Suraya Mahumed is a modern-day superwoman. She is a mother of two, runs her own clothing line, and is a strong activist for human rights around the world. Although her brand, Nahda Designs, is only a year old, she is already putting it to good use by hosting charity fashion shows in collaboration with other modest clothing brands to raise funds for various nonprofit organizations. The second annual Relief on the Runway took place in Tustin, California on November 11, and this year Mahumed chose Syria as the relief of choice- a cause that speaks to her on the deepest level of empathy and compassion.
“I watched a video that changed my life. A Syrian girl whose mother was shot...her face haunted me for days,” a misty-eyed Mahumed told the group of fashionistas, philanthropists, activists, students, and artists who had gathered to support her cause. “As a mother of two I couldn’t bear to see that. I couldn’t erase that image from my mind.”
With 100% of the ticket sales going to Shaam Relief Foundation to support Syrian victims, Mahumed found an outlet for her concern and sympathy. But in doing the event, she also brought together featured spoken word artists, international activists, local and national modest fashion designer labels, and of course, the highlight of the event, an elegant fashion show.
From pleated maxi skirts to draped tunics, the fashion show was an indication of the emerging industry of modest fashions stateside. The void that has existed in the American Muslim community of modest yet stylish apparel is at last being filled by Muslim-owned modest fashion labels, such as Mohajababes, SixteenR, and Mahumed’s Nahda Designs. But lately, even in the mainstream fashion world there has been a shift away from skin-tight, skimpy clothing in favor of layered and voluminous cuts by major fashion labels and retailers. This inclination towards Muslim-friendly clothing has encouraged many Muslim women to experiment with their style while keeping true to their beliefs.
“I am excited to be a part of the emerging Muslim fashion industry. I am glad it is finally on trend, and I believe it is here to stay,” Mahumed told Aslan Media as she ushered her models for a group photo after the runway show. Another Muslim fashions entrepreneur, Sabika Makhdoom, was also in attendance and had her designs showcased on the runway. Makhdoom, who has been running AlSundus boutique in Seattle, Washington since 1999 where she stocks modest fashion brands -- including her own brand “Sabika Seattle” -- flew in especially for the charity fashion show because she wanted to be a part of a charitable cause on a professional level. The event was also a launching pad for other up-and-coming fashion labels, such as Veilure Couture whose hijabs were styled with the ensembles on the runway. Marwa, the owner and designer of the brand, was glad to receive a positive reaction at the “first official launch” of her line.
Guest of honor Debbie Almontaser, a schoolteacher by profession and formerly the founding principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy, spoke about the plight of Syrians and how social media is allowing her to “feel and breathe the urgency in Syria.” Almontaser also says she is pleased to see the emphasis on women, culture and fashion at the event. “Fashion is not necessarily about female exploitation, but is a way of female expression. We are seeing a new phase of Muslims in America, where Muslim women are coming forward to participate in fashion and be a modern Muslimah.”
Ambreen Baig and Yasmine El Haj Ibrahim, who helped with the event and were models for the evening, felt that when it comes to raising funds people are more proactive when you engage them with an interactive production.
As the show came to an end, there were nothing but smiling faces and gratified hearts all around. “I feel people
spoke from the heart tonight. We raised funds creatively, and thats what matters the most,” beamed Mahumed.
Although the ground reality in Syria is far from such warm feelings, high-fives, laughter-filled photo sessions, and “I am proud of you” exchanges going around the room, this group of young women- and also the few men that were part of the driving force of the event- have made a small, though substantial, difference in the life of their Syrian brothers and sisters.