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Shaping Culture: Nawal Sari on the intersection of modest fashion and sneakers

VIDEO AND STILLS BY YEAHSURE.CO
WORDS BY KLP

Meet the changemakers.

This Air Max season, Nike Sportswear champions inclusivity in the ever-evolving sneaker culture. Nike has tapped singer-songwriter KLP for an interview series amplifying the voices of female changemakers who are shaping the future of sneaker culture. The following interview and words are written by KLP.

Sometimes you meet someone who shines such a bright light of positivity, it genuinely inspires you. That was me the moment I met Nawal Sari. She has such a passion for spreading self-empowerment, creativity and cultural awareness. And she does so with such grace, through sharing her own honest experiences with her followers. Having the opportunity to sit down with her and chat so openly about her upbringing, her inspirations and motivations was a moment that I’ll carry through life with me.

KLP: It’s so nice to meet you, Nawal. How do you describe yourself and what you stand for when you first meet people?

Nawal Sari: It feels like, for me, I’m just doing my own thing in my own little bubble. But to put it into words, I’m redefining modest fashion by using my platform to show other women – Muslim women and every girl – that modest fashion is there, and it’s personal and creative.

I’m working on my platforms to basically push that message and inspire other girls, because I never had that growing up as this young Aussie girl. I didn’t have a Muslim girl on social media, or in the media, that I could look to and be like, ‘I want to be like her’ or ‘there’s a space for me’. I’m just on my own little mission to work to change things in my own way.    

KLP: I wasn’t aware of what modest fashion was. I didn’t even know that it was a term to describe a type of fashion. How do you describe modest fashion? 

NS: First of all, it’s very personal. To me, modest fashion is wearing the hijab, having longer pieces that are not as tight. To some other girls it’s wearing more of a turban-style hijab and doing their own type of thing. So it’s very, very personal. What I’m trying to do is show that modest fashion is present. It’s there, it’s in the world, people need to recognise it and take it for what it is; but it’s also very empowering for women. 

KLP: It’s your choice to dress like that and I guess you’re trying to say that it’s up to you and the individual how they want to dress. 

NS: Yeah, just as any woman should have the option to dress how she wants, the same applies. I choose to cover, you may choose to do something else. It’s totally up to you, it’s personal, and women should have the right to dress how they want to dress and not feel like they have to conform to something because it makes someone else uncomfortable.

KLP: When you were growing up, did you have anyone that you could see that was visible that you could look up to, be it in fashion or TV?

NS: I wore the hijab when I was 15 or 16, it was in year 10. And at the time, I wasn’t looking up to hijabi women. It wasn’t until I got onto social media and I saw in the UK and the US that they have hijabi bloggers. I didn’t think that was a thing, because I just saw the typical Aussie look for so long. And that appeals to some women, but to a lot of us it doesn’t. So I kind of thought there wasn’t a space for me in fashion, being a Muslim woman who also wears the hijab. 

KLP: This Air Max season, Nike is championing inclusivity in sneaker culture through the likes of Air Max Verona, the new silhouette created by women, for women. You’ve spoken about that at length, and you’re an inspiration for so many people, how does it feel being a muse in fashion to your followers? 

NS: It’s crazy. I feel like I just fell into it, I never strived to be like, ‘I’m going to inspire women’. I would get feedback from women who were like, ‘because of you, I decided to wear the hijab’ or ‘because of you, I dress more creatively or more personally’. That’s amazing, that’s what I’m here to do. 

Before anything I would tell myself, if I’m going to put myself on a platform where I have a voice and I have that power, it’s going to be for something. I’m not just going to be there to benefit myself, it’s going to help other people.

I’m still studying, I’m still doing my own thing, but I do see it as a career now.

KLP: You have such a strong message and it’s so genuine. And I guess through social media, you can connect with people all over the world which is amazing. Has there ever been an experience where someone has hit you up directly and said your sense of style has changed the way they think about modest fashion? 

NS: I’ve had a lot more recently, when I’ve been exposed to more mainstream media, where I’ve had non-Muslim women come to me and say, ‘because of you, I’ve changed my perspective of it all. I’m way more open to [modest dressing] now, I see that it’s empowering’. 

My mission is to help my own first, of course I want Muslim women to feel the power. But to think that any woman can be more inclusive towards my community, and that when they see a Muslim woman walk down the road, that woman won’t be alienated or treated differently because I helped a person unpack [their perceptions], it’s just another amazing thing that could happen from the whole thing.

KLP: So, do you believe that you’ve created a catalyst for change among your followers? 

NS: I feel like I’ve created a space where, if you follow me and you decide to be a part of the community then for sure, it’s changing things. To think that a Muslim woman can feel like the hijab isn’t going to change her whole life and be a thing of ‘I have to chuck out all my fun clothes and do all these things’ – because I think a lot of Muslim women, we thought that. Like, ‘We have to change who we are to be a woman who wears the hijab’. 

I feel like I’m trying to show girls that it’s a big step, it’s powerful, it’s personal. But it can also be creative and fun, and you don’t have to totally flip things upside down so you can wear the hijab. 

But sneaker culture for me was how I developed my own personal style, because streetwear and sneakers, it’s a lot more modest than other style spaces. When I finished high school, I was actually working at a sneaker store when I discovered street culture. It’s modest and it’s also really sick, so I can do both and still respect what I’m doing. So that’s kind of how I developed into my own personal style. 

And I think for a lot of Muslim women, street culture and sneakers and everything around sportswear is kind of – it’s like their safe space. Because no one’s going to judge you if you walk around in a modest outfit, but it’s a full-on Nike kit, because it’s sick. But you’re also comfortable and you’re wearing whatever you want. So it’s also how I’ve pushed into my own style.

KLP: Okay so last question, why is sportswear and sneaker culture important to you?

NS: It’s how I developed my own style. It’s how I connected my personality plus modest fashion into what I wear. When I was in high school, I remember feeling like I had to dress a certain way, which is how other hijabis dressed. Which is fine for some, but for me I didn’t feel like it was personal enough. So being able to step into the sportswear world, it was not totally foreign because you’re wearing longer pieces, looser pieces. I think for a lot of women, that’s been really empowering. And now we have the Nike Hijab which has totally changed the game.

KLP: How did you feel when you saw that?

NS: I was so happy! I wear it as more of a fashion piece, like I wear it with a hoodie on top or with just like a really cute outfit. And you can do that, there’s versatility to it. 

Shop the Air Max Verona here and read others in our Shaping Culture series here

nike.com/au

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