“I have been a fan of the fashion industry since I was a kid,” said Elva Ahmed, a twenty-something fashion designer who has a very interesting story; she’s a niqabi who has just established her center, “Rifqa,” offering fashion and tailoring courses and workshops for girls.
“I come from a very democratic house; I was never forced to wear the niqab,” Ahmed started, her parents have even agreed that she moves out of Zagazig, her hometown, to live alone in Cairo – something that is very rare to happen in our Egyptian society.
“I went to the faculty of Science in Al-Azhar University, but even though I really enjoyed the syllabus it didn’t work out for me, so I dropped out after my third year.” Her parents were against her dropping out, especially when she told them her plans to study fashion instead. They tried to talk her out of it, as they are a bit traditional when it comes to education, believing that nothing tops the state-owned higher education institutes.
“You’re like a balloon, you want to get bigger and bigger but you’ll pop eventually,” her father used to tell her. However, he left her to her dreams, “you may dream and achieve what you want; I’ll leave you to your right so you won’t come to me one day to tell me ‘father, I was dreaming about this and that and you deprived me from my dreams.'”
Her father’s words echoed so hard in her head, with every step she took; whenever she felt down, almost giving up, she would rise again remembering what her father told her. Without noticing, her father gave her the best motivation she needs.
Although her parents opposed her deviation from Al-Azhar, towards fashion, they never stopped supporting and encouraging her. “My father would always check on me, ask me what I’ve done at the academy and when he sees the dresses that I’ve designed and tailored he’d express his astonishment very generously and would tell me he’s impressed and suggests that I tailor clothes for my sisters. My mother would also assure me that they’re always at my side if I needed anything,” Ahmed explained.
When Ahmed took her first steps into the halls of the Italian Fashion Academy, so many cultural shocks occurred; “the academy enjoys a huge variety of people, from various backgrounds and schools of thoughts,” Ahmed said. But by time, things changed; everyone got used to the differences between them and a common culture of acceptance started to bloom.
“People were weirded out when they saw me, a niqabi, learning fashion – but then they understood that I’m just like any other girl, I go through the same emotional cycles. I was weirded out too by my colleagues at the academy, but later a lot of misconceptions that we have adopted on one another got corrected and we socialized in peace. God created us physically the same and it’s our right to choose how we prefer to appear in public, covered in a niqab, a hijab or neither.”
Her fashion collections are not restricted with the seasons, they’re restricted with her mood swings; “if I don’t feel like making a collection this season because it has kept me from spending time with my family for example, I would just take a break and stop for a while.”
As she looks up to fashion icons like Elie Saab and Zuhair Murad, Ahmed decided to devote her fashion line to one message that she’s trying to convey from within the garments she tailors: Modest attire can be both comfortable and elegant.
WE SAID THIS: People come in all sorts of shapes and colors, it’s wonderful!