Happy New Year! Let’s start the year off right with our first #MOTM, Hakeemah, owner of Cover Me Beautiful!
Unakem: So what exactly is Cover Me Beautiful (CMB)? How did its inception occur? Give us the details and help us learn more!
Hakeemah: CMB started off as an online hijab shop in 2012. I noticed that the hijab fashion world was really just opening up and people were going crazy for printed maxi scarves. So when I saw the hijab fashion market opening up, I decided to open a page on FB and source my hijabs from a wholesaler. People loved the scarves, alhamdulilah, and even started to ask me how I would wrap it and wear it with an outfit. So I started posting outfit pics to help sell the product, which introduced the styling aspect of CMB. I would post customer photos and I even held contests and had some YouTube videos. It was really fun, but I knew that I wanted to really contribute to the industry as it grew, and that sustainability is the key to good business. It was really important to me to not limit myself or become just another FB page. So gradually I began to explore what else CMB could be over the long term. I’ve introduced a few other projects under CMB over time, and so CMB was gradually molded over the years into the styling/marketing service it is today.
Unakem: Alhamdulilah! So, what inspired you to start your own company? How did you begin to establish yourself in the industry?
Hakeemah: My family has a very strong entrepreneurial spirit. We’re that family that’s always talking about the million dollar ideas we have that will make us all rich one day lol! So it was almost second nature to open my own business as well. The internet makes it so feasible to introduce your product or service to a wide audience and explore the possibilities. In 2012 the hijab fashion industry was just starting really and I was already plugged in. So it was a matter of just opening up a FB page and exploring. I just started posting content and got encouraged by the response. Even if the response wasn’t huge, I learned, had fun, and persevered. I remember reading a post that said that even if you get 2 likes on a post, keep going. It’s not always about quantity, but moreso about quality. I established a group of people with whom I became familiar for advice, networking is still very important for me with CMB. The conversations I had with other executives behind the scenes was much more valuable than my number of followers. One of my first contacts in the industry was Sadeel Allam from what is now The Demureist (formerly Sweet Modesty). I think I saw the real potential for business through chats with her, and saw the fun of the fashion and style through people like Dina Toki-o.
Unakem: With all this talk of fashion, how would you describe your sense of style in 3 words?
Hakeemah: Effortless, I never want to look like I’m trying too hard. Modest, I hope I convey the message that style doesn’t mean compromising Islamic principles of women’s dress. Elegant, I say this only because I think that’s the word I’ve heard people describe my style with the most.
Unakem: So how long have you been coordinating modest fashion shows?
Hakeemah: Well its important to note that I am not the one coordinating these shows. There’s only one show that I fully coordinated and produced and that was RAHMA on the Runway, a charity fashion show, in 2014. For IMFDF, or DCFW, or any other shows I’ve done, I book my showcase space on the runway, and then coordinate with designers to feature their items in that showcase. All other aspects are produced independently of me. The designers are able to conveniently take part in runway shows from wherever they are, from right here in the US to as far as Indonesia, Malaysia, Germany, and Dubai without ever leaving home. It’s a great means of exposure of their brand without the hassle of travel and accommodations. I’ve been doing the work I do for designers on the runway since February 2014.
Unakem: Ok, wait a minute! You’re a mother of how many??
Hakeemah: One sweet baby girl, Amaanah, who is about 15 months and I just had another less than 3 months ago!
Unakem: Alhamdulilah! You’re a mother of two, a modest fashion stylist, photoshoot coordinator, runway show expert….what else are you hiding lol?
Hakeemah: Haha! This made me smile. Not hiding much else. I really just see my life as very simple and I’m just building step by step. I look into the future and only see exciting things for work and family. I have a Master’s degree in Biology and insha’Allah I do want to continue work in my academic field after I’ve taken a break for marriage and children for a few years.
Unakem: What part do you enjoy doing more…the photo shoots or the fashion shows?
Hakeemah: Tough call! But I think fashion shows because of the hype of it all. I prepare for months for a show, talking with designers, getting their pieces in, styling them, prepping, all of that. Then there’s meeting the models and seeing the designs and the styling come to life. And then it’s suddenly the day of the show – light-cameras-action! Typically with a show like D.C. Fashion Week I literally have 2 minutes, if that, to get a model undressed from the showcase before and redressed in my look. The walk on the runway is a few seconds at best, and then all the months of prep is down to one moment on the runway. I’m always worried how the photos will turn out!! Definitely a huge rush. Photo shoots are so hands-on and you can usually review the pics and try again, making sure the model is picture perfect. Its fun, but the adrenaline of backstage is a whole other world =)
Unakem: Reminds me of a wedding! So much work goes into the months (sometimes years) of planning and poof! it’s gone in less than 8-12hours! When’s your next big event or fashion show?
