By Aymen Sherwani, October 29 2019—
As a little brown girl, I grew up being told that beauty was blonde hair and blue eyes. My name was too foreign to be found on a mug and the language my parents spoke at home was the language of the terrorists that 12-year-old boys like to shoot down in first-person shooter games. The world is different now. We live in a post 9/11 world where society has transitioned farther from considering brown faces, foreign languages and Muslim culture to be synonymous with fundamentalist terrorism. These days, it’s not uncommon to hear a rapper sprinkle a ‘mashallah’ here and there in their tracks, or to see hijabi models walking up and down the cat-walk for Valentino and not immediately think of Muslim culture as oppressive. That’s because it’s through art which we create understanding.
While I was never able to find a necklace with my name on it as a kid, in recent years due to the popularization of online stores, there is now a growing niche of brands that specifically cater Muslim culture to a growing audience. Promoting a marginalized culture through fashion transforms it from being demonized into something that is coveted instead. In the past couple of years, social media marketing has become unavoidable, and the influencer industry has been a breeding ground for Muslim beauty gurus changing the game with beauty videos and activism side-by-side to support their communities as well. Instagram is now more powerful than regular day-to-day marketing, changing the way people see Muslims and brown people because the narrative is in their hands rather than it being in the hands of a wealthy, yet tone-deaf ad-developing agency.
In an interview with the Gauntlet, Sauman Bhatti spoke about his clothing line, Ahmad Apparel, and how he believes making Muslim culture trendy perpetuates a more positive image for Middle Eastern and South Asian people. “E-commerce is a huge aspect of business nowadays, and there’s a lot of different brands out there,” Bhatti said. “While it doesn’t take much to start a brand, it takes a lot to send out a message about what you believe in through that. One of our most popular collections is the Habibi hat. It’s common slang to describe someone they love, but also the root word means ‘my beloved,’ and you can say that to anyone. It’s better to promote peace than to promote hate, it’s better to promote love than to discriminate.”
Bhatti, on the topic of how to break the cultural glass ceiling in the fashion industry, went on to say that, “Islam is not terrorism and people are learning more and more about that through the spread of messages through influencers and fashion. You can’t blame one person for an entire group of people. When you are wearing Ahmed Apparel, you are working with something that is looking to promote a message of peace and unity and it’s safe to say that you don’t have to be exclusively Muslim to appreciate that.”
When asked about how he goes about promoting such a message of peace and unity on a local level, Bhatti said, “For every unit sold of our products, Ahmad Apparel makes sure to donate to a lot of non-profit charities. There’s a strong feeling of local culture associated with my brand due to various charities like the Mustard Seed, Canadian Blood Services and the local Run for Calgary.”
In the end, while clothing is something we all wear to cover ourselves, we are all deeply ingrained in the culture of our time and continue to make a statement, whether it’s through the fit we aim for, the colours we choose to wear or the groups we choose to support. Bhatti agrees.
“Any time you wear Ahmed Apparel you’re going to be supporting some kind of mission and some kind of message,” said Bhatti. “For me personally, this brand isn’t about money, I’m more about getting a message out there and helping out as much as I can to make the world a better place.”
Ahmad Apparel is currently accepting brand ambassadors to represent their label through social media. Reach out to them at @ahmadapparel on Instagram if you want to join the movement.