Inspired by the modern day feminists of the post-colonial Muslim world, my dedication to women’s education and empowerment extends far beyond the needles and bolts of fashion. NISI also acts as a women’s empowerment project because it supports education for young women in developing countries.
The NISI Clothing Line and Women’s Empowerment Project – Defining The New Western Muslim Woman
Muslim women of past generations had a particular style of dress associated with their culture, i.e., a dress that allowed them to adhere to the religious mandate of covering while still remaining stylish within their culture. Whether this dress was a Pakistani shalwar khameez, an Indian sari, or an Arab jalabiyya, these women were able to fit in and follow current trends, modifying their cultural dress to suit their needs. But what of the plight of the modern, Western Muslim woman? What options does she have if she would like to follow Western fashion trends yet maintain a sense of cover? The only options, it seems, are to rummage through the racks searching for oversized clothing, find creative ways of layering, and hope current trends are in sync with her modest sense of style.
The challenges here are not simply a matter of garb, but of acknowledging the existence of the Western Muslim identity, and defining what it means for millions of young Muslims who were raised in the West and who consider it their home. They come from different walks of life, different races, ethnicities, and have different levels of religiosity, but they all have one thing in common – their Western identity. From their lifestyle to their dress, defining the mindsets, loyalties and proclivities of young Western Muslims has become somewhat of a science project for Muslims and non-Muslims alike in a post 9/11 world. Vacillating between two worlds is no longer an option – we must define ours within our current context.
The NISI clothing collection is such attempt to allow Muslim women to map out their own identity in a Western context by offering them the chance to adhere to the Muslim criteria of modest dress without having to compromise current fashion trends. The NISI fashion concept is formulaic in that the first line comes in layered sets designed to be worn together – tops, wraps, jackets and scarves– allowing a woman to choose her level of modesty by taking off or putting on as much as she feels is appropriate in a particular setting. The outfits are vibrant in color and vast in fabrics and trims. The avant-garde styles are modified in length and size, providing the young Western Muslim woman with options. A woman can choose to wear a sexy halter, which otherwise may be off-limits to her, with a blazer or wrap that was designed specifically for it. She can sport the halter when she feels it is appropriate – whether among a group of girls or around family, and then don the matching cover and/or the scarf when transitioning to a mixed setting. The shift between sexy and modest is effortless.
The idea of NISI was born while I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago. After completing my course work, I began traveling throughout the Middle East to research my thesis topic which focused on reconciling Islamic law with modernity. During my travels I observed the way in which young Muslim women throughout the world negotiated spaces via dress. I saw a young woman at the American University in Cairo, where I was studying at the time, dressed in jeans, a bikini-top over a flesh-toned turtleneck, and a scarf draped over her head. I realized the great effort these women made to combine Western fashion sensibilities with the Islamic guidelines of modesty. The struggle is even more acute in the West and so I decided to embark on NISI, which became a creative expression of my thesis.
Inspired by the modern day feminists of the post-colonial Muslim world, my dedication to women’s education and empowerment extends far beyond the needles and bolts of fashion. NISI also acts as a women’s empowerment project because it supports education for young women in developing countries. Clothing sales from the NISI project go towards the building of secular schools for girls in the earthquake devastated regions of Kashmir as part of my husband’s non-profit endeavor, Actual Size Global. In addition, all of the designs are original and are manufactured in the USA in a fair-trade production facility. I hope for NISI to become a label that is recognized among young Muslim women as a new way to define their Western identity.
To learn more about NISI or Actual Size, please visit http://www.nisichicago.com or www.actualsizeglobal.org.
Anisa Noormohamad is the creator of the NISI fashion line.