Estimated reading time: 15 minute(s)
Ebony S. Muhammad (EM): The M.G.T. & G.C.C. (Muslim Girls’ Training & General Civilization Class) have coined your clothing line as “Sister Carmen’s garments”, but what is the official name for your line?
Carmen Muhammad (CM): It’s “Al-Nisa Designs”. Of course Al-Nisa comes from the Holy Quran (Arabic for ‘The Women’). Therefore, with dealing with the woman and the dress of the woman and the importance of the woman, I chose Al-Nisa.
EM: Yes ma’am thank you!
Where did your love for fashion design come from and how were you introduced to the fashion industry especially with modest fashion?
CM: I’ve always loved fashion, even as a child. I think most of us have experienced this when we were growing up. We didn’t have all of the technology that we have today, but growing up as a child I did a lot of playing with dolls. I always loved making doll clothes, and I wanted to dress the dolls. That’s where it all started. I made coats for my baby dolls.
As I got older from Elementary School to Junior High, I was always very conscious of my dress. When I was introduced to Islam, it was prior to 1975, I was a teenager. Once I learned more about the faith, itself, I was intrigued to want to dress more modestly. At first I was like, “I can’t wear that. That’s too hot! How can they wear all that?” (laughs) The more I learned about the faith, the more I embraced the idea that I wanted to be covered as a young woman coming up in high school.
So when I converted to Islam I was going into the 10th grade of high school, and at that time I was going to public high school. Everyone that knew me, knew me as being an outgoing individual. Therefore, my transition from being involved in Christianity and coming over into Islam was something that everyone was waiting to see. It was like, “Oh we cannot wait until school starts to see what she is going to wear!” They knew we had to have our head covered all the time. That is what really got me very, very involved and interested in wanting to style myself.
I had all these friends with me prior to becoming a Muslim, and they were waiting to see what I was going to look like. That challenged me to have my own clothing made. I didn’t want them to look at me and be like, “Oh my gosh, she looks like a nun!” I wanted to be modestly dressed with style. You know, cutting edge fashion. After becoming a Muslim I knew that I didn’t want, for a lack of a better word, to look like my Grandmother. I’ve got to be able to come with it.
Also it was my way of getting to those that maybe wouldn’t come to the mosque with me, because some were like, “I like what they’re talking about, but I just could never dress like that”. So when they would see me and the clothing that I was wearing, it was something that allowed me to open the door and make them more comfortable with coming and hearing the Teachings. I saw that the fashion and the way that we would dress become a conversation and a way of having a dialogue with individuals about Islam. So that’s where it started.
EM: Absolutely beautiful! You are answering questions that I know other people, especially women, would have. Most women love what we are teaching/learning and what we stand for, but covering may very well be the one barrier to them joining. We want to be and feel attractive and that’s how the enemy gets us. They come through our desire to be attractive and our need for attention. However, the way that you explained your approach to modest fashion definitely proves that we can be stylish and still be modest.
You have a very major event approaching this coming October in Atlanta: The Islamic Fashion Weekend – 10,000 Fearless Dressed Women Backing the 10,000 Fearless Men. How did the idea of this event, especially with that subtitle, come about?
CM: Honestly speaking, I’ve been doing clothing for sisters in the Nation (Of Islam) for about 15 years. I saw the response that my daughters would get and other women would get when they would be in the grocery store or somewhere else. I’m attend a lot of Hollywood industry events with my clothing on, and I had high profile women approach me and say, “Where did you get that? Clearly you’re with the Nation because you have the headpiece on, but the rest of that…I’ve never seen anything like it!” The more that I was hearing that, the more I understood that we needed this as women in the Nation Of Islam to support the Teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan.
It had gone beyond creating a brand. This is something that has to happen. I’ve got to do something where I bring together Muslim women designers and have our own fashion week. We premier to the world who WE are through the clothing line. That’s when I came up with the title: “A New Dress. A New Mind. A New Woman”. Until I can get you to put your clothes back on…see that’s the first thing. I’ve got to get you to understand that you don’t have to reveal all and everything to everyone. So first, I’ve got to get you to accept a new dress, because once you accept the dress and the modesty of the dress, you understand what it represents as a woman to the world. They are looking at your attire. First they see your attire. They don’t get to visit your mind. So first, I’ve got to get you to put your clothes back on, and I can give you a new mind through the Teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan. Then ultimately you WILL become a new woman, but it’s a process that has to happen. Once we do all that, then now we can get 10,000 fearless women, modestly dressed women to back the 10,000 fearless men that the Minister is calling for. So now we’ve become a team and we’ve become one. That’s how that came about.
EM: Yes ma’am!