Designer Profile: Baraka

“To be ….or not to be”

 Baraka clothing merges this polarising dictum  for the fashion world. To find out how and catch a designer brand to watch stay tuned below:

“To be or not to be”, “to have or have not” are the segregating class statements that translate to many communities across the globe. In particular, for the Muslim Women this translates “to be modest or not modest” and “to have fashionable taste or be limited to A-line apparel” as the rivaling choices that have presented difficulty for generations.

Today, in the 21st century the children of Muslim migrants settled in the West have created a resultant group, Western Muslim Women and thus induced the ‘to have fashionable taste or not” choice conflict to its height. There is an accelerating demand and need for modest clothing that fits within the careers, social events and lifestyle of a Western Muslim Woman. This sphere understandably requires a balance, and Baraka is the clothing brand that has ventured on the front line to combat this rising issue.

Baraka is an Australian brand founded in 2008 by Kath Fry, 31 and Eisha Saleh, 35. Both are Mulsim women living in the West, and therefore experienced the struggle to find a modest fashion line. Kath recalls that soon after converting to Islam her aim to wear modest clothing was not easy, in fact Kath states, “I soon realized it was impossible to find maxi skirts and dresses that were beautifully made”.

Kath’s eye for well-made apparel is rooted in her expert eye as a garment technician with a background in fashion studies and extensive practice in textile production, having worked for established fashion labels Jigsaw and David Lawrence. Eisha Saleh, likewise impressively has almost a decade experience of executive management within the financial sphere prior to starting Baraka.  It was the coincidental interest in fashion from  childhood that was the magnet which cemented Kath and Eisha’s relationship, thus the common bond and parallel corporate experience logically gave way to a solid business partnership. Together, Kath and Eisha have formed a duo powerhouse proficient to make a quality fashion label.

However, what adds to the warmth of Kath and Eisha’s enterprise is that beyond business they have a much deeper bond as friends. Kath warmingly recounts the weekend she became muslim, “…on that weekend I took a Shariah class to learn about Islam and that’s where I met Eisha…” Eisha states, “Kath and I are the perfect team, Alhumdulillah”. With sellout fashion shows, unprecedented press profile along with a clothing range that has been carefully marketed to cater for a variety of markets the team-baraka certainly make an impressive dream team.

The label that the talented duo created has been termed “Baraka” an Arabic derivative word meaning ‘blessing’, which blissfully flows with Kath and Eisha’s philosophy to make “beautiful clothes for beautiful women”. Their commitment to make quality pieces and the necessary market has resulted in the success of Baraka clothing beyond the ‘muslim market,’ appealing to women of different faiths as well as the 30+ female age bracket. Baraka’s ability to be relevant and attract women beyond faith is a testament to the expertise, time and soul dedicated to producing the Baraka line.

A reap of this success is the featured profile of Baraka by Vogue magazine. Baraka being presented in Vogue is an accomplishment more than a showcase of a must fashion label, rather by being featured in Vogue as a faith and female sensitive brand Kath and Eisha are breaking prejudices of traditional fashion perceptions in the West. Essentially Baraka is demonstrating to the mainstream market that modesty can be fashionable, fashion can be modest and most importantly it is a necessary trend. Baraka is certainly breaking barriers.

With a sellout of seven fashion collections since Baraka launched in 2008 I caught up with the seasoned experts, Kath and Eisha to find out more, check out the interview below:

As the Directors behind Baraka Women can you tell us about the brand identity of “Baraka woman”?

Kath: Eisha and I chose the word “baraka” because it means blessed. We are blessed to live in a country like Australia free to practice our religion, free to contribute to society how we want, and in a position to help people less fortune than us. We are also blessed to have these skills, which Allah has given us and we use them for his pleasure to create harmony and dawah.

Putting on your Hijab is a life changing experience and a large % of us live in the west, so western clothing is the only thing we know and feel comfortable in but we still want to show our Islamic identity. This is the baraka woman.

What is Baraka’s view on modesty and fashion? 

Eisha: We as Muslims need to remember that modesty is not only the right of Muslims.  It’s a dress code right for all women.  We should all be able to choose this style for ourselves and feel welcome to make that decision.

We have set up our boutique to appeal to all women, and to be a place with something to share.  All women are welcome into our space and to talk to us about their clothing needs whether that includes a hijab or not.  We run community workshops and have a coffee lounge on site to encourage a welcoming community environment.  Our space is furnished with vintage furniture and our building is heritage listed from the 1920s.  Our walls are an exhibition space that hangs beautiful artwork of local artists photography and graphic design.  All this is aimed at encouraging dialogue with all women about things that doesn’t just involve the Islamic dress code.

