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This contest calls on entrants to design a style of hijab that is uniquely American, explains Contest organizer, Shaz Kaiseruddin, above.


High Fashion and Human Rights – The American Hijab Design Contest
by Mehwish Shaukat

The American Hijab Design Contest is a critical initiative residing at the intersection of high fashion and human rights. It is an open call for all aspiring and established designers to create clothing for a demographic largely neglected in western fashion- Muslim women. To be precise, Bloomberg states that there is a $96 billion dollar Muslim female fashion market that is virtually untapped. When designers are asked why they don’t enter this market they respond they simply don’t know how. This contest is a tremendous opportunity for designers to get noticed and to find great financial success. However, beyond requesting sketches of long or loose fitting garments the contest challenges us to think deeply about what it means to be American. Freedom is American; self-expression is American. The right to choose is American.

The necessary corollary to a right is responsibility. It takes very little commitment to feverishly campaign for rights and then sit back comfortably after they are won. The American Hijab Design Contest is a celebration of our responsibilities—our responsibilities to directly and elegantly deliver a statement to the world expressing our identity. This is a time to define ourselves by what we are instead of what we are not. Individually, Muslim women are presenting their most fashion forward faces to America, and this contest aims to explore its collective impact. We are ultimately a new generation on a path to self-discovery in many aspects and fashion is no exception. The contest serves as a platform to explore the limitless possibilities in the realm of covered couture and to communicate our needs to American fashion designers.

This contest calls on entrants to design a style of hijab that is uniquely American. Contest organizer, Shaz Kaiseruddin explains, “What we have here today is most women wearing an Arab-style scarf on top of American-style outfits. Arabs have their style of hijab, Malaysians have theirs, Indians have theirs, but we haven’t come up with a Western or American-looking style. I’m hoping to cultivate the creation of a cutting-edge, very American hijab style.”

“Covered chic” is not a new concept in western fashion. Muslim women blended their modesty with current fashion in the Victorian Period when it was commonplace to wear hats by simply adding a separate scarf around their necks. Audrey Hepburn, Jackie Kennedy, and Grace Kelly have all added a touch of glamour to their look with scarves. Furthermore, the vibrant southern tradition of donning hats on church Sunday is a celebrated statement in fashion and devotion. The high-fashion French brand Hermes began designing their defining item in 1937-the scarf. Their scarves became a wildly popular trend in French couture. Now, it is time to re-introduce the scarf to mainstream fashion in America.

In addition to the re-inauguration of covered chic, the contest explores the implications of human right in fashion. The heinous acts of a few have wrongly served as ample reason to marginalize over one billion Muslims. The first step towards justifying hate for an entire population is to establish their otherness. “Muslims? They hate our freedom and love their violence. They are barbaric and their women are oppressed.” Even statements as ridiculous as “They are trying to take over our country,” are interlaced in common speech. This mentality has culminated in numerous hate crimes across America including murder and arson. It suffices to say that there have been some tense times for Muslims in America.

However, it’s not necessarily the overarching environment of tension that can strain life for a Muslim woman. It is the one-on-one interaction with uninformed people in the grocery store or gas station spitting their hate speech at me as they walk or drive away that can make me feel completely lost in my own neighborhood. Nevertheless, my relentless optimism tells me that where there is a problem there is an even greater opportunity. Art has an uncanny ability to unite people from all walks of life under a mutual appreciation. It can chip away so skillfully at the unfamiliar scorn resulting in a bewildered smile. It is that bewildered smile that I seek to extract from people with my choices in fashion. That is when I know I have done my job. It is in that fleeting moment that I can feel the gears of change creaking in their eyes as they walk past me in the street. The next time they are bombarded with hate speech they might greet it with suspicion instead of a comatose glance.

America's Next Top Model judge Derek Khan and Grammy-award winner Rhymefest have come on board as judges. In a short span this contest has grabbed the attention of the Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, and other major news outlets. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. Academics, average citizens, and experts within the fashion industry agree that this initiative is long overdue.

Jeffrey Sebelia, Project Runway winner, and Alexis Bittar, CFDA winner, have provided great advice and encouragement. “My favorite piece of advice was when Jeffrey said that in order to get the mainstream fashion world to pay attention, you need to be innovative and make them pay attention! And that is what we’re setting out to do,” says Ms. Kaiseruddin.

Dr. Kamyar Hedayat, an internationally published scholar, explains, “The American Hijab Contest so perfectly expresses the emancipation of both the educated Muslim woman and the modern Western mind from its outdated assumptions.”

It is high time that Muslim women tell the world what hijab is instead of being spoken for by well-wishers or xenophobic voices and that is what this contest aims to do. We are looking for our nation’s most creative designers to create a truly American hijab style that speaks to today’s American fashion. The goal is to unleash true creativity so the rules are not rigid- it does not have to be a scarf that is used to cover the hair. We want to remind all that hijab is as American as blue jeans. The objective is also to help make all kinds of covered chic fashion more commonplace so all women, Muslim or not, can feel they can be stylish without revealing clothes.

Please go to www.americanhijabdesign.com to see a complete detail of the rules and regulations for the contest including the deadline. We look forward to seeing your phenomenal ideas.


Read other articles:
Making a Difference by Saadijah Kalla
Sending Hope by Saadijah Kalla