time… needless to say, I knew he was the one 😉
Since I’m relatively short and petite, I tend to go for more structured pieces, rather than billowy, bo-ho looks to avoid being swallowed up by my outfit. I also *love* a crisp, collared shirt – preferably in white! (Check out my list of 5 Wardrobe Staples to Invest in this Fall)
Where would you like to see yourself and HH in five years time?
I would like to see myself as a vehicle for good, giving back to my community and continuing to connect with my customers/followers/readers in a meaningful way. I would love to visit different cities and meet with our followers and have productive dialogues on the issues that are plaguing them as Muslim women. As for Haute Hijab, I see it growing and truly becoming a household name for hijab-wearing women all across the globe. I see us continuing to push our design to the limit to provide beautiful, stylish and hijab-friendly options. In five years from now, I would also like to see us recognized as a global brand with at least one retail location!
What practical and inspiring advice would you give to anyone wanting to start their own fashion blog or website?
Know what you’re good at, what you want do to and work towards executing that vision. Carefully craft that vision and try not to sway from it too much. People pick up on disingenuousness right away so stay true to who you are and what your philosophy is. Do something different – don’t reinvent the wheel.
Know that it’s hard work – that there will be sleepless nights and there will be times you want to throw your hands in the air and shut it all down so make sure you have clearly defined intentions and goals to keep you going. Accept that you may need help – and seek that help from others who are exceptional at what they do. Leave your ego at the door.
Keep your intentions pure – that’s truly the best piece of advice I can give anyone.
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Haute Elan is the premier destination for luxury modest fashion housing the collections of over 150 designers and boutiques from across the world, uniting women through their common love of fashion and the elegant modest form. Shop the collections now at www.haute-elan.com.