Hi Guys, we are back with another POWER TO BE SERIES! and this time we will be talking to Hakeemah Cummings; the founder of CMB styling which is the first modest Styling & Marketing service catering to Muslim women. Read on for her insightful and motivating story on how she went from teaching biology to carving out a niche for herself in modest fashion styling.
1. Can we get to know you?
Sure! I am a fashion stylist who specializes in modest fashion, and I’m the owner of CMB Styling, the only modest styling service of its kind in the USA. I do brand photoshoots, runways, personal styling, bridal styling, and so much more in collaboration with modest wear providers. Beyond that, I am also a college Biology instructor, mother of 2 daughters, and wife! I am Belizean-American, and one of ten amazing siblings.
2. How did you get into styling?
In 2011, I opened a Facebook page and an online shop named ‘Cover me Beautiful by Hakeemah’. I sourced wholesale maxi-sized, printed hijabs that were very on-trend at that time, and I sold them through my Facebook shop. Once my following started to grow, sisters started to ask me for tutorials, how to style outfits, etc. I started to post styling content, and then in 2013 I moved over to Instagram as a platform for styling content and ended the shop. I also attended my first modest fashion show that year at Washington DC Fashion Week and fell in love with the concept of representation of modesty on the runway. I approached the producers of that show to see how I could be involved. They said they would love to have a backstage stylist, and due to my experience with hijab styling, I was accepted to be a stylist the very next season. I continued that work for 6 seasons thereafter, working for brands to present their collections at that show and many other shows. I also continued to present my styling work on Instagram to grow my presence online as well.
I think that oftentimes we assign value to work in the mainstream more than we do with working within the community because we feel that work is more legitimate when we work with Nike’s modest sportswear line for example, as opposed to a small businesswoman who has been making modest athletic gear for far longer. It’s not true! My whole tenure as a stylist has been focused almost solely on the community I identify with and it has been fulfilling and lucrative.
3. What challenges have you faced as a stylist who is a Muslim?
I really focus on serving my own community – fellow Muslims, fellow modest fashion enthusiasts, fellow hijabis, and fellow small business and self-made creative talents within the community. I really enjoy working within a niche that understands and appreciates my service. So in that way, being a Muslim has not been anything but an asset to me. Alhamdulilah I have styled for a couple more mainstream brands, such as TOMS shoes and Sheertex, which was an awesome opportunity. I think that oftentimes we assign value to work in the mainstream more than we do with working within the community because we feel that work is more legitimate when we work with Nike’s modest sportswear line for example, as opposed to a small businesswoman who has been making modest athletic gear for far longer. It’s not true! My whole tenure as a stylist has been focused almost solely on the community I identify with and it has been fulfilling and lucrative.
4. Has there been a moment when a styling job conflicted with Islamic rules and guidelines? If yes, how did you manage the situation?
Yes that has happened, and at that moment I remember my Rabb, my purpose, and identity, and I left the room. I was at a DC Fashion Week opening fashion show, and I was sitting in the front row. The host announced that the first showcase on the runway would be a bonus showing of a men’s underwear collection. So although I was 7months pregnant, and had troubled myself with traveling 1 hour away from home, I got up immediately and drove back home. I was the only hijabi in the room, and for me to sit and view a show of half-naked men parading on the runway would have been contrary to everything I represent. I thank the God-consciousness that wearing hijab afforded me at that moment because I acted quickly to save myself from my own nafs, but also as a stance – the Muslim woman left because she did not agree with immodesty on the runway. I think people read that, and I’m happy they did.
5. How would you describe your personal style? And how did you find it?
I wear a lot of skirts and dresses, layering pieces like open abayas, dusters and kimonos, and business casual outfits. I’m not a jeans girl, not an athletic/sporty kind of girl either. I love elegant, streamlined looks, feminine or dainty accents, gemstones, and muted colors, and long layers. For my personal style, I really don’t wear many dramatic prints or intense colors head-to-toe, although I may wear a splash of that here or there in a look. I like looking like I’m either going to work, going out for a day at the beach, or dressing for a fancy evening event. So that might mean wearing a flowy skirt at the park with the kids, a glittery dress out to dinner with the hubby, or an abaya to the grocery store. Whatever makes me feel beautiful at the moment, I wear it, even if most people are wearing jeans and T-shirts. I don’t mind standing out, as long as I feel pretty and covered!
6. What fashion items should every Muslimah have in her wardrobe?
Layering pieces like long kimonos or dusters I believe are essential. This can mean a long knit sweater or trench in the winter or fall, or a light chiffon cardigan for the summer. Either way, I think layering is really great, especially if you are curvaceous and would like to wear separates without being revealing of your body shape. A great collection of hijabs in different fabrics and essential colors would be good. I love chiffon and jersey, or light weaves such as cotton blends. Having a dark color palette (think black, dark brown, jade green, etc) and a neutral/light color palette (think blush pink, lavender, beige, etc) would be great for every hijabi so that you are not stuck wearing the same hijab with every outfit. We all need a great black maxi skirt, a great pair of loose-fitting pants, and a great-fitting long tunic or shirtdress as well.
7. At NUFAESAH, our aim is to inspire power and confidence in Muslim women, what is your number 1 style advice to portray confidence?
My number 1 style advice as a Muslim modest fashion stylist is that your deen prevails over your Dunya. If you are wearing something that you know conflicts with the deen because you think it’s cute, there is always a more Islamically appropriate option that is even cuter! Finding power and confidence as a Muslim woman means owning your Islamic garb and trying not to succumb to pressures to compromise. We can be completely adherent to the rules of hijab, as well as completely stylish and beautiful when we get dressed. It may take some work in finding what look fits that bill, but it is worth the work.
8. Where do you go when you need inspiration for your work?
I am really inspired by modest fashion designers. I think it is noble work to do the job of creating the clothing that covers the Muslim woman, or women who want to remain modestly-dressed. That’s why I really wanted to build a brand that is in service of them and helps to bridge the gap between designers and the customers they serve. I believe that is just what I do as a stylist.
9. What advice will you give any Muslim lady out there who aims to be a successful Muslimah stylist?
We need more stylists in modest fashion! My biggest advice would be to do honest work and serve your community. Honesty is the best way to build a strong network, reliability of your brand and service, and build a brand that is in service of Allah ultimately. Your network will be your best asset. As a stylist, you need a solid client base, so by speaking at events, sending emails, creating collaborations, you can do that. Following through on promises, working on new, creative projects constantly, and meeting deadlines, you are constantly building that honest network. Styling is fun, but it is hard work, just like any artistic profession.