21 June 2009

Rethinking the hijab

August 14th, 2008
David May

Al-Azzawi: "If you wanted to get a pair of yoga pants there were tons in the market, but if you wanted to get a hijab there wasn't anything"

Local entrepreneur takes Muslim head garments in a new direction

Hijab-wearing women of the world are reaching new heights of liberation thanks to the continuing innovations of 25-year-old Ottawa entrepreneur Abeer Al-Azzawi. However, the liberation she offers has nothing to do with Muslim women tossing aside a garment often misrepresented as a symbol of repression. She loves it. Through her company Queendom Hijabs she offers a collection of hip hijabs to liberate modern Muslim women who were previously captive to a limited market.

"I started Queendom Hijabs because I thought it was not fair for girls that wore the hijab to not have their image reflected in the market," explains the University of Ottawa master's student. "If you wanted to get a pair of yoga pants there were tons in the market, but if you wanted to get a hijab there wasn't anything."

Offering an expanding range of creations, she's sold her products all over the world, with orders coming from the U.S., Singapore, Europe and Australia. She says she's used cotton, bamboo, polyester, linen and water-repellent fabrics to create eco-friendly, athletic, winter, formal and international hijab lines to fill previous gaps in the market, and to ease life for those who choose to don the traditional garb. Her winter hijabs come in fleece and she offers another she describes as "a toque-hijab" in knit. Her athletic line offers breath ability, and the Eco-friendly hijabs are made with bamboo fabric.

Wisely attacking vacant market niches, the savvy businesswoman stresses her effort is not a contemporary approach to pushing religion. She's only spicing up the lives of those who choose to wear the hijab, and taking some pressure off by making wearing headscarves fun. She points to her international line as an example of how she's even helping to reform false perceptions of Muslim women.

"[The international line] helps take away some of the negative images of wearing the hijab," she says. "If you go out wearing a hijab, you inevitably get looks, but when you put a Western symbol on it, it confuses a lot of onlookers. It's really too bad how Islam and Muslims are often misunderstood."

A true capitalist, Al-Azzawi says she has big plans for her company, which she began in 2007 with a grant from an Ontario government program.

"I would really like to see a store for hijabs where parents are comfortable coming in with their kids," she says. "I have a whole vision of what the store would be like."

To that end, Al-Azzawi says she spends an inordinate amount of time dreaming up new designs attending trade shows and Muslim events and promoting the company online, and in the media and whenever she can.

Although she dreams of a steady march of customers for her future retail operation, she may never have any use herself for what she creates. She doesn't wear a hijab.

"For me the hijab means you rely on your thoughts more and your ideas more, and I really don't think I have that many decent ideas," she says.

No ideas? You might want to rethink that, Abeer.

Queendom Hijabs

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