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Nawal Sari on Muslim representation in streetwear and her love of sneakers

WORDS BY ELIZA SHOLLY

“Sneakers are a really cool way to break boundaries as a woman.”

The industry may have dubbed Nawal Sari a ‘modest fashion influencer’ but her personality is anything but. The 22-year-old is hungry, and it’s clear while chatting to her that she is keen to break through the industry boundaries she encountered growing up.

Four years ago, Nawal, who hails from Liverpool in Western Sydney, began posting photos of her conservative aesthetic, tapping into Australia’s growing interest in the modest fashion market. As a hijabi Muslim woman, exploring the intersection of gender, fashion and creativity was alluring, and something that continued to inform her ever-growing online platform.


Looking for more on the future of Australian fashion? Pop over to our Fashion page and browse to your heart’s content.


These days, Nawal works full-time on her content creation, securing loyal followers along the way. She also collaborates with Hype DC, a store that celebrates the impact of sneaker culture in Australia, selling a curated collection of the best brands in the world.

Taking inspiration from Nawal’s latest campaign with Hype DC, Sneakertellers, here we chat about her earliest sneaker memories, streetwear representation in the Muslim community and a cheeky formative stint as a Hype DC employee.

For those who are (unfortunately) unaware of your brand, could you give readers a little explainer as to why do you think Hype DC chose you as a Sneakerteller?

I have a really interesting connection with sneakers and streetwear; it hasnt always been superlinear. When I was young and in my early teens, I absolutely loved them. I wore anything I could get my hands on. As I got older, I thought streetwear could be considered too masculinebecause that is how its always portrayed. I had an identity crisis, because being a Muslim woman, and a woman in general, I thought I had to leave any form of masculinity behind.

Two years out of school I got a job at Hype DC and bought my first pair of Nike Air Force to start working there. Ever since, my passion for sneakers has grown and I have realised that streetwear, in general, is really self-expressive. Sneakers are for everyone, something I think people underestimate.

Could you talk me through some of your earliest sneaker memories?

I would say I have two first sneaker memories. My mum has always been a bargain shopper, and when I was a kid she found this website where we could order cheap Converse and Vans from America and get them sent over. Those would be our shoes for the year. I remember choosing a pair of bright sparkly pink Vans and peach Converse. I was obsessed with them.

Then, when I was in primary school, my mum found a pair of ’80s style Ponys. They were these high top, purple leathery sneakers that had wings on them. They were so extra and I was obsessed, even though I didnt know what the hell they were. I still dont think Ive ever seen them since.

How would you define the impact of sneaker culture in Australia?

I think that Australia was a little late to the sneaker trend. When I was working at Hype DC, I noticed that we hadnt really gotten around to finding our place in the community, compared to the UK and US where everyone was represented. There were hijabis in campaigns and every body type on billboards. Eventually, Australia came around and its amazing that we have finally caught on.

 

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What do you personally try to achieve through your own fashion?

My main mission has always been pushing for young women, and women in general, to be really self-expressive and unapologetic for their creative side. I think growing up it was always something I had to advocate for, so wearing what you want and living how you want is important to me. You dont have to dim yourself for anybody.

Sneakers are a really cool way to break boundaries as a woman. When I was younger, there was this mentality around Why would you wear sneakers when there are heels?, so I think young women now are cottoning on to how wearing something as simple as sneakers can correlate to being edgy, cool and unapologetic. Its powerful and incredible.

What do you reach for now, sneaker wise?

Currently, its Converse. Ive always been drawn to them; my Chuck Taylor All Star 70 Highs go with everything and there are so many fun colours. I just bought some green ones which are sick, and I keep seeing the brown ones around so I think Im going to get some of those.

I know you touched on your time working at Hype DC. Could you tell me a little more about it? Do you have any funny stories from the floor?

I loved working at Hype DC. Until now, Id actually say it has been my favourite job. I think I was one of the first hijabis in my community to work at Hype DC, and even though I come from a large Muslim community, people were surprised to see that I could sell them something so new and edgy. My experiences there were often about proving people wrong, and showing that I actually did know what I was talking about.

You meet so many cool people working at a sneaker store – everyone that comes in is so different, with their own style and type of shoe that they reach for. I think my favourite experience overall would just be meeting new people, and breaking down that boundary. Like yes, I am a retail worker but I am also advising on something really special.

Since then, how have sneakers impacted your personal style?

I think I went through a phase where I played a lot with mens clothing. Streetwear is very unisex – its for absolutely everyone. Youll see girls wearing guys clothes and guys wearing girls clothes. When I began styling mens pieces with womens pieces – oversized jumpers, mens T-shirts layered with turtlenecks – it allowed me to understand how fashion has no boundaries.

Clothing is clothing, and I think streetwear and sneakers helped me break into that mindset. There is no gender to fashion, so why are we all so fixated on shopping in certain sections? Working at Hype DC was where that all started for me.

Hype DC is celebrating the impact of sneaker culture in Australia and New Zealand by encouraging sneaker lovers to share their sneaker stories and memories – because everyone has their sneaker to tell. Head here to check out more Sneakerteller stories.

hypedc.com/sneakertellers

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