- Published on Friday, 31 August 2012 12:44
- Category: Culture
Back in June, Aslan Media covered the Fashion Fighting Famine show in Irvine, California that left our style correspondent Alnas Zia thoroughly impressed with the variety of scarves, abayas and kaftans featured by local and international mideast fashion vendors. One brand stood out, SixteenR (16R), whose statement-making scarfs dominated the runway. Aslan Media sat down with the brand’s founder and Creative Director, Nancy Hoque, to discuss how she views the scarf as a “tool of empowerment” for women, and how her company redefines scarf-wear with a variegated range of edgy designs and artistic forms.
Hoque, who has come a long way from living on the intersection of 16th and R street in Washington, D.C., is making a name for her brand on an international level. Read on to know more about the brand and how the uber-popular, always-out-of-stock “Supersonic Headphones” scarf came into being.
Aslan Media (AM): Tell us a bit about yourself. Why did you decide to found SixteenR?
Nancy Hoque (NH): I am a born and raised Southern California girl of Bangladeshi descent. I started wearing hijab shortly after 9/11 and while I was in college. The Islamophobia of the time bothered me because as an American, I was taught in schools to be understanding of other races, religions and beliefs. So when all of a sudden my religion was being scrutinized, I felt the need to stand up for my beliefs.
In order to show that I am, too, an American and Muslim, and that am just like everyone else, I started covering my hair and wearing the headscarf. Being an engineer, my professional life in the US is spent in male dominated environments, often not understanding and sometimes vocally forward about their disapproval. This was a real test of my confidence and convictions around expressing myself through what had become part of my identity… my hijab.
These experiences led me to found 16R. I knew what I wanted in the hijabs and started to design my own in lieu of finding them in the open market... The scarf made me feel empowered, and I had to share the message. Muslim fashion can be funky, trendy and cool. This is how the [16R slogan] “Scarves that Empower” came into being. We have been making women feel this way ever since.
AM: When was 16R founded? What was the reaction from family, friends, community, and the overall feedback from the customers?
NH: SixteenR was founded in 2009, but we went online officially in April, 2011. In a way, we are still in our early years. Initially, it was a lot of running between fabric stores, going back and forth with silk screen printers, finding friends to model the scarves... When we moved to Singapore, I was influenced by the colorful, creative hijab styles of Southeast Asian Muslims. I developed a fan base here, and the feedback from customers was very encouraging. Muslims, non-Muslims, new converts, would write to 16R, thanking us for having scarves with our message. It was amazing to see how many people related to our philosophy. They liked the concept of artwork and photography on scarves, as well as printing quotes and designs on scarves. We are one of the first hijab companies to do this, and we see some other companies following this trend now as well.
Fashion Fighting Famine stated that we have “scarves with attitude;” popular Muslim fashion bloggers like Hijab Style said we have an innovative take on style, design and photography which makes us stand out against other hijab brands.
AM: You’ve mentioned on your website that 16R's philosophy is to design scarves for both Muslim and non-Muslim women. How do you view 16R as a transcending brand that makes scarves symbols of femininity and self-expression for women across cultural and religious boundaries?
NH: Scarves are a symbol of femininity and self-expression in that women who wear them are able to appear uniquely feminine in an elegant or classy way without having to have a provocative appearance. In modern times, women sometimes seem to be revealing more of their bodies, so when you take that away and wear beautiful clothes, another aspect of the woman is revealed, showing that she can be feminine and sophisticated. She can express herself through clothing, rather than just through her skin.
Just like fashion is a form of expression, consider wearing scarves as an additional form of expression since fashion has taken over your hair as well as your body. In addition, wearing scarves allows women to be taken more seriously as individuals since they are able to express themselves in a very pure and authentic way, giving them the opportunity to show who they are through their character and personality.
Throughout history, scarves have been worn by women in various cultures and religions for these similar reasons; it is not a new concept. SixteenR is just making it more hip and current.
AM: According to your website, 16R scarves are "forward-thinking." How so?
NH: We view the scarf more than a tool to cover up a woman. We see it as a tool of empowerment, which inspires the attitude of the wearer. Even if we as Muslim women do not intend to do so, headscarves have become a statement of our beliefs and sign that we are Muslims. Hence using that headscarf as a canvas, we use our design and styles of wearing the scarf to make it “forward-thinking,” so that we do not become nameless women who are “hijabis” and carry whatever connotations come with that, but we are women who cover our hair, with a scarf that has personality. We are setting trends rather than following them. We are seeing our colors and concepts reflecting the big fashion houses.
AM: What is your design philosophy for your scarves? Do you take into consideration fashion trends, or do you have your own distinct signature style that you tend to stick to?
NH: I try very hard not to design something that has been done before. My inspirations come from cool, quirky things. My husband and I were in some T-shirt store, and we saw this T-shirt with an iPod in it. The wire from the iPod went up to the neck. My husband and I looked at each other and thought, “headphones”. That’s what led us to our Supersonic Headphones scarf. I am also inspired by strong personalities, which is why we have quotes from Malcolm X, Bruce Lee, Ghandi, and Rabindranath Tagore on our scarves. Our signature style is to have an edge and not be apologetic.
AM: Have you had, or plan to, do any collaborations with other artists or celebrities?
NH: An artist we have been fortunate to collaborate with is Tunisian “Calligraffiti” street artist eL Seed. He designed 3 custom pieces for our scarves, comprised of Arabic calligraphy taken from poetry and lyrics with special meanings. We have had interviews with inspirational Muslim women, such as Raquel Saraswati and Muna Abu Sulayman, who were very sweet to work with. We have collaborated with a leading Indonesian makeup brand, “Wardah” (for) a makeup/hijab beauty shoot. We do plan to have more collaborations in the future with other artists and inspirational women.
AM: What’s in the future for 16R?
NH: A clothing line seems natural as the next step. But what we want to do before that is record the ongoings of the empowered Muslim woman. We are working on a book that will present 16R’s take on womanhood, being Muslim, and having style.By Alnas Zia, Aslan Media Contributing Writer and Multimedia Assistant