Nubian Narratives: Modest Fashion and Entrepreneurship feat. Ayah
We’re back for another feature on Nubian Narratives, and our guest this time is a new friend and fellow artist, Ayah Rashid. She and I met at an open-mic event here in Abu Dhabi and share a lot of similarities. That’s a quick way to build a friendship, isn’t it?
In this article, Ayah shares her journey to and through entrepreneurship with her modest fashion line, Sinjab. I was particularly inspired by her motivation to create the line, and what she hopes this brand will accomplish. Have a read and feel the energy surging through Ayah’s words!
Welcome to Nubian Narratives, Ayah! Tell our beautiful readers a little bit about you.
I’m currently a senior studying Literature and Creative Writing at New York University Abu Dhabi with a minor in visual art. I’m an African American Muslim woman who’s lived and traveled all over the world. I was encouraged by my parents to do what makes me happy and find what I’m passionate about. I knew from a pretty early age that writing stories sent me to a place of bliss. Dressing myself for the day was probably the best part of my morning, so fashion also really excited me. I was homeschooled from about 3rd grade until high school and that environment gave me plenty of time to truly develop a sense of self that was centered around creativity and curiosity. This upbringing is what drove me to find creative solutions to problems and to never compromise (as hard as that can be sometimes) what I really want to do in favor of being stereotypically “cool” or “popular” - I don’t fit into lots of the typical boxes. Fun fact: I play Ultimate Frisbee competitively and my senior thesis is a screenplay/short-fiction hybrid about the nuances and complexities of navigating an African American identity. I really got into fashion when I moved to Atlanta for high school. My Mom had taught me how to sew by then and I got involved in the local fashion show. People were really into my designs, and because my Dad has a head for business he was like “why don’t you make it into a brand?” So that’s how my fashion line, Sinjab, was born. It wasn’t really established properly as a company until a couple years ago but I suppose it’s been in the works for years!
Having grown up partially in Dubai, UAE and partially in Atlanta, USA, would you say you drew inspiration for this current creative and business venture from your upbringings? If so, how?
Absolutely! I lived in Dubai for 10 years where the Muslim women around me all wore hijab. Their clothing was as modest as you could imagine, with very few bright attention-grabbing colors, and women wore everything from Niqab (the face veil) to skirts and long shirts and full traditional hijab. When I moved with my family to Atlanta, I was plunged into an environment where Muslim women didn’t cover, or wore their scarves in turbans, and were just infinitely more complex than what I had previously imagined. Because I saw how Muslim women in the US shaped their clothing and style of hijab to their personalities, I realized that this really should be the function of clothes, especially modest clothing. The narrative of a lot of modest fashion brands out there is to be stylish but to not stand out too much in terms of color and clothing design. We’re supposed to be elegant but reserved. But what about the girl who wants to be loud and funky? Or bright and active? Or artsy? There are so many different Muslim women out there and we can’t make clothes for just one type anymore. Muslim women are the most creative fashionistas I’ve ever seen and modest fashion designers should cater to that and enhance it. That’s what I aim to do with my brand.
As modesty is the the crux of Sinjab, why is that element of fashion (or being) so important to you? And why is it important that you share that with the world?
Modesty is important to me because it is a constraint I love working with — it is a fuel for creative opportunities and design. It’s easy to make a crop top to accentuate you by simply showing that part of your body off. It’s infinitely more difficult to make a similar piece of clothing modest and make the wearer feel the same way. I think it’s also important to make modest fashion because it’s not as readily available for purchase in regular stores. Muslim women have to layer and mix and match to make their outfits modest. I would love to see women not have to buy a thousand pieces of clothing from twenty different stores just to put together outfits. It’s important for me to share what my idea of modesty is because there should be multiple narratives. I think modesty, true modesty, is a reflection of the person within. If your clothes are able to reflect that inner you - create within you an inner confidence - then the clothes are doing their job. My brand is about making girls feel beautiful no matter what they wear.
