As a hijab-wearing Muslim woman living in Melbourne, Seher Istar is accustomed to frequent stares from passersby. But now, she's getting looks for a different reason. As the designer and founder of the world’s first hijab-friendly hat, Seher’s collection of hats are now the ones pulling stares.
“When I wear the hat, it literally turns heads,” Seher’s warm laugh fills the phone line. “People already stare at me...I actually want to make it worth their while. A lot of clients have said the same thing. They're like, ‘oh my god, I take it off to be low-key.’”
One look at her selection of four hats — the boater hat, the baseball cap, the beret, and the bucket hat — and it’s not hard to see why.
“When I was designing my first ever hat, the Jamela Boater Hat, I wanted to design a very elegant, very classy hat. A hat that made women feel worth it, confident and comfortable in what they were wearing, and made a statement at the same time. It definitely delivered,” Seher tells me.
I have to agree — sophistication oozes from the hat, and I can see why strangers can’t help but stare. Coming in three fabric ways, they’re wide-brimmed and finished off with a black grosgrain ribbon that can be tied under the chin. And looking at the Jamela Bucket Hat in all its oversized glory, you can tell that the typical Jamela Boutique woman isn’t afraid of standing out.
But the idea behind Jamela Boutique was anything but glamorous. In 2019, Seher had been to Saudi Arabia for pilgrimage, where it had been extremely hot. She returned home to Australia with her face extremely burnt.
"Most hijabis have this thing called a hijabi tan line, and I was like, not again! When I take my hijab off at home, it just looks ridiculous, like I've dipped my head into a cake,” Seher laughs.
From there, the idea of a hijab-friendly hat was born. But the path towards creating her hat line wasn’t so simple. Seher became accustomed to knockback after knockback. Her friend who worked in millinery wasn’t interested, saying that there wasn’t a market for it. Without a background in fashion, Seher failed to make the hat moulds three times, and lost quite a bit of money while trying. She even borrowed money from her sister so her husband wouldn’t know just how much she was pouring into her pipe dream.
None of these setbacks fazed her. Her passion and dedication were palpable through the phone.
“I [couldn’t] get this out of my heart, I [couldn’t] get this out of my mind,” says Seher. “Even if I just make five hats and sell five hats, it just needs to be done. I felt obligated. I was like, somebody needs to do this and I guess that's me.”
Once the samples started to feel right, Seher started to sell her hats at market stalls. “I didn't even have a tablecloth, nothing,” she says. “I just had my hats on the table [but] I will never forget the first impressions I got from women. They’d put it on, and their face said, ‘ohhh! It actually fits!’. It was so emotional for me.”
“I [couldn’t] get this out of my heart, I [couldn’t] get this out of my mind. I felt obligated. I was like, somebody needs to do this and I guess that's me.”
Feedback and compliments started to roll in, with other hijabi women telling Seher that this summer with their Jamela Boutique hat has been their best yet.
It’s a moment of personal victory for Seher as a Muslim woman who has always adored fashion, yet felt othered by Australia’s fashion industry. By carving out her own place in a space that has never welcomed her with open arms, Seher is forging her own way. Instead of being cynical, Seher hopes for more collaboration and respect between Australian brands. You can see that from Jamela Boutique’s Instagram that’s filled with Reels of Seher styling oversized monochrome ‘fits, and autumn park playdate ideas.
“As Muslims, we're always trying so hard to prove ourselves and prove a point,” she says. “There is a gap in the fashion industry, and it's not really considering other faiths and other head sizes.”
“With Jamela Boutique, I found my purpose in life. And I've found a way to give back to my community.”