275. Shaz Kaiseruddin (CEO and Creative Director, American Hijab Design Contest)

The fashion world is getting a lesson in innovation from Islam.

By its very nature, fashion is about interpreting looks from one culture or lifestyle and mixing them with another. Towards that end, Chicago human rights attorney and fashionista Shaz Kaiseruddin may be on to something big by tapping into a $96 billion industry that is covered chic–hijab.

Shaz is spearheading a national contest for aspiring and established designers which will involve them creating their own interpretation of what her company refers to as American Hijab.  She wants to dispel myths while at the same time showcasing unique fashions that have their roots in centuries old tradition but are as modern and hot as looks seen on the fashion streets of New York, London, Paris and Los Angeles.  Set to launch in November, the American Hijab Design Contest will offer widespread exposure and opportunity for designers to interpret this centuries old form of dress any way they can possibly imagine. And the contest will be open to everyone in the US. Contestants need not be a designer or in design school.

Covered chic has been seen among various celebrities (Jennifer Lopez, Rihanna, Madonna, Angelina Jolie among others) and other high profile women in recent years, but its popularity among mainstream consumers appears to be on the rise as well.  “Hijabi” hit the runways of the recent New York Fashion Week, which featured a number of “hijab friendly” looks for winter, including those of well known designer Nzinga Knight. “More and more we are seeing covered chic looks on the streets of major cities like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas and Atlanta,” says Shaz.  “Hijab fashion draws from a forward thinking clientele.

There are many American women, including many Muslims, who wish to wear this style and comprise a lucrative market.  American trends tend to spread quickly to other countries, thus expanding that market.  And we hope that the more commonplace covered chic images become, and the more such images spread through pop culture, the less pressure all women, Muslim or not, will feel to wear clothing they are not comfortable with.”
Shaz has received sound advice and encouragement for the contest from friends, business colleagues, and even some of the industry’s top young designers, including Jeffrey Sebelia, winner of Project Runway’s third season, and Alexis Bittar, recipient of the 2010 CFDA Accessory Designer of the Year award.  She hopes to attract sponsors and celebrity participation, possibly as judges.
What really drove home the idea for a large scale design contest happened after a friend who is blond with blue eyes converted to Islam and began to wear hijab.  “Suddenly, the first question from people meeting her was ‘where are you from?'”, says Shaz.  “My friend has that All-American, surfer girl look, but the head scarf immediately conjured up misguided impressions, because it is seen as something foreign to America.  I’d like to help change that.  And instead of taking a more serious approach, I thought we could have fun with it by involving fashion.”
Please take a look at the American Hijab Design Contest – this is an idea born from one woman’s powerful connections between high fashion and universal acceptance of all cultures and religions.