IF you’ve never heard the name Naballah Chi, it’s time to get familiar.
Naballah along with her fellow ‘sisters’ - Basma K, Yuna and Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned are all part of a growing list of Muslim women who are trendsetters in the fashion world when it comes to modest fashion. By their example they’ve shown that women and Muslim women in particular can look just as chic, elegant and sophisticated, covered up. As a devout Muslim woman, Naballah is out to prove that Muslim women can be fashionably conscious and indulge their inner fashionista while maintaining their modesty at the same time. Naballah is confident, not to mention quite petite but her manner of expressing herself and her beliefs belie her age. She’s only 24. Naballah combined her love for writing, photography and of course fashion and started writing her own self-titled blog ‘Naballah Chi’ and also has her own Youtube channel which she uses to dispense advice on the many different ways one can style a hijab, from the most simple for everyday use to the very ornate for those extra special occasions. Far from being a symbol of oppression, Naballah says the hijab is an extension of her modesty and through her blog she encourages all hijabi women to take pride in wearing it.
“You sort of have the power to let people see what you want them to see. I can be myself, my hijab isn’t keeping me back,”she says.
Naballah who is originally from Chaguanas now lives in Belize with her husband but whether she’s on the streets of Port of Spain or Belmopan, Naballah has always been complimented for her modest yet very trendy style. On the day of our interview Naballah wore black trousers with ballet flats, a printed blouse paired with a long sleeve jersey cardigan.To top off her look, she wore a royal blue hijab accessorised with gold trimming. She sat down with Woman to explain what motivated her to start her own blog which has become a go-to guide for young Muslim women.
“It was really for me to have my own space on the internet to express myself in a fashionable way. I had a fascination for fashion and styling my own clothes that turned into an obsession. My blog was not only meant to express myself but it was also geared towards helping others. I would get a lot of emails from women wanting to know how I style my hijab the way I do. As Muslim women we want to be modest but fashionable as well,”says Naballah.
But Naballah would be the first to concede that it’s not easy for a Muslim woman to be both fashionable and modest, after all we live in a world where wearing less clothes and revealing more is what is considered fashionable. And while we live in a diverse society, Naballah contends that this diversity isn’t properly represented in the media.
“There really isn’t fashion that caters to Muslim women. We usually have to customise our clothing, if I want to wear a thin strap dress, I have to wear a jacket or something else to cover up to maintain my modesty,”says Naballah.
Naballah is a big fan of Basma K, another Muslim fashion blogger who has her own clothing brand.
“It doesn’t matter where she goes or what she does, she still keeps it modest,” Naballah says of Basma K who has become a fashion icon for young Muslim females.
“She doesn’t let the outside world or the temptations get to her and determine how she should dress.”
Naballah not only wants to use her blog and youtube channel as a means of encouraging other Muslim women to embrace their fashion sense, she also hopes to change some common misconceptions others may have about Muslim women. Oftentimes, says Naballah, Muslim women are stereotyped, people think that they are boring and aren’t interested in make-up, accessories or other girly stuff. But Naballah’s efforts to change that have been met with some resistance, she says.
“People feel like the way I style my hijab or the colours that I use when I accessorise, that I’m drawing attention to myself. But I don’t feel that way. I think people try to make Islam into a militant sort of religion and it’s not like that. Islam is a way of life. I think if you believe in something you should stand up for it no matter what people say. I don’t let anyone dictate how I dress or what I do. In everything I do I still try to maintain my modesty. I want to please my God and make him happy,
fashion doesn’t dictate my faith but I still want to look nice,” says Naballah.
Naballah’s unique fashion sense was what initially attracted her husband who is Belizean - he had never before seen a Muslim woman who was also very trendy. For the past two years they have been living in Belize which is about five times larger than Trinidad but has a smaller population and an even smaller Muslim population, and as a result, Naballah stands out.
“I like when people approach me and ask me ‘what is that ‘thing’ on your head’, they say ‘thing’ because they don’t know the actual term for our head covering. I think some people don’t do enough reading or research about different religions but it gives me an opportunity to give them an education on Islam and what it is all about,”says Naballah who enjoys the slow pace of life in Belize.
“I always think carefully about the way I present myself when I go out because I may be the only person they (Belizeans) see who is associated with Islam so I don’t want to give them a bad impression, they might already have so many bad impressions about Islam and Muslims so I see it as my chance to give a good impression about my faith,”she says.
Naballah is currently back in Trinidad to further her education in mass communications, she and her husband will return to Belize once she completes her studies. Eventually Naballah would like to monetise her blog and have her own fashion line bearing her own name which specifically caters to Muslim women.
“Fashion should be accessible to Muslim women challenging the notion that femininity, sexuality and beauty can only be achieved by following the mainstream media, magazines’ and retailers’ definition of how clothes should be worn,”she says.
• Here are a few of Naballah’s styling tips for staying on trend:
• Invest in pieces that work well together and will never go out of style. A classic combination is black and white. Every season is showing that white and black never go out of style and offer endless possibilities. These colors will go with anything that you’re wearing, no matter how plain or how ornate.You can even accessorise using black and white accents.
• When deciding your style, try to find the appropriate fit for your personality. Fashion is about more than the clothing. The impact of a great outfit can be severely diminished by poor styling in other departments such as head and feet. There is no such thing as perfection in this world. By attempting to look perfect, you can diminish the effect and appear to be trying overly hard.
• Wear your size and get realistic about what that size is. Even if you’re slightly thicker than the rest of us, no one wants to look like a busted can of chips. Not every trend is for you. What’s most important is knowing thy body, being comfortable and confident in your appearance and how you present yourself to other people.