Mexico is located to the southern part below the United States. In 2010, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography there were about 3,700 Muslims in Mexico out of a 114,793,341 population. What is one Mexican Muslim revert and self-made clothing designer, Alheli Sg from Mazatlan, Sinaloa doing? She is going against all odds and breaking barriers! I had the opportunity to chat with her on what it means to be a Muslim in Mexico, her label Bella Luna Abayas and its future.
sa: Let's talk a bit first about who is Alheli Sg. I understand you are a Mexican native who has recently reverted to Islam and has self-taught herself design. What else would you like to add to this statement?
ag: I'm currently studying to be an English teacher. I'm very good at picking up languages, so I might become a linguist, or a translator inshaAllah. I love all kinds of art. I'm passionate. And I really like Mexican food haha.
sa: What does it mean for you to be a Muslim in Mexico at this time?.
ag: I believe that it is very difficult to be a Muslim in a nation where there are not many Muslims, and there is distrust of my religion, however, Islam for me is the truth and answers all questions for me, and even though it is difficult, I seek refuge in God and He helps me. Furthermore, being a Muslim, and abiding by the Islamic ideals truly give me a sense of peace, which I hope I can give to others, so they realize that Islam is a religion that completes my life in a good way. It’s a privilege for me to be a Muslim in this country.
It is hard to have to face discrimination very often, but it is gratifying to be able to make the locals see Islam through me. I feel privileged to be a Muslim here, because among thousands of people, Allah chose me to share my religion with others. Right now, we're about three Muslimahs and there are more two women wanting to convert. We are planning on meeting once a week in a park to talk about Islam, pray together etc.
sa: I noticed that you wear hijab. Tell us a bit about your journey.
ag: When I first reverted, I was hesitant to wear hijab. I thought it was unnecessary and I was afraid of what my family and friends would say about it. I kept my conversion a secret for about a year. I didn't want my Christian family to know I had become a Muslim, and I was terrified of their reaction. But one day I woke up and I said to myself "today I will wear hijab" and I never took it off. I started wearing it every day and I just couldn't fathom going out without it after that. While it has its advantages, it has been complicated because I haven't been able to get a job because of the prejudice against Muslims here and people often insult me for wearing it or even give me rude stares. However, people identify me as a Muslimah now. In fact, because of my hijab, two recently converted Muslimahs from my city found and contacted me. When I wear it, I feel I'm the flag of Islam and I represent my religion in a city of non-Muslims and I represent it with pride. It makes me feel safe and secure. People approach me and ask me questions about Islam because the hijab makes them curious. It is my identity as a Muslim woman and I think it is a privilege for us (women) to be able to visually represent our faith, as it's harder to identify western dressed men as Muslims.
sa: At what point did you decide to enter the Muslim clothing design industry?
ag: It started after my participation in an Abaya design contest. But it wasn't the only reason. I decided to enter the Muslim clothing design industry because I believe I can cater unique designs that not only embody Islamic ideals but Mexican and Latino heritage as well, because I am a proud of it, and I wanted to showcase that through Bella Luna.
sa: Tell us a bit on the experience of producing your own clothing line?
ag: As I said before, it all started when I participated in an abaya design contest. I realized how much fun I had drawing and translating the ideas in my head into wonderful designs on paper. I started daydreaming about one day starting my own clothing line, and after a huge amount of support from my friends and loved ones, I did. It was tough, and needed more effort than I had thought, but Alhamdulillah, that dream came true and here we are. It is difficult, but I love doing what I do. I'm having lots of fun.
sa: How did you choose the name for your label “Bella Luna” (Beautiful Moon)?
ag: I noticed how the moon is somewhat of a symbol in Islam. It is one of Allah's most beautiful creations, and is why I chose Bella Luna to represent my designs.
sa: What kind of women and girl is the “Bella Luna” shopper?
ag: The Bella Luna shopper is bold and modern, yet modest. She is very chic, and adores the richness that vivid bright colors can offer.
sa: I think there is familiarity between Muslim-wear and some of the traditional folkloric Mexican clothing e.g. long dresses. How are people reacting to the new style of clothing you are producing in particular the abaya?
ag: Yes, I think there is familiarity, even though most Mexican women don't wear those dresses anymore, they still approve of modest clothing. Surprisingly, all the people here who have seen Bella Luna's abayas have liked them, specially the butterfly-cut ones. They've seen them as comfortable and elegant clothes, which caught their attention. Many of them have even considered wearing them despite not being Muslim!
sa: What is the inspiration behind your Fall/Winter Collection?
ag: Mainly my Mexican heritage. Mexico is full of colours, prints, flavours. I wasn’t particularly focused on a certain style or trend but instead I tried to be creative and designed clothes that can be worn as everyday clothes but always with a dash of fun and elegance.
sa: What does the Abaya mean to you?
ag: I see it as a very practical over-garment that maintains one’s modesty.
sa: I noticed your collection consists of Abayas and Maxi dresses. There has been an increased demand on maxi dresses and skirts for the Muslim woman here in the U.S. Is part of the collection a respond to that demand?
ag: Yes, it is. Women in the US want clothes that are comfortable and modest, but still gorgeous and colorful. Our dresses and skirts will be perfect for them.
sa: What’s next for Bella Luna?
ag: We are currently working on a new collection full of colors and prints, focusing on the need of casual yet stylish apparel for every hijabi’s wardrobe. Bella Luna aims to expand its horizons as an internationally recognized fashion label, providing highest quality and affordable original clothing to women who like to dress modestly, regardless of their religion. We are also planning to open a retail store some time in the future inshaAllah.
sa: Describe your style.
ag: It changes from time to time, depending on my mood, but I’d describe it as boho-chic style. I have always liked long-loose blouses and skirts, especially those which have bright vivid colors. Comfort is always a top priority.
sa: What advice would you give to someone in your current position in Mexico trying to balance their new faith and setting-up their own design label?
ag: Be patient and always open to accept ideas, suggestions, feedback and help from others, but most importantly, make lots of du’as.
sa: Do you wear your own designs?
ag: Of course I do! Especially the maxidresses, those are my favorites
sa: What’s the funniest thing that has happened to you?
ag: An old man once saw me in an Abaya and mistook me for a Hungarian gypsy. He gave me his palm and begged me to read his fortune. After I explained to him that I wasn't a gypsy and I was in fact, a Muslimah, he left with a very disappointed look on his face. It was quite funny!