To share the art of 'hijabifying'
As a young Muslim woman living in Australia, Zulfiye Tufa can’t even begin to count the number of misconceptions that strangers may have about her faith or her decision to wear the hijab. Luckily, she delights in breaking down stereotypes and seeks to do this, in part, through her creative experimentation with fashion and style.
Through her Instagram moniker - ‘thehijabstylist’ - the young pharmacist finds new ways to incorporate the hijab into stylish outfits and assists other Muslim women to do the same, a process she terms ‘hijabifying’. Other than a consistent elegance and modesty, Zulfiye’s looks are diverse and a scroll through her photos sees her rocking everything from shoulder pads and velvet, to 1950s style swing skirts with flowers seemingly blooming from her hijab.
Given her talent and creativity, it’s not surprising that ‘thehijabstylist’ has captured the attention of over 14 thousand Instagram followers with her Facebook page also following suit.
In Western countries globally there is increasing interest for fashion alternatives within Islamic communities and the popularity of ‘thehijabstylist’ is a testament to the fact that Zulfiye is meeting this brief exceptionally well with the right combination of style and good humour.
Over a hot chocolate following her One Quarter photo shoot, I am surprised when Zulfiye tells me that she is only 24. Laughing, she asks if she looks older but it’s not that. Zulfiye seems stronger and more self-assured than you would expect from someone of her age - she is an empowered young woman who is also generous enough to help guide others toward feeling the same, regardless of their faith.
Where did you get the idea to start your Instagram account, ‘thehijabstylist’?
The actual beginnings of ‘thehijabstylist’ started in my young high school days when I would struggle to dress in a way that made me feel beautiful and that didn't also compromise my beliefs in the process. I was one of only two girls at my high school who wore the hijab and found that everywhere I turned there were no real alternatives other than mainstream fashion. I promised myself that when I was older I would learn to incorporate the hijab into my look in a way that didn’t compromise my faith or personal style, and I wanted to help other girls do the same. I really wanted to find the middle ground.
As a teenager, I found that there were very few modest yet stylish clothes available. I would dread casual dress days, so I bought a sewing machine when I was 16 and began to experiment with different cuts and fabrics.
From those experiences in school to now, is there a key message that you are hoping to pass onto girls who may not be feeling comfortable in themselves and in expressing their spirituality?
Regardless of your faith or beliefs, it is important for to look inwards and think about the choices you make. Why do you dress the way you do? What has influenced your choice in the clothes you’re wearing right now? Do you feel comfortable, and are you proud of how you’re dressed?
People often assume that if you cover something on your body, it is because you must be ashamed of it, or wanting to hide it. That’s what the beauty industry is based on. That’s the whole idea behind concealer, body shaping underwear and one piece bathers. On the contrary, when you dress modestly in the public sphere, you are in control of how much you show of your body and you choose who sees it. And you’d be surprised that you've got to rely more on your personality and who you are as a person to get you by, as opposed to your looks.
Above photo by Lahza
So many girls feel as though who they are as a person and their value is based on their physical beauty…and booty! But when you dress modestly, you are reclaiming that power over your image. It is important that young women see that they have a role in that.
I think it can be hard for girls and young women to work out what their role is when pop-culture feeds us such confusing messages about feminism and sexuality. Take Beyoncé for example…
Exactly! I love Beyoncé, but if you look at photos of her and Jay Z at the recent Met Gala – she looked beautiful, and in particular I loved her headpiece - but then her dress was see-through and you could see her whole body. Whereas Jay Z was next to her in a full suit, leaving only his hands and face visible. Why is there such a double standard? It just irks me that when I choose to only show my hands and face people assume it’s because I'm ashamed of my body but when Jay Z does, no one questions it. Did I just compare myself to Jay Z? l think I just did..... (Laughs)
As young women, we are constantly saturated with images that attempt to equate looking good with being sexy and having a certain type of body. How do you define what is beautiful?
I really believe beauty is a different concept for everyone. Beauty does not come in a single size, skin tone or shape. When society, our magazines and advertising accept and promote this concept - THAT will be a truly beautiful day.
In terms of styling, I believe that there is beauty in clothing that is well made, with attention paid to the design and style. When I design clothing, I design with the intention of accentuating the fabric and detail of the dress, rather than the body that wears it. I don’t like to compare men and women, but at the same time if you look at how a suit is tailored and marketed, it’s all about the design, the fabric and the quality. Whereas in women’s clothing, it can be very much about how it will make your body look, think about the padding in bras and the cushions that come built into dresses! Nobody markets a suit by saying that they will make your penis look big!
There is a real culture of saying “of you’ve got it, flaunt it” and women can end up exposing their body even when they’re not comfortable with it.
In a recent Buzzfeed spread that you shared, there was a meme that mocks the perception held by some that women who wear the hijab ‘need’ those who don’t to ‘liberate’ them. You don’t seem like someone who needs liberating…
Yes, I found that so interesting! The way I saw it, a woman was trying to ‘liberate’ a Muslim woman, and paradoxically the way she did it was by ripping her scarf off. Often, genuinely well-meaning women pity Muslim women who wear a hijab, but in reality the real liberation is when women have the freedom to dress how they want to, and they are not forced to dress a certain way.
Where do you get your ideas for each outfit that you put together?
I take inspiration from everywhere: Instagram, other fashion bloggers and in particular street style. If I see a look I like, I’m already devising a way to hijabify it before you can say ‘go’.
That is where most of the creativity lies (in hijabifying). I recently made ‘Rih-Inspired’, a dress that was inspired by a red piece with chains draping over the shoulders that Rihanna wore. The dress was stunning and I wanted to keep the essence of the chains, but modify it so that I could wear it out. Overall, there is lots of diversity in my wardrobe. I like to keep my eyes and mind open to all looks and then I give things a twist to make them more modest.
What sort of responses do your looks elicit from people?
Mostly positive. I like to think it’s because I love colour, and I think that resonates with people. I’ve noticed that when I dress with more colourful clothing, I seem to be more approachable to people and it’s actually often a conversation starter, I always get ladies asking about my scarves and clothing.
It can be very easy for girls to bond over things like clothes and fashion!
Yes, there are more similarities than differences between Muslim women and women who have different beliefs. We think about the same things “what will I wear to my formal?”...Issues like that are often the same!
Yes, and on that note of common issues, how do you find the time to fit everything into your day?!
I work four days a week as a pharmacist and use the rest of the week for styling and developing my brand ‘thehijabstylist’. We all have the same amount of hours in our day - I think it’s all about time management. My husband is very supportive of me too, so I am very fortunate.
I saw a meme recently that said “You have as many hours in the day as Beyoncé”.
(Laughs) Exactly! I love her work ethic. She works very hard for what she wants and always aims high.
Who else helps you, with the photos and the styling?
My sisters mostly take the photos of me. When I was using my iPhone to take the photos I had around eleven thousand photos on my phone! Also, I often get my younger brother’s opinion on my outfits. He provides interesting insight as a 12 year old and I like that. It’s raw and always honest!
As a stylist, is there a pressure to always be dressed up?
There is the expectation now but it’s no pressure - I like it, it is enjoyable! Although, I went to a local restaurant recently and I was recognised by two people and I realised that I can’t slip up now! I’ve got to look sharp everyday (laughs). But that’s ok, because I enjoy it.
Two above photos by Lahza