In the Note From the Founder on your site, you mention “a serious vision for the direction [you] hope modest fashion goes in”. What is the vision you have for Sinjab within the larger fashion world?
My vision for Sinjab centers on solving a few issues I see in the fashion world today, and having fun while I’m at it :). Keep in mind this is coming from someone whose only real interaction with the fashion world was with interning at a fashion startup, talking to designers, participating in fashion shows, and following designers on Instagram. My research, however, has turned up a few problems that I want Sinjab, as it grows, to address. For one, modest fashion is far too expensive. Starting out, I can understand why brands mark up their prices, but if you’re an established every-day-wear modest fashion brand, your prices shouldn’t be forcing young girls to shop at H&M and Forever 21 instead. Additionally, I feel that modest fashion is far too monochromatic, in terms of the models they choose to promote clothes as well as the color schemes of the clothes themselves (this is changing, but not fast enough). I certainly don’t want to be another brand that perpetuates those issues. Modest fashion isn’t just for hijabis and for one type of girl — it’s for everyone. Lastly, fast fashion is a huge problem that contributes to waste and harms our environment. I don’t want that to be Sinjab’s narrative. So in a nutshell, Sinjab aims to provide young women with lower prices, high-quality clothes, and to be a sustainable business that heals the environment instead of harming it.
What have been the most exciting, monotonous, and humbling parts of your journey as an entrepreneur?
I have learned so much over the last few years! Sinjab really only got started less than a year ago (which is crazy!) but it has truly been a learning experience. What excites me is the story behind each item, the meaning I want to convey with campaigns, and making sure that the clothes are more than just clothes - that the concepts, colors, and designs connect with customers. I don’t want customers to just love the clothes because they’re cute, I want customers to love them because they were born from a creative vision they can vibe with. I can’t say any part has been monotonous because I am learning something new every day, from how to communicate with factories to educating myself on fabrics and marketing strategies. I’m a one-woman show so everything is still very new to me. What’s been humbling is knowing that I might fail and defining failure for myself. Failure is scary but I’m learning to live with the reality that this entire endeavour might come to a halt for whatever reason. But that doesn’t give me an excuse to give up or work less - if I’m going to do this I have to do it with every part of myself otherwise it won’t be worth it. I am also humbled by all the support I’ve been given. I am incredibly lucky to have friends and family who believe in me and what I want to do and I’m so empowered by it. My wish is that every girl who has a dream is supported like this.
Is there a mantra you live by? If so, could you share it with us?
A mantra...I am not sure I have one! I consider myself an optimist (I get it from my Dad) and he is always teaching me to look at the bright side of things. I have also learned from personal experience that even if things are disappointing or frustrating there is a lesson to be learned and working with such a new business I have to deal with that reality all the time. Things don’t happen the way I want or take longer than I thought, but I always have to remind myself to take it slow, and that there is no rush towards success. Success doesn’t happen overnight, even though on social media it certainly seems like it.
At this very moment, what are you looking forward to?
I’m so excited for the winter collection that will hopefully be dropping in December. There is so much work to do but I am always excited to collaborate with my creative peers. I desire to create something that has real meaning behind it that was thought through and created with intention. I’m looking forward to the feedback I’ll get about the new clothes. Feedback on the designs is really important to me because it helps me understand who I’m designing for, what they really want. I’m just excited about the future in general. The sky’s the limit for what I can do with Sinjab next and that is why it’s so important to be curious; there is no other way to grow.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, Ayah, for sharing your narrative on where you come from and where you hope to go. Nubian Narratives exists to pull together folks from all different walks of life - everyone has a gem of valuable insight or experience that may possibly tie the threads of humanity just a bit tighter.
To check out Sinjab and keep up with Ayah’s work, visit www.sinjabfashion.net/.
And, kind and good reader, because we’re on this topic of conversation, do you have an interest that you could turn into a benefit for the greater good? If so, what is it? Humor me in the comments below, I’m curious…
Interested in being featured in Nubian Narratives? Contact me here.