Is “Hipster Hijabi” an oxymoron to you? To many people, Muslims as well as non-Muslims, it is. But today we’re interviewing a young woman who will prove this belief wrong.
She is 18-year-old Syrian American Summer Al Barcha, who turned the teenage obsession with taking selfies and sharing them on Instagram into an opportunity to inspire Muslim hijabis how to dress modestly and fashionably.
She has more than 35,000 followers, and she is now attracting potential sponsorship proposals. Last October, Al Barcha took part in Fashion Forward in Dubai, the definitive fashion platform for the Middle East, among many fashion-conscious Muslim women from all over the world.
Editor: Tell us about Hipster Hijabis. When and how did it start?
Al Barcha: Hipster Hijabis is the name of the Instagram page I launched in August of 2012 as a way to inspire women to embrace dressing modestly, especially in a society where it is not customary, such as in the United States. I wanted to show that it is possible to still take part in the same mainstream fashions and just adjust them to fit one’s personal standards of modesty.
Editor: How did you, the hijabis, get to know each other and start to cooperate?
Al Barcha: This has actually been a misconception in the media and I have never cooperated with any hijabis as part of the page. The hijabis mentioned in the media are also embracing modest fashion, but we are not related. They, however, named us all as “hipster hijabis”, when, in fact, that is just the identity I use online instead of my actual name, Summer Al Barcha.
Editor: Why did you choose this name?
Al Barcha: I chose this name because hipsters are people who like to dress differently from the crowd and still appear modest, and hijabis represent people like me who wear the hijab and/or want to be modest. I wanted to inspire both due to my reluctance to today’s conformed and revealing trends.
Editor: Who are your targeted customers?
Al Barcha: I do not sell anything so I don’t have customers, but I would say my targeted audience is young women of all faith backgrounds wanting to make the extra leap to dress more modestly. I actually have several loyal Jewish Orthodox and Christian followers who look to my page for inspiration since they also want to dress more conservatively and still display their style.
Editor: Tell us how you attracted them to you.Al Barcha: I do not sell anything so I don’t have customers,
Al Barcha: My audience, since I don’t have customers, were attracted from the controversy I was a part of in my collaboration with Mimu Maxi, a Jewish Orthodox clothing brand in New York City that sent me a skirt to model in one of my outfits as an advertisement. This later then led to criticism, especially because it was at the height of the Gaza-Israeli conflicts in the summer of 2014.
But nonetheless, the controversy brought a lot of attention and positive feedback in two faiths working together for the sake of promoting modesty in the United States.
Editor: What are your biggest obstacles?
Al Barcha: My biggest obstacle is balancing my studies and keeping up with the Instagram page and website Hipster Hijabis. But nonetheless I enjoy a challenge and so I hope to continue to inspire girls around the world. It’s a great feeling.
Editor: “Modest clothing” is a relative term. How do you define it?
Al Barcha: I would define modest clothing this way: every culture has a different standard of modest clothing ranging from full covering of head-to-toe to shorts that are mid-thigh. For someone to define what is modest clothing for themselves, they look at the society they live in and find their comfort level of modesty that would not make them appear highly sexual or body-revealing.
Obviously, as Muslims we have certain guidelines for what to cover in our bodies, but modest clothing in general for all faiths can be defined differently depending on their cultural or religious standards.