This article was originally published on Moda & Estilo – Global Lifestyle & Emerging Fashion Magazine.
Sahro Hassan is an 18 year old fashion designer, whose family immigrated to the United States in order to escape the violence of their native Somalia. Sahro, an ambitious and talented young woman, is already in the process of designing her third collection designed for young Muslim women. After hearing about Sahro’s inspirational story, we reached out to her to get her take on her own style, the importance of Muslim role models for women, her feminist aspirations, and why to not, as she says, “use the present as an excuse.”
Designer, Sahro Hassan, wearing one of her own designs.
Moda & Estilo: Tell me a little bit about your experience growing up.
Sahro Hassan: Sure. Growing up back home was really hard, but it didn’t look that way at the time because everybody around us was living the tough life. It was really, really difficult, especially for women because we did not have a way of expressing ourselves; men mostly dominated. When I came here with my parents when I was ten or eleven years old, I found so many ways for women to express themselves and the freedom to do what they want. I found that I am really passionate about fashion and expressing myself through that.
M&E: What was the ultimate reason for your family’s emigration to the United States?
SH: Mostly for safety reasons, but also to better our education, because we did not have a good education system and there was a war going on. My parents thought it would be a better choice for us to be in America, get a good education, and have a better future.
M&E: How did you first become interested in fashion?
SH: When I was in eighth grade, I was shopping for a formal dress. I went to the store with both of my parents, and I would try something on, and they would be like, “No, no, you can’t wear that. We don’t like it.” I got very frustrated, so I decided to make my own dresses. That’s how I got started. Before that I really loved art, but I really capitalized on fashion, and that’s what I want to do for the rest of my life. I want to give the same opportunities to young, Muslim girls. There are a growing number a Muslim girls in the United States, but when you look in the magazines, you don’t see any Muslim women that you can look up to. I want to be that figure so young girls can look up to me and say, “I can do this as well.”
M&E: So you said you were interested in art. What kinds of art were you attracted to?
SH: I was just drawing and writing a lot of poetry.
M&E: When did you start working on your own collections?
SH: I started working on them last year (2013 in October). I got started in an academy that was for young business students to write a business plan, but what I didn’t know was that we actually had to make a prototype for our business. I did that, and ever since it has been an ongoing journey.
M&E: How would you describe your collections? What words come to mind when you think about them?
SH: I’d say modesty, different, vibrant, unique, and really expressive, but telling a story in a way.
M&E: What inspires when you are making your own collections?
SH: I look through magazines for inspiration, but that rests less with what I see in them than what I don’tsee. As I am looking at magazines, I think, “Ok. How can I make this work? How can this be reassembled so that a Muslim girl can wear this? How can I style this in a way that is appropriate for me to wear and still be stylish and expressive?” I also draw a lot of inspiration from the TV that I watch.
M&E: What kind of magazines do you like to read and what TV shows are you watching?
SH: I watch America’s Next Top Model, Project Runway, and What Not to Wear. I read Marie Claire and Vogue. The list just keeps going.
M&E: Would you like to see yourself in Marie Claire or Vogue someday?
SH: Absolutely! I mean that’s my dream—to one day be in a magazine for something that I love doing and to be that role model that young Muslim girls can look up to. We need a Muslim advocate on the covers and in the pages of magazines, and would love to be that.
M&E: Where have you exhibited your clothes? Have you been in any runways or anything like that?
SH: I have had two fashion shows, and am working on my third one. Eventually, I am going to be trying to sell my clothes to the community. I also do a trade show at a local business.
M&E: How would you describe your personal style?
SH: It matches my mood: I love having fun and I love animal print. Whatever I wear depends on my mood. Like, if I’m not feeling good, I like smoky eye shadow. But I also like to be comfortable.
M&E: You said that you want to create a space for young Muslim women. How does that affect how you design your clothes? Do you see your clothes differently than those of other designers?
SH: Absolutely, I am trying to not follow other people’s designs. I am trying to use “Muslim” as my edge, and instead of just fitting into a style, I’m trying to make that style fit me.
M&E: Do you see yourself as a feminist?
SH: Yes, I do see myself as feminist advocating for women and young girls to not be afraid to share their thoughts and express their creativity. I also believe that women are very underestimated while men dominate, especially in developing countries like Africa. It is very normal in Africa where I grew up for a 12 year old to get married and have children without having any plans for the future. The creativeness of women is locked up in cage, and they have no freedom to speak their minds or take any leadership roles. I believe in challenging tradition in respectful ways. Right now, I am facing against the odds because it’s culturally looked down upon for a girl that’s not married to travel or to further her education. By going to college, I hope to inspire Muslimahs (Muslim girls) to seek a future for themselves and demand their rights as women.
M&E: You are 18 now, so you are still in high school?
SH: I just recently graduated actually.
M&E: Congratulations! What is your plan for the next year or so then? What does the future hold for you?
SH: My plan is to go to school next year. I’m going to Mount Ida College for Fashion Design. I’m still going to be working on my collections on the side as well.
M&E: What was being a young designer in high school like?
SH: In a way it was challenging, because I have had a lot of people criticize me and I didn’t have the confidence that I do now. Now, I just do what I want to do and say what I want to say. It was also difficult in the sense that I had to balance school, chores, work, and sports. But fashion was a way that I could get away from all of that. That’s why I love it.
M&E: Where do you find your confidence now? Where does it come from?
SH: It comes from all of the hard work I’ve put into my collections, once I ignored what people were saying about them and just did what I wanted to. People recognize my drive for it, and have started to come support me.
M&E: Do you have motto that you live by?
SH: I tell myself to use myself as an inspiration and not as an excuse. My family use to think that I wouldn’t be able to go to college because we couldn’t afford it, but I kept telling myself that I didn’t want to use that as an excuse, I didn’t want to use the present as an excuse. I’m just going to use it as an inspiration for why I need to be here and why I need to better myself.
M&E: What advice would you have for other young women, especially young Muslim women, who are interested in designing their own clothes?
SH: I think that you just need to be yourself. Don’t be afraid. “Muslim” is a name and a label, but many people will tell you that you can’t do this because the religion says this. Challenge tradition and just do what you love doing, and don’t be afraid to be different. Every designer has their story and don’t be afraid to tell your story through your designs.