Hakeemah: My next show is the D.C. Fashion Week showcase in February 2017, insha’Allah.
Unakem: What was your first DC Fashion Week experience like?
Hakeemah: My first DC Fashion Week show was February 2014 and it was so exciting! I worked with something like 15 different shops to get their items on the runway. This was my big experiment to see if I can book the designers and produce work that they felt was meaningful on their behalf. I really proved to myself and others on that debut showcase that my service works and is valuable. I was afforded this opportunity by the then producer of the DC Fashion Week Haute and Modesty Show, Nisa Muhammad, who welcomed my idea and opened the platform for me. The most memorable moment was taking my walk after the showcase was complete. I was so proud of myself, alhamdulilah.
Unakem: What is a negative emotion or circumstance that you have had to work through?
Hakeemah: I try my best to distinguish myself in the hijab fashion world by creating a unique service that I don’t see anyone else in the US doing at all. I try to purify my intentions and focus on what matters most – making a positive impact and not compromising myself. I look around me in the industry and I see a lot of things that I don’t like at all, all in the name of ‘hijab fashion’. Things that I think undercut the religious aspect for the sake of fame or popularity. I see women who are extremely popular in terms of likes/followers but I cannot really determine what their real contribution is to this noble effort. When anyone reminds these women of the religious tenets they may be breaking, albeit tactfully, they are bombarded with accusations of judging. I really battle with this and hope that I can keep true to my intentions and not compromise on the level of religiosity I’ve assumed for myself. A lot of hijab fashion has become superficial and I fear to be lumped in with others I would not necessarily associate my work with. I hope that my work can keep the substance alive and stay distinct.
Unakem: I saw that you had an amazing opportunity on TV! How were you able to land a gig styling a model for News 8 TV?
Hakeemah: DCFW usually partners with various media to help promote the fact that fashion week is drawing near. For the past 2 seasons the director of DC Fashion Week, Ean Williams, has asked me to provide a modest fashion look to be featured on the news, as a preview of whats to be seen on the runway. Last season (Feb 2016) it happened to be around the same time as the Oscars so the modest look was supposed to be a look that one could wear to the Oscar’s. I featured a blue gown from Artizara. This time around there was no theme, so I featured a really colorful cape gown from FMM by Fatma AlMulla, a Dubai-based designer I was featuring on the runway. It was great to see my styling on TV!
Unakem: How do you ensure that despite a busy schedule your faith doesn’t get neglected?
Hakeemah: That is always a constant struggle. It’s important to never think you’re fine with your faith – you should feel that you’re not doing enough so that you have something to strive towards. Allah is Most Merciful, but also the Most Just. I do a lot of my work from home, lots of emails and content building. So I should be able to pretty easily divide my time between family, work, entertainment, and faith. Prioritizing faith over everything else is the struggle. At fashion shows I have to create a space for myself to pray, hoping not to miss Salah as the night goes on, or during photo shoots making sure the models are not modeling suggestively while donning modest clothing. It’s a balance. I hope that Allah guides me and us all.
Unakem: What faith-based advice would you have given yourself 5 years ago?
Hakeemah: This is such a good question! 5 years ago I was a totally different person. I was not married, not engaged, not a mother, and living in Chicago. I had just graduated from grad school and wasn’t sure what my future held. I was actually on the path of becoming a medical doctor back then, and I had been accepted to medical school at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. It was a tough time for me, just really starting off life, but not really knowing what that would ending up meaning. I would tell that woman 5 years ago to have faith in Allah that He would place me in a situation that was good for me although I could not see what that was yet. I would’ve never known Id be working in hijab fashion, living in Virginia, and a mother of 2! Have faith in Allah’s plan for you and pray for His guidance everyday. Believe in Him to bless you in ways you didn’t think possible, and then be content in His plan.
Unakem: I’m notorious for ending with this question…what is an interesting fact about you that most people don’t know?
Hakeemah: I think a lot of people don’t know that I am Belizean-American, first generation born in Chicago, and I am one of 10 children. My father is an Imam of a masjid in Chicago. Also, my favorite thing to do in my free time as a mommy when the babies are sleeping is turn on a really dumb housewife TV show and enjoy a PB&J sandwich with a warm cup of extra sweet tea =)
Thank you so much for the interview sis!
Head over to http://www.lovecmb.com to learn more! Or connect with her on Instagram @hakeemahcmb.