Margari Hill talks to sisters and Mohajababes founders Afra and Eiman Ahmed about their colourful kaftan creations.
MH: Tell us about the day you decided to turn your own personal fashion sense into a business. What went into the decision-making process?
AA & EA: Mohajababes was launched in November 2011 by two sisters based in California and London. Ever since we started wearing kaftans in 2007, people kept asking us where we got our outfits from – every time we were at a wedding or a party! Usually, you’d either see women in traditional outfits or about five or six women in identical dresses that you knew they got from the same store. Buying a Mohajababes kaftan means you know you’ll be wearing a garment you can feel special in and be the only one at a party dressed that way.
All the ladies in our family (mums, aunts, girls) jumped on the trend and attended events in kaftans. We become so well known for it that we started to get orders from family and friends abroad. It was then, in early 2011, that we recognised that there was a gap in the market. One day, Afra decided to source beautiful, handmade, modest kaftans in a variety of colours and designs, each hand-embroidered with beads, sequins and jewels. We did this with the intention of bringing kaftans to the US, Canada, the UK and Europe, so Muslim women could have other options for evening wear. As a family we sat down, developed our brand and launched in November 2011. The response was overwhelming and this encouraged us to develop an online shopping experience and take it further.
MH: You handpick your special collection from Dubai every few months. What goes into your selection process?
AA & EA: We do take into consideration current fashion trends, but ensure our kaftans adhere to what our customers love most about them – that you can dress them up or down, that they are suitable for hijab wearers and non-hijab wearers, and that they are unique one-off pieces. We love working with high quality chiffon – it falls beautifully on the body, is an incredibly forgiving fabric and is easy to dry clean. We started by working with classic colours: blacks, reds and deep purples; but we pushed the boat out and have gotten people buying royal blue, green, yellow, teal, turquoise and peach kaftans too! Our colour choices change depending on the season, so we have a lot of bright colours for our spring/summer collection, but bring in more muted colours for our autumn/ winter collection. Most importantly, we make sure our pieces are affordable, which we know our customers really appreciate.
MH: The models on your website look like real women with real shapes and sizes. They are also diverse, so it is easy for women from various ethnic backgrounds to imagine themselves in your kaftans. How do you select your models?
AA & EA: We think it’s very important to showcase what the kaftans will look like on women with varying shapes, body sizes and skin tones. We don’t think we would be doing our brand, kaftans or customers any justice if all our kaftans were modelled on the same 6 foot 2 inch slim model – the reality is that most of our customers and most women simply do not look like that. We work very hard at ensuring our models represent our customers and are happy that so far this has made their online shopping experience with us easier. Our models are from the US to as far as the Middle East, Africa and Indonesia!
MH: What trends do you see being big for Muslim fashionistas this spring/summer?
AA & EA: Long shirt dresses, maxi skirts, tops with uneven hemlines at the back, slim short jackets of various fabrics that work well with anything! We also see an immensely popular trend in studded clothing, shoes and bags. We love it – Afra is so crazy about it – she has been looking for the perfect studded iPhone case!
MH: What are some must haves for Muslim women in evening wear?
AA & EA: We like to keep it simple and let the outfit stand out. Always wear a plain hijab or one with a pattern that compliments the outfit – not competes with it – and a fairly simple hairstyle (if you don’t wear hijab). Jewelled hijab headbands, which we sell, can be used to dress up an outfit too. A pair of black flats in whichever style (pointy, round, studded) and a belt to shape the outfit. Chunky bracelets with some neutral coloured necklaces and rings are great accessories!
MH: You have a blog on your website. How have blogs and social media impacted your business?
AA & EA: Social media has been absolutely crucial to the growth of Mohajababes. Being an online business means reaching out to your customers primarily through social media, and it has been a steady uphill climb garnering followers and fans on various social media platforms. We recognise the importance of blogging too and the additional reach that this gives us, as well as an outlet to express more of who we are. We are about to hire a blogger to meet the growth in demand and intend to blog more regularly and reach out to the community much more by blogging on issues that are important to our followers.
MH: How do you feel about online fashion collage tools such as Polyvore for the newly minted Muslim fashionista?
AA & EA: Polyvore is a valuable collage tool that we haven’t taken advantage of much as we only put together kaftan looks. However, it is absolutely brilliant for the Muslim fashion blogger and her readers – it allows the individual to creatively express and put together a combination of looks without having to purchase the items or model them herself, and readers can then take inspiration from that. One of our favourite bloggers that uses Polyvore is www. hijabiestyle.com.
MH: What is the future of Mohajababes?
AA & EA: We’re looking forward to continuing to provide beautiful kaftans to our customers and are looking at increasing our hijab collection and accessories that complement the kaftans. We’d also like to be able to offer custom-made kaftans to suit our customers and God-willing, we will be able to offer our customers this soon!
You can read this and other great articles in the May issue of SISTERS magazine.