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This Syrian-American Designer Is Making Waves with Fashion

This Syrian-American Designer Is Making Waves with Fashion

I met Lena Harbali years ago at a university fashion show.
I was intrigued by her unique bohemian chic designs, and pattern making skills. I’d see her around at fashion shows and on Facebook doing her thang!
Just recently, she contacted me with an opportunity for a collaboration.
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She said, “I’m an indie designer and you’re a bomb model. Let’s make something happen.”
And the rest is history.
We’ve decided to release this collection of photos on Muslimgirl.com, along with a cool interview with Muslim designer, Lena Harbali.

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Designs by Lena Harbali
 
Tell the Muslim Girl readers about yourself.
Lena Harbali: I’m a 21-year-old Syrian-American designer currently based in Michigan. I grew up living and traveling all over the world. My childhood was anything but traditional. I was almost always surrounded by people who were very different than me, so it became my nature to be accepting and loving of those differences.
Those unique experiences made me who I am today. I view things through a different lens than my peers, and that gives me an edge when creating. Deep empathy and relating to other people comes naturally. Because of this, I have always been involved in social issues like feminism, racial relations, and the LGBT struggle. I continually strive to use my art in ways that showcase my values and to push a message of love.
I went to school for Art Education, another passion of mine, using art to shape the minds of the next generation. My primary medium of art is everything 3D: ceramics, sculpture, metal-work, and of course, fashion design. I got into fashion as something completely separate from my degree.
I showcased my designs at over ten runway shows by the time I graduated. Everything I have done in the fashion world up to this point has been entirely self-taught. I’m currently working as a freelance fashion designer and artist. I design and create my own one-of-a-kind pieces from scratch. My dream is to create a brand that uses ethically sourced and eco-friendly materials and processes to create empowering clothes for men, women, and everyone in between.
What was it like the first time you picked up a sewing machine?
LH: I can’t even remember the first time I sewed. I started off like many other designers did, by sewing clothes for their dolls. I remember being too young for the sewing machine and making things by hand, tying up my mom’s scarves, and playing dress up. There is something about clothes that can make you feel like a different person, a new character. I love the drama of it all.
My strong sense of feminism, from a young age, led to a deep dissatisfaction with the representation of women in the fashion industry. I wanted to wear things that made me feel epic and funky as hell, not overly sexualized and objectified.

My strong sense of feminism, from a young age, led to a deep dissatisfaction with the representation of women in the fashion industry. I wanted to wear things that made me feel epic and funky as hell, not overly sexualized and objectified.

So for the first chapter of my designing career, I did just that — made clothes that empowered women. They were typically on the modest side, involved lots of color, and were not traditionally feminine.
Now, with my growing empathy towards the LBGT community, I felt that I needed to be more inclusive to men, women, and everyone in between if I wanted to reflect my true values. With my latest work I have begun to explore androgynous looks and menswear, and I absolutely love it! If my traveling experiences have taught me one thing, it’s that beauty is different everywhere in the world.
So I say: Screw societal standards. I’m here to break all the rules.

So I say: Screw societal standards. I’m here to break all the rules.

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Makeup by Madinah M.
I’m interested in knowing why you chose me as a model for this fashion shoot. What does this dress mean to you?
LH: If my personal brand could be summed up into one word, it would be “inclusivity”. That means every shape, every color, every gender and orientation. Everyone deserves to be heard and acknowledged. I’m an artist, so it’s my duty to give these people a platform.
You, Leah V., have a body type that is rarely shown positively in the fashion industry. I have been fed up for a long time seeing only straight-sized women on the runway. So I feel strongly about showcasing some diversity with my work. Your body type coupled with your kick-ass personality was the perfect fit.
The dress was a continuation of a line called Andro Street, short for androgynous street wear. In this line, I challenged myself in using a limited color palette (far away from my usual prints and bright colors) of greys, blues, and blacks. This was the first line I created that was meant to be entirely androgynous. In it I had some typically “masculine” outfits, and some typically “feminine” outfits like yours, Leah, as well as more gender-neutral ones. Any gender could wear any of these garments. Everyone has permission to choose their image and feel awesome doing it.
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Model: Leah V.
What do you hope to teach young Muslim girls around the world with your designs?
LH: It took me a very long time to make peace with myself and my multiple identities. Truthfully, I still struggle every day, but don’t we all? It was hard for me to reconcile my outgoing-artsy-hippie-sarcastic nature with the typical image of a Muslim woman.
All along I felt like I wasn’t quite Arab enough, or Muslim enough, and I definitely wasn’t Western enough. I felt like I couldn’t be myself and also have my faith. I know now that there is a mold for every type of girl out there, and it’s the one you make for yourself. I want every Muslim girl out there to know that no matter what her dreams are, or who she is, her faith is hers and hers alone. No one can take that from you. It’s between you and Allah.

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All along I felt like I wasn’t quite Arab enough, or Muslim enough, and I definitely wasn’t Western enough. I felt like I couldn’t be myself and also have my faith. I know now that there is a mold for every type of girl out there, and it’s the one you make for yourself. I want every Muslim girl out there to know that no matter what her dreams are, or who she is, her faith is hers and hers alone. No one can take that from you. It’s between you and Allah.

Everyone manifests their religion and spirituality in different ways. Come into yourself, and really feel your connection to the earth and to other people. Show kindness to strangers. Never judge or fear people simply because they are different from you. Live your faith and spirituality every day, through both work and play, and that will bring you even closer to your religion and to Allah.

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Photos By Steven Wieckowski
 
Thanks so much, girl! Tell us where we can follow you.
LH: You’re welcome!
You can follow me @lenaharbali on Instagram. Visit my website: Lenaharbali.com. And I’m on Facebook: www.facebook.com/lena.harbali

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