To Baraka, having empathy for everyone is the best Dawah and we will continue with this philosophy.

I am impressed that baraka has impacted on women beyond the Muslim faith, the Vogue Australia magazine interview is a particularly impressive accomplishment. Was this a surprise, the fact that your designs have reached out to a market beyond the Muslim female category?

 Kath: It was one of our goals. 35+year old women are screaming for this across the world, they are finding it harder and harder to find beautiful well-made clothing that is modest, cool and relaxed. Most design houses globally cater high fashion for a young skinny fashion savvy girl, but most women prefer slightly modest, cool, relaxed clothing that is easy to wash and wear.  Most of us are a size M-L not a XS!

Eisha: We found that women as they age naturally wanted to cover more of their bodies and the current designers were not designing for this fact.  If they did, then it was astronomically priced and I think this is why we have struck a chord with women beyond Islam.  When we started this business we also wanted to do something that would encourage a conversation between women regardless of faith, and fashion is certainly something all women can relate to.

Having had the pleasure of looking through the baraka e-boutique online, I settled on particularly adoring the “Candy Lane Maxi Dress”. I can see how this item can easily be utilised for many  of hijab lookbook styles, so the $99 (£64.78) price tag definitely explains to my bank statement about the worth of my expenditure. Nonetheless, to students, to those budgeting and new hijabinistas collecting items to invest for their wardrobe capsule, can you tell us more about why baraka clothing is certainly worth it? 

 Kath: There are two reasons for the price tags at baraka:

Firstly, baraka is not a fast fashion label, its a luxury label. That Candy Lane Maxi dress $99 dress is really worth $259; the fabric is vintage European fabric, a one off, the black jersey in the dress is a New Zealand fabric, its the best in the world I have seen and worn (Our customers think so too). Also, the garments are made by the same makers that sell labels into Harrods for £200-£400.

Each piece is limited edition, carefully considered and not mass-produced. Baraka is for the clothing connoisseur. The worth of that garment far super seeds what we charge for it, and the positive impact that item of clothing has on the customers confidence is priceless. I had a customer come into the store a few weeks ago (and she can afford to buy anything she wants) and she buys both fast fashion and designer clothing.  When she tried on a baraka jersey dress she said she didn’t know clothing could make you feel this way – that’s what baraka clothes gives you, an experience.

Eisha: Secondly, we are really trying to re-educate our fast consuming society about the world. Its not just fashion at stake here.  There are the usual things to ask yourself when handing over money for the clothes you buy:  Will that item last in my wardrobe (in terms of style), will it wash well and not shrink, tear or have its dye run and can it by styled with other items for versatility?  These are obvious.  The MOST important question they need to ask iswho made it’?  Was the item made by some poor child in a poor country and is still yet to be paid?  Were they abused by the factory owner to get the item out faster?  Do they use a production process that leaves large amounts of pollutants in our environment and a big carbon footprint?  The cheaper the garment the more likely is this is what you’re paying for. As a fashion label we need to make clothes ethically, but naturally this has a higher price tag.

You don’t need to have masses of clothing in your wardrobe.  If you don’t have a lot to spend, then a few creative pieces is all you need. And personally I would feel a lot better about a dress still hanging in my wardrobe after a year rather than it being in landfill waiting years to biodegrade.

I adore this ethical thinking of Baraka. Clearly, a lot of thought has gone into the development of the brand. On this note, where does the style inspiration for Baraka come from?

 Kath: It comes from anything really, a beautiful image, a country, a building or even food.  Inspiration is everywhere.  It’s about interpreting how you feel about something that your senses have experienced.  It’s trying to make a garment that will give you the same feeling.

Eisha: Kath and I often will go somewhere and we will look at our surroundings, for example the trees in a park and talk about the shades of green.  We look at the flowers that pop up against them in white, yellow or pink and then you start to see an emerging palette.  SubhanAllah there is a lot to learn from nature.

Given that the Muslim market has predominantly been marketed with abayas, Baraka has certainly taken a significant step to showcase western enthused style dresses. Did this historical market seclusion of Muslim fashion concern you when venturing on this niche business idea?

Eisha: We knew it would be hard but it was a conscious decision to design clothing seperates instead of Abayas.  There are some amazing designers in the Abaya space and they do a fantastic job for the industry.  We didn’t need to add to it for the sake of adding to it.  We wanted to fill a gap that was needed.

