In August, Ibtihaj Muhammad became the first woman to wear a hijab while representing Team USA at the Olympics. The fencer returned stateside with a bronze medal — a particularly meaningful win, considering that faith-honoring uniforms are still under scrutiny. The 30-year-old has been redefining modest style for a few years now, though, through her own fashion line. On top of being a history-making athlete (and an ambassador for the U.S. Department of State), she's a fashion entrepreneur, as well.
In 2014, Muhammad and her siblings founded Louella, a bi-coastal enterprise that caters to the modest, style-conscious shopper. The company is just two years old, but the seed was planted long before that. "I knew that the demand was there just from my personal experience," she told Refinery29. "As a young millennial who chooses to dress modestly but also wants to be fashionable, I was having a really hard time finding clothes." Something as simple as a long-sleeved maxi proved almost impossible to track down — and, if she did find pieces that fit her needs, they were often extraordinarily expensive. Muhammad set out to change that.
Nothing on Louella's website is over $200. The brand appeals to a devout shopper who might not have as many options in the market, but it's not exclusively for Muslim women. "Some people have a really hard time getting past the fact that the model has on a hijab," Muhammad said of the styling on her e-comm site. However, as her public profile continues to grow, and more people catch wind of her brand, she's expanding the scope of her lookbook, some of which we have in the photos ahead, to include women without headscarves. "We want people to envision themselves in our clothes," she noted, whether they are religious or simply into her collection.
The idea of modest clothing is being rebranded, Muhammad believes — finally, people are getting on board with the fact that dressing modestly and fashionably don't have to to be mutually exclusive. Plus, mass retailers and fashion brands, like Uniqlo, Dolce & Gabbana, and Mango, have attempted to cater to this long-ignored demographic — although not always successfully. Louella is different because its founder is also its target customer, aware of the demand but also the practical needs that cause shoppers like her to seek this product. And its message is only spreading.
Ahead, Muhammad discusses Louella's mission, what being an athlete teaches you about running a business, and how the industry's perception of modest dress is changing (finally).