I have things to offer other than my body
Dounia Badri digs beneath the surface of Modest Fashion
When you scroll through Dounia's Instagram feed, you will notice that she is a woman with undeniable style. You may also realize that she dresses modestly. At the age of 23, she's the founder and designer behind the fashion brand Atelier MYNA. In between her trips to Morocco, where local seamstresses make the collection, Dounia is challenging the preconceived notions of Muslim women and their relationship with clothing. We caught up with the Montreal native to discuss the importance of staying true to one's beliefs, culture, and most importantly, oneself.
What inspired you to start Atelier MYNA?
Atelier MYNA is based on the idea that you can be trendy and be modest at the same time. I've been wearing the veil for two years now, and it's still new. My biggest fear once I knew I was going to wear the hijab was, what am I going to wear? I knew that all the clothes in my closet weren't going to be valid anymore. I wanted to wear the hijab, but I was hesitant because I was unsure that I could remain stylish. That was my motivation going through with this project.
A big part of entrepreneurship involves risk. Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, tell us how your upbringing has influenced you.
My biggest influence is my mom. She came here [Canada] in her early 20’s. It was all a risk and nothing guaranteed that she would become successful in this country. She planned to stay for 2-3 years and then head back to Morocco. She had no friends or family here. Not to mention, she arrived in the early 1990's in the middle of winter. For someone to come from Morocco, where the coldest is 10°C, I admire her. My mother was young and studied extremely hard. By the age of 35, my mother had five diplomas including psychology and nursing. Today, she runs her own empire. To me, her journey has been so inspirational . It shows me that anything is possible.
How do you define modest and minimalist clothing?
Modest and minimalist clothing creates sophistication. You can wear jeans and a tank top, and by adding a long flowy vest, this adds dimension to your outfit. Modesty isn't only for Muslim women. Both Mary-Kate and Ashley are not Muslim, and they are known for their modest and minimalist clothing. It's the type of style that brings elegance to an outfit.
"Modesty isn't only for Muslim women."
Being part of the Muslim community here in Montréal, how has it influenced your designs?
A lot of my friends wear the hijab, and it's an everyday struggle because sometimes you wear jeans and a t-shirt and you feel like it isn't modest enough. So many of us ask ourselves: What am I going to wear on top of it? There's a need to find that perfect modest item that will bring the entire outfit together. The difficulty faced by my friends and the Muslim community inspired me.
There has been an increase in representation of Muslim women in the fashion industry. We've seen model Halima Aden walk for Kanye West and London hosted its 1st Modest Fashion week last year. What are your views on Muslim women and modest clothing becoming mainstream?
It's empowering. It provides a voice to women who chose to wear the hijab. It's telling them, express yourself through your clothing, you shouldn't be scared, go for it. Both of my sisters wore it [the hijab] way before I did, and I felt like the black sheep. We would always spend time together, and they showed me that their life was the same as mine, not much changes. I think if the modesty trend was big two or three years ago, I would have made the decision to wear the hijab much sooner. I don't believe I would have had that fear of not knowing what to wear.
Let's talk about biases towards modest wear. Often, Muslim women who dress modestly are often seen as oppressed, whereas non-Muslim women are not. What are your views on these types of perceptions?
It's entirely ridiculous to say that women who wear the hijab are wearing it because their husbands made them wear it, or because their dad forced them to. It's such a stereotype because at the end of the day, wearing a hijab is completely the opposite of being oppressed. I chose to cover my body. I decided not to be defined by my breast, or how fat my butt is. I'm choosing to be defined by my brain. Don't look at my body, look into my eyes. I have things to offer other than my body. It's the same thing as a girl who wears a mini skirt and a tank top. Ultimately, she made a decision to show her body and that decision is rightfully hers. People who think that Muslim women wear the hijab because they are oppressed by a male figure, do not know its value. They need to see how these women wear it with so much pride.
"I chose to cover my body. I chose not to be defined by my breast, or how fat my butt is…Don't look at my body, look into my eyes."
What are three entrepreneurial goals you would like to achieve within the next five years?
First, I would love to turn Atelier MYNA into an international brand. Secondly, I've been thinking about adding a donation component to the brand. There are so many countries in crisis right now that don't have the same luck as we do. This project would provide Atelier MYNA customers the opportunity to donate funds to help others. I want my brand to have a deeper meaning. Lastly, I would like to open a store in Montréal. That's the plan.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
We encourage you to share this conversation with your #villij. To learn more about Dounia, visit her website www.ateliermyna.com and her Instagram feed @douniabadri.