Puberty is awkward for almost every teenager. As a young girl growing up in the suburbs of Detroit, Melanie Elturk noticed that hijabs were becoming an issue in her community, "not only for the girls who already wore it and struggled to keep it on, but for girls who didn’t wear it and had no desire to put it on," she says. "At that time, there were no real hijab fashion influences one could look up to for inspiration." Fast-forward to 2010, and the former civil rights attorney launched Haute Hijab, an e-commerce site and community resource that sells high-quality hijabs for women. Today, the brand breaks into an entirely new category with a collection of luxury hijabs, aptly called the Luxury Collection. We caught up with Elturk to talk about her new line, stigmas toward Muslim women, and her end goal for the brand.
What was the impetus for creating the new line? It came out of a real need for formal hijab options. When I reflect back at the most special moments of my life—my law school graduation, my engagement, and especially my wedding—I didn’t have appropriate formal hijab options that corresponded with my outfit (I literally cringe when I look back at my engagement photos—what was I thinking with that poly chiffon!?). We put so much time and effort into our actual outfit but due to lack of options—our hijab often becomes an afterthought. As such, we set out to create a new category in the hijab space with a luxury line for the special moments in a woman’s life.
Have you ever faced stigma for wearing a hijab? Not to my knowledge, and if I did, it occurred without me knowing. If ever I wasn’t hired or passed over because of my hijab—it’s still a win. I want to work and deal with people who accept my choice to wear hijab. Being able to weed out intolerant people and almost self-select those I work and interact with is a blessing in my mind.
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What would you say to people who think that hijab signify women are submissive or inferior to men? Our faith is very clear when it comes to hijab: Muslim women carry on the tradition of wearing a headscarf from the Christian and Jewish women before us in order to be recognized as women of faith. I don’t wear the hijab because a man told me to—it’s a choice I made for myself out of devotion to my faith and it’s a choice that has elevated me in so many ways. Wearing hijab allows me to privatize my sexuality and puts me in control of my body.
Who is your ideal customer? A woman who is confident, comfortable in her own skin and knows who she is. She is unapologetic about her faith and loves to look well-dressed at all times.
Do you have a favorite piece? Definitely the Celestial Silver Hijab. It’s the crown jewel of our collection with a custom-made crystal applique that was a real labor of love to create. It feels the most royal and majestic of everything we created—I could see Grace Kelly adorning this piece or, in present-day, Sheikah Mozah of Qatar.
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What’s the most important thing you’ve learned while making this collection? Respect for hand-made, luxury goods. I now understand first-hand why luxury fashion houses price certain pieces the way they do. Best in class fabrics are very expensive, as is top notch craftsmanship. When we started designing this collection, we were hoping to price them in the $100-$150 range. When we understood how much true luxury fabrics and design elements cost and that we’d have to sacrifice to get the price that low we realized it would compromise our vision. Instead, we opted for the best materials and the best workmanship and had to raise the price. I was a little nervous because there currently aren’t any hijab on the market at these prices, but then again, we’re creating a completely new category in this space, so why not make them the ultimate in luxury?
What is your long-term goal for the brand? Normalizing hijab in mainstream society in the west is definitely something we aim to accomplish with our brand. Today, too many Muslim women (especially those who live in homogenous areas with little to no Muslim community) are afraid to be their authentic selves. Instilling self-confidence in hijab-wearing women by normalizing hijab is a very important part of the work we do.
This interview has been edited and condensed.