Mumtahana Elahi, a successful fashion icon, she has broken the stereotyped idea of fashion in Bangladesh and globally. Maureen Nawer writes about her success and idea of fashion.
Over the years, the word fashions have had different meanings. With the change of eras, we have experienced shifts in people’s taste in how they want to groom themselves up. Nowadays, when we think of women’s fashion, mostly, we seem to picture skinny models in western clothes walking down the ramp. But hold on! When did anyone say being fashionable meant you need to be following Bollywood or Hollywood styles? Anything beyond — fashion traditions rooted in different African cultures or Middle Eastern styles, fashions influenced by Islamic history and practice is often considered unfashionable. That is just a clichéd that the fashion industry has sown into our minds over the years.
So, ladies and gentlemen, let’s meet our Abayaholic, Mumtahana Elahi — a third year student of fashion designing, a fashion blogger and the country editor of Gaya Magazine (Singapore). I have had the privilege of talking to this beautiful soul about her journey a few days back and what I learnt will what the rest of my writing will be about.
Let’s start with her inspiration on the name. Back in 2010, Mumtahana went for performing hajj with her family and that is when the black, long, trailing abayas caught her eyes. She fell in love with them, and decided she would put Abayaholic within brackets in her facebook profile beside her real name. And that is where it all began.
Hijab and fashion, however, is believed does not go hand in hand — this is a concept ingrained within our minds by the religious ethnicity. But Mumtahana begs to differ! When asked, she explained that being covered is beautiful. It is a confidence like no other. Just like you have the right to reveal yourself, you also have the right to be covered. It means you do not have to wear a low neck or a sleeveless to feel beautiful. You are beautiful by your own standards and not by what people has to say. She further said that she came across a lot of young girls who want to take up hijab but fear that people would judge her and hence, restrain. The misconception that everyone has is that if you choose to cover, you have to wear a black abaya and wear the headscarf in the simplest way possible from day 1, else people are gonna talk behind your back. Mumtahana wants to eradicate this conception and show that being a hijabi doesn’t mean you lose all colours of life. She wants to be the inspiration for the young girls to start hijab. Because of this idea of hers, I myself have seen a few degrading comments under her photos calling her a disgrace in the name of hijabis. But the bold and carefree Mumtahana stands by her own words. This is exactly the words from her blog — ‘While I am advocating for modesty being a liberal Muslim, I have faced much judgement from society. Still I have managed to keep my head held high and billow through the obstacles in my way. And that’s what Abayaholic is all about; inspiring the youth to overcome the fears, and to be empowered with faith and style.’
She had been running her page on facebook as a public figure for quite some time but officially started her blog Abayaholic from March 2016, which was just some random picking and uploading photos, until she got positive responses. Those responses are her prime motivation towards this journey. On asking how she relates her studies with blogging, she replied, ‘Studying fashion designing has opened doors for me to learn everything that I was passionate about. Blogging is quite a difficult task, all that photography, writing, outfits ideas, may be if I did not study in fashion, I would lag.’
Mumtahana’s first professional brand feature had been with Plaire in early 2016. Starting off with Plaire, she worked with Sciccoso and very recently with this Japanese designer called Ryoko Katayama. She regularly features brands and their outfits in her blog.
Besides being a fashion blogger, Mumtahana Elahi is also the country editor of Gaya Magazine since last June. Gaya meaning style is an international modest fashion and lifestyle digital magazine for today’s Muslim women, based in Asia but operates worldwide featuring fashion from all over the world. Articles by international bloggers are published here. Through Gaya, she made her way to the Kuala Lumpur Modest Fashion week 2016 which is the biggest international modest fashion event. Last year, it took place in Putrajaya, Malaysia. She went there as both a country editor and a fashion blogger. Modest Fashion Week created an immense platform for networking of fashion bloggers all over the globe. Her collaboration with Ryoko Katayama was based there. When talking about this event that people rarely know of, Mumtahana stated, ‘Modest fashion week gave me a ground to represent Bangladesh internationally. I want to represent my country and our tradition to the international crowd. Maybe the Bengali tradition has an exposure; but I want to diversify the whole thing that the language of modesty is vast and is not constricted within a certain dress code.’
She made it to the cover of the latest (March 2017) edition of the Gaya Magazine featuring Sciccoso under the title ‘Black out with Sciccoso’ which itself is a huge honour for her and our country too.
Lastly, I had asked her if she wants to say something for the girls out there. Her message to the young generation:
‘Be independent. Work on what you’re passionate about. Be empowered, humble and down to earth and embrace one another with love and respect. Modesty is beautiful. No matter how the society or the mainstream crowd judge you, you know that crown on your head is virtuous. Stand proud in your cover.’
In the western countries, Muslim women get targeted for wearing the hijab. We get marginalised, we get called oppressed, uneducated, seen as less achieved and so many other labels we care not to mention. But in the same breath, the hijab and our modest fashion is slowly being taken over by the same group of people who have thrown those labels on us. Rumours say, even Lindsay Lohan will be launching a modest fashion line! Well, Louis Vuitton already has one!
Maureen Nawer is student of BRAC University.