This story was written for my Journalism and Religion Class.
Shanada Lewis never thought she would sell an outfit to someone in the Middle East. Her company was just a small online boutique based from Austin, Texas.
She had started her online boutique in 2009 when she was seven months pregnant. She could not find any place in Austin that sold clothes for Muslim women. She struggled to find places in the city that she was comfortable shopping in or easy access to.
That’s how The Ummah Shop was founded.
“I was frustrated with the lack of fashion in Austin. When I started, my thought process of the shop was like it would be a Mary Kay party with Islamic clothes,” said Lewis.
Before the online boutique was founded, Lewis sold clothing from her home, carnivals, stores and EBay. After selling articles of clothing on EBay, she decided to open up her own online boutique.
Fashion was never something Lewis was interested in. A few years after she converted to Islam, she realized that her clothing was how she could express herself.
“The interest in fashion came out of default,” she said.
Lewis was Christian for majority of her life. She had been part of many religions, but always found a way to disprove them. In 2006, that all changed.
She found Islam.
“Being raised Christian, I knew that I had a strong belief in God. It was just a lot of confusion that pertain with the trinity. It was difficult for me to rationalize,” said Lewis. “I came upon Islam and it was just absolutely clarity that I hadn’t experience with any other faith I had studied.”
She also took on wearing the hijab. She said that she tried it on to see how she would feel in it on.
“I came to love and appreciate for the hijab,” she said. “It’s a reminder that we are more than just beauty. We have a soul.”
The Ummah Shop might be the only local online boutique, but the shop is one of thousands on the Internet. With the rise of fashion blogs catered to Muslim women, online boutiques have been popping up all over the world to serve millions of women.
Marketing firm Ogilvy Noor reported that the 7 million Muslims that live in the United States have a combined consumer market worth of $170 billion. That means that the American business are not taking advantage of this untapped consumer market.
Because the fashion industry is not taking advantage of the untapped Muslim consumer market, they must spend money online to buy clothing.
“We were definitely one of the earlier companies to pop up,” said Melanie Elturk, the CEO and Chief Designer of Haute Hijab. “We went from being this small little mom and pop shop to an international brand that ships daily all around the world.”
Elturk created the online boutique and blog to provide modest yet fashionable clothing catered toward Muslim women.
“Our philosophy lies in the Quranic tradition of wearing the head cover (hijab) and dressing modestly in order to be recognized as women of faith and to uphold modesty,” said Elturk. “We aim to ease the process of finding modest clothing by providing a site where every piece of clothing sold is hijab-friendly.”
Elturk found her inspiration from working with the Muslim youth in her hometown of Detroit. She noticed that the hijab was an issue for young girls. Many young girls struggled to keep it on, but others refused to put it on.
Unlike Lewis, Elturk had always been an interest in fashion. That’s why she felt the need to do something.
“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,” said Elturk.
Now, Elturk is running her Chicago-based business from Dubai where she caters to women all across the world.
Elturks said that she hopes that her shop and blog will inspire Muslim women to wear and love the hijab and feel confident.
“For those who aren’t Muslim, I hope it will serve to break barriers, foster communication and commonalities between people who are told they are different, when in reality have much more in common than not,” she added.