In many ways Dina Torkia is your average fashion blogger. A quick scroll on her blog or her Insta and you’ll see al fresco street style shots and obligatory bedroom selfies. She has the right social media stats — only with 1.4m on Insta and 700,000 plus on YouTube, hers are maybe a bit above average. But there’s one other thing that makes her stand out from the Blonde Salad’s and Camille Over the Rainbow’s of the world. Dina is part of a new wave of hijabi women giving voice to their love of fashion while conforming to Muslim standards of modesty. Because, who said you can’t be interested in clothes and maintain your religious integrity at the same time? “Having two strong cultures to combine growing up has definitely shaped who I am today, how I view the world, my personal opinions and of course my religious beliefs,” she tells i-D. Challenging perceptions of muslim women is incredibly important to Dina. Here she offers her notes on beauty…
“When I was younger, I wasn’t really aware of my image. I knew what I looked like and I had a very tomboyish style but I didn’t care about my appearance; it wasn’t a focus for me. Wearing hijab changed that. It made me a lot more aware of the way I looked and dressed.
I was about 16 when I first started identifying my personal style. It made me realise how powerful being an individual who was conscious of clothes, and how they were put together, could be for a woman like me. I realised my love for fashion. Colour and creativity didn’t need to diminish just because I had ‘modest’ guidelines to follow. If anything it gave me more to play with and allowed my imagination to run free.
When I first started experimenting with clothes and styles, Ia lot of people would be shocked that I looked half decent, or ‘different’ to what they would expect a Muslim woman in hijab to look like. I enjoyed the effect it had on those who clearly hadn’t encountered people that weren’t like them, let alone Muslims! Often it created opportunities for people to speak to me and in turn I would change their perceptions by just being myself and expressing that through my clothes.
The most obvious way I use clothes to express myself is the different headscarf styles I wear; I like to change it up now and then. It allows me to be consistent with practising that part of my faith, and it mean I don’t get bored of it, or grow to hate it which can happen with loads of women who put restrictions on themselves — restrictions that aren’t required by our religion.
The term “modest fashion” was invented mainly to describe the Muslim communities’ fashion sense. It’s been in the limelight the last few years with the help of social media but ultimately it’s been there since forever. It’s just clothes with a bit more give and a bit more fabric than what’s usually on offer. It’s dressing without having to use your skin as part of the look basically.
I first started blogging when I was frustrated with my third and final attempt at university and made a sudden decision to drop out. I’d met my now husband Sid and he encouraged me at the time to do only what I really loved. It turns out that was making clothes, then wearing them and posing for pictures and putting them online on a Facebook page I created!
I remember loving making clothes at school — the concept of designing things and then watching them come to life. I remember creating a brand and calling it ‘unleaded’ (heavily inspired by Diesel at the time, clearly). I wanted to make a hoodie that was a bit more suited to my ‘modest dressing’ requirements and so I made it longer and with a massive hood. It ended up looking like a boxer’s robe but I loved it!
It was my intention from the get go that this would be my job. I knew at first I wouldn’t be able to make money from it but I had so much passion and drive for it that for the first three-four years I was doing everything with no monetary gains. It didn’t even phase me. In fact they were my most creative times.
The biggest misconception about me and what I do is probably the idea that I only wear hijab as a fashion statement. That, and the idea that I’m rolling in money and not having a proper job! Many people think I’m using the hijab to make money, but it’s who I am. And if it was a fashion statement I’m pretty sure there would have been a few seasons I would have taken it off as it would’ve fallen out of trend at some point!
The biggest challenge I’ve had to overcome in my career so far is my social anxiety. Very recently I’ve allowed it to stop me taking on what would have been some amazing opportunities. But slowly it’s getting better and more under control.
Last year, I was approached by YouTube to take part in a four part series called #YourAverageMuslim, as part of their Creators For Change programme. Of course I jumped at the opportunity. It just meant that I could continue making content that changed the perception of Muslim women but with that added support and professional help from YouTube.
In order to truly change the perception of Muslim women, we need to stop acting shocked whenever a woman in hijab accomplishes something and stop using the term ‘the first hijabi or hijab wearing woman to…’ it takes away from what she’s doing and focuses on her religion and how she dresses instead. Indeed, it implies that wearing a hijab is a hindrance and so her achievement is equated with not having been hindered by a hijab, rather than celebrating her actual talent.
We also need more Muslim women working and represented in the media, not just as some kind ‘diversity’ benchmark. If you’re going to use a Muslim woman then expect a Muslim woman’s voice too. Brands and media can’t get away with not including us much anymore, again thanks to social media.”
People are still learning and adjusting, and with time it won’t be a conscious thing that brands have to think about. Hopefully the diversity will be ingrained in the organisations themselves, diverse women will be in higher positions — that’s when we’ll know that true change is being made.
My big hope for the future is for happiness and authenticity in my personal and working life. For true inclusivity and credit being given where it’s due. I hope that my little girl can grow up with no judgement against her because of her name, her looks and her beliefs.”