Last year Amal Abuelhija launched Amelena Designs in New Jersey, a store that presents modern fashion trends through modest clothing items. She spoke with M Sadeel Allam about her venture.
M. Sadeel Allam: Tell us about yourself and your background.
Amal Abuelhija: I am originally from Palestine and I moved to the U.S. in 1996. My journey in the U.S. was not an easy one, particularly because my family moved often and I found myself having to adjust to one new school after another. Still, hopping from one school, neighborhood and community to the next gave me the opportunity to meet different people and become acquainted with their cultures, languages & lifestyles.
I always had a keen interest in the arts, fashion and design. I took a series of design classes over the course of a year, all the while pursuing my Islamic law studies. In short, I have interests and hobbies that run the gamut– science, Islamic studies, Arabic calligraphy, sketching and fashion design, to name a few!
M. Sadeel Allam: What made you leap into the risky field of entrepreneurship?
Amal Abuelhija: As a conservative Muslim woman living in a non-Muslim country, it has always been a struggle to find stylish clothing that suits my taste and meets my criteria of modesty–clothing that would represent me and my personality without compromising my religious beliefs. Growing up, I always tailored my own clothes to fit my needs; for example, I would adjust the length of the pants, skirts and dresses so they came down to the ankles. Eventually I thought, there must be hundreds of thousands of conservative women of all faiths in the same boat as me! Why not use my creative streak to give these ladies the opportunity to dress in the way they want—stylish, modern but without exposing their bodies? That was the germ of the idea and with careful planning the idea became Amelena.
M. Sadeel Allam: How did you settle on the name Amelena Designs?
Amal Abuelhija: The word Amelena originates from two separate names– Amal and Lena. Amal in Arabic means high hopes and values and Lena translates to intricacy and beauty. Together they formed Amelena, a name that essentially expresses my mission: to create exquisite items of clothing that carry the value of modesty.
M. Sadeel Allam: Can you elaborate on how your faith informs your work as a designer and a business woman?
Amal Abuelhija: Well, with each piece that I create, I keep in mind that God values women immensely and we should not diminish our gender’s value by flaunting our bodies and beauty. When I sit down to sketch a design, I love to reflect on the worth of women—both in their roles as teachers, child bearers and community leaders and through their qualities of intelligence, intuition and strength. In all that women do, I want them to feel comfortable and confident. That’s the mind frame with which I begin each of my designs.
M. Sadeel Allam: Have you learned any personal lessons since your launch of Amelena Designs?
Amal Abuelhija: Trust in Allah! When you jump into entrepreneurship, trust that success will come if you have the right intention, work like crazy and give it time. From a practical point-of-view, I learned that I need to do my homework, fastidiously research every aspect of every piece of my business before I make decisions. It also helps to surround yourself with people you trust and are willing to delegate tasks to.
M. Sadeel Allam: What’s next for Amelena Designs?
Amal Abuelhija: Over time, we would love to introduce a line specifically for the professional woman, as well as create bridal and formal wear inshallah.