The hijab gets an eco-friendly makeover
Muslim designer finds niche accommodating environmental concerns of observant women
My friend Rahma Shere uses public transit, participates in offshore clean ups and even picks through her family's garbage to make sure nothing biodegradable is mistakenly put in the trash.
Despite growing greener every minute, there is one item Shere has worn every day since the age of 11 that has not changed for the better: the hijab. The fabrics available aren't eco-friendly and designers seem oblivious that observant Muslims can be as concerned about the environment as anyone else.
"Most of the scarves are made in the Middle East as well as South Asia and China ... I get very self-conscious because I know the only choice I have affects the lives of many people involved in the manufacturing of the hijab," says Shere.
"It makes me frustrated that there aren't many accessible and affordable eco options for Muslims."
Enter Abeer Al-Azzawi. In a green marketplace, where eco pet accessories and organic baby clothes worn for mere months are offered to consumers in abundance, Al- Azzawi recognized that the hijab, customarily worn every day, was completely overlooked.
"From all of my research, I never found one eco hijab that was available," the 25-year-old says from her home in Ottawa.
"It's not just in the environmental area, the image of the Muslim woman in the media is not represented, period.
"If people don't focus on the hijab, there isn't going to be any trends applied to it, let alone eco fabrics."
In 2007, Al-Azzawi – who doesn't wear the traditional head scarf herself – created Queendom Hijabs and the line quickly gained popularity for its innovative sports hijabs and fleece designs that could be worn during the winter. After using soy- and organic bamboo-based fabrics for some styles, Al-Azzawi realized that going green was an important trend.
However, she had some obstacles to overcome.
"Enviro fabrics can be pricey and more expensive than conventional fabrics. It can be a little beyond the price point of the customer.
"Also, Muslim women do not wear tight clothes and require a lot more material to wear longer lengths and create draping."
She found that going offshore was not the way to keep her line affordable.
"It's easier and cheaper to manufacture in Canada, it's less hassle, there is quality control and you can keep a close eye on it," she says.
Now Al-Azzawi, a graduate student in international development at the University of Ottawa, has created the "Eco Hijab" collection, which will be sold online starting next week.
Many of her eco-conscious customers are in the United States (all her prices are in U.S. dollars) and she says there is healthy interest from women in the Montreal area.
"My goal is to make every hijab eco," she says.
The Eco Hijab collection will be available for $14.99 (U.S.) at queendom-hijabs.com.