Also, me and Kath have lived in a western country all our lives so we only ever knew how to wear separates. Putting on a hijab for me meant adding to my existing style not changing it to something I wasn’t familiar with.  I wanted to feel comfortable and confident to keep my hijab on.  I’ve had many other Muslimas say this to me.  Also Kath comes from a non-Muslim family.  She needed to fit into her world with her family.  Her parents live on the coast south of Sydney with beaches and a surf culture.  Becoming Muslim needed to be an easy transition for her and her family to cope with.  Kath is one of the lucky ones where her family supported her regardless of her chosen faith; we know lots of revert women that don’t have this support.  These women want to be modest to be closer to Allah but they don’t want to lose their families.  Baraka is a nice fit for them, they don’t feel so different from their environment in our clothes.  And Inshallah when they get more comfortable in their faith then adding that hijab is a lot easier to do with baraka separates.

Finally, Kath’s Mum also had a large impact on us when starting baraka as a separate label.  She is in her 60s and is in that exact demographic of the older women who want a more modest comfortable fit to age gracefully into. But she still wanted to be fashionable.  Her complaints were heard loud and clear!  She is one of many of our aging population that wants the same thing.  Thank you Kath’s Mum!

I am curious, on the baraka website it details Workshops at Baraka HQ which shows the baraka brand investing beyond a typical boutique. Did you imagine the pinfold success that baraka is today when you initially started the project?

Eisha: No, we had the dream but I guess you never really think you’ll achieve it so quickly!  The best part of it is that your goals change and the bar gets set much higher and higher.  As women we really need to start believing that we can do anything and achieve anything.  That’s why we teach at HQ because we believe in the future of our children.  They need to be able to get much further than we did and we are passionate about passing on any knowledge we have.  We mentor university students and teach at local schools to ensure there are even better individuals coming onto the scene.

So, how has your Baraka clothing journey been so far?

Eisha: It’s been very hard to say the least.  We’ve had to continually educate people about what we do and why we do it.  It’s been a difficult journey interpreting exactly the label we wanted to be and sticking to that regardless of criticism in the past. But Alhumdulillah the benefits much out way the hardships of the journey.  I mean we have appeared in Vogue, we’ve been on radio, had many print interviews, released multiple collections and had many fashion shows, been business ambassadors for our state, worked with mainstream models/photographers/other industry experts, we were the first hijabi’s styled by “trinny and Suzanna, we’ve been able to change lives of women in Afghanistan with skill development schemes and donations and we are now looking forward to an upcoming exhibition in a high profile museum in Sydney.  It’s been incredible and we are truly blessed to be able to work in this industry and make a difference.

For ‘the british hijabi’ readers can you please leave us a few words to capture your journey as a baraka entrepreneur thus far?

Baraka Women:  The biggest message is believe in you first and have the right intention with Allah.  There will be many people who will not understand you nor believe in your message and will criticize you along the way.  This is why your belief in yourself needs to be strong along with your intentions.  Don’t be swayed from what you set out to achieve and pray to Allah continually to keep you on the right path.  You need to be honest about what you know and what you need help with.  Also a lot of noise will appear around you offering bigger and better things…again don’t sway from your original reasons for starting your journey, its easy to be confused with what happens out there.  Always remember that you are the representative of Allah and act according to that role.  Dawah should be incorporated into all our actions.

——————–

Conversing with Kath and Eisha it was clear to me that their work goes beyond being a business, it is the passion of two women wanting their work to a blessing, a baraka. Empowering women by their clothing is at the core of Baraka effort, which also supports projects that help disadvantaged women and communities with a donation of their proceeds as well as time.

Importantly, the work of Kath Fry and Eisha Saleh have successfully taken out the ‘to have…or to have not” fashion debacle choice for women. They are western women making movements to compete within catwalk fashion, and with this ambition are challenging the stereotypical clothing of Muslim women whilst simultaneously challenging the trend within the western fashion arena. No longer do Muslim women or women wanting couture modesty need to make a choice. To be fashionable AND to be modest is the Baraka clothing label.

Dynamic, efficient and high fashion the niche Baraka brand is making waves down under as well as splashes across the Atlantic. If you are intrigued by Baraka concept check out the latest Baraka collection, released this May 2011. The ‘La Militraie’ 2011 range is cut with nautical hues and indulgent glamorous undertones, which Kath tells me was “inspired by the French Riviera region: the festivals, the glamour, the beach and its beautiful women.  It’s also mixed with soft military touches of a bit more structure.”

I will leave you with the baraka swintag that captured me and epitomises the baraka woman:

 “I am a woman that has modesty on the inside and fun and exciting trends speak to me on the outside.  I only deserve to wear exquisitely hand crafted clothing, of the world’s finest linen, cotton, silk, and jersey to keep me cool and confident; because I am.

Made in Australia with love.”

To check out the latest collect and be kept in touch with baraka offers link up to baraka online via the following link: www.barakawomen.com

 Thanks to Kath and Elisah for their time in creating a stable modest fashion line, and courtesy for their pictures and interview time. 

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