10 Designers That Revolutionized Abaya Fashion Way Before Dolce & Gabbana

[Photo Source: arabia.style.com]

by Salma L

The chatter about the new Dolce and Gabbana abaya collection is largely split between rave and daze.

Brown Girl Magazine’s editor-at-large Atiya Hasan eloquently described the mixed feelings about D&G’s new line in an interview with India.com:

“I can’t deny that it is exciting to see modest Islamic clothing in the mainstream being presented by a well-known high-end designer, but it also makes me question what this means regarding the predominant social narrative about Muslim women. Is it all of a sudden trendy, and not oppressive, to dress like us? The fact of the matter is, that high-end Muslim fashion designers have existed for as long as Muslims have existed. As an internationally known brand, Dolce & Gabanna has to be careful not to co-opt the stories of Muslim women and their fashion choices for the sake of capitalizing on it.”

So, instead of sharing my opinion on a huge fashion house that’s appropriating religious garb, I would like to encourage you to look at less mainstream designers who have completely revolutionized the abaya in function and style in the past 10-15 years.

Here it is, 10 abaya companies you should spend your money on.

1. NisaaBoutique

Neelab Safi is the founder and creative director of NISAA, which launched in 2011. Her designs are influenced by Afghan embroidery and attention to detail. The embroidered patches from her “Ethnic” collection are reminiscent of traditional wear while still flaunting religious garb. The rich brown and simple tie add elegance giving it a “day to night” ease of functionality.

LEFT: Brown Batwing Abaya RIGHT: Afghan Embroidered Black Dress
LEFT: Brown Batwing Abaya RIGHT: Afghan Embroidered Black Dress

2. Abaya Addict

LEFT: Maroon Linen Abaya RIGHT: Black Fringe Abaya
LEFT: Maroon Linen Abaya RIGHT: Black Fringe Abaya

Abaya Addict was founded by Dr. Deanna Khalil. Yes, that’s right. This badass woman not only finished her degree in optometry in Chicago but also launched her own Islamic fashion global empire. Her beautiful designs are not only on trend but completely unique. The fringe abaya takes a fashion MUST, and makes it completely wearable on an abaya. Color blocking marsala and rose quartz, fashionable Pantone colors to rock in 2016…do I even have to say anymore?

3. Annah Hariri

LEFT: Lulu Lace Abaya RIGHT: Abaya Warda
LEFT: Lulu Lace Abaya RIGHT: Abaya Warda

Annah Hariri converted to Islam four years ago. After converting she did not want to sacrifice her chic fashion sense for modesty, and she began designing her own clothes. Be gone undershirt hassle! Anyone who knows me, knows I am a sucker for gold embellishment on lavish black. Annah Hariri does just that in her collection. Complimenting rich lace embellishment with polka-dot star-like additions to chiffon. My absolute favorite is the hand-embroidered abaya in a grid design. Anyone who has seen grid design clothing— literally everywhere—knows that this is luxe. *Adds to cart for Eid 2016.*

4. Abaya Collection

According to the website, “the Abaya Collection was born out of the dream to be individual without compromising on codes of modesty.” It is beautifully adorned for weddings and evening locations. If you ever thought “nah-uhhh” to an abaya for your wedding, this line is sure to change that to a “duhhh!”

 LEFT: Hayaa RIGHT: Malaika
LEFT: Hayaa RIGHT: Malaika

5. Biah

Biah has to be one of my favorite finds. The collection is simple but elegant. Biah pairs classic colors like black, red and blue — with lace, appliques, and patterned trims. Black and white abayas are beautifully paired with a pop of colored lipstick or a statement shoe. Basically, it’s a staple. Fashion alert: Pantone Spring 2016 spots snorkel blue and I think you spot it too.

LEFT: Roshanaya II RIGHT: Ivina II
LEFT: Roshanaya II RIGHT: Ivina II

6. Abaya Buth

Abaya Buth takes classic abaya draping and open fittings to a whole new level. This simple black draped abaya comes in more styles with piping, beads and buttons. Completely regal. This open abaya jacket is the versatile option for the girl who needs extra cover or wants to pair it with a jumpsuit, now that’s functionality.

LEFT: Black Batwing Abaya RIGHT: Damask Open Jacket
LEFT: Black Batwing Abaya RIGHT: Damask Open Jacket

7. Amirah Couture

‘New York State of Mind’ is the only way to describe Amirah Couture. The designer is just as ambitious in person as she forges new outlets for Abayas and Muslim fashion. Her website boasts “every purchase sends an impoverished girl to school,” which is not only impressive but also philanthropic. Amirah’s Black Ice collection is what you need for winter: velvet warmth and frosting (and we’re not just talking about cake).

LEFT: Heartbeart RIGHT: Dark Knight
LEFT: Heartbeart RIGHT: Dark Knight

8. Aab Contemporary Modest Wear

The Aab Contemporary Modest Wear collection is “set out to create garments that take into account, simplicity, style and comfort desired by Muslim women who find themselves playing multiple roles in today‘s society.” Aab aims to create versatile clothing for the girl who chooses the abaya for everyday or the girl who wants to just wear it to religious events. The Aab collection not only sports a hoodie dress in the most beautiful coffee color, but heavy embroidery on babydoll style abayas which flaunts the most gorgeous pleats a girl could ask for.

LEFT: Mulberry Honey Musturd RIGHT: Kabanoki Abaya
LEFT: Mulberry Honey Mustard RIGHT: Kabanoki Abaya

9. East Essence

East Essence, according to the website, was founded with the idea of serving the community. They provide affordable modest clothing at the lowest margins possible as providing quality modest clothing without causing a hole in the pocket is our prime goal. And I must say, East Essence does just this, offering its client’s custom tailoring on almost every garment, in a variety of colors and styles. It also promotes scholarship, religious garment donations and hosts a giving-back initiative.

Besides wanting to support a company with so much initiatives, are we not swooning over this maroon cape abaya? Nothing screams winter chic like little red riding hood inspiration.

LEFT: Seafog Zipper Front Abaya RIGHT: Cape Jilbab Dress
LEFT: Seafog Zipper Front Abaya RIGHT: Cape Jilbab Dress

10. Inayah

Inayah “strives to maintain a balance between current trends, comfort and practicality.” Before you judge the Inayah collection by the two abayas I have pictured below, be warned their website is addictive. The collection sports the most casual denim abaya (which by the way does not look tacky at all, but effortless and chic), to the most exquisite draping, structures and heavily beaded gowns.

LEFT: Light Denim High Neck Cotton Abaya RIGHT: Deep Brown Drape Abaya
LEFT: Light Denim High Neck Cotton Abaya RIGHT: Deep Brown Drape Abaya

And these ten only scratch the surface of abaya collections. Most of these companies not only allow you to purchase abayas that are on-trend, complete with Pantone Colors of the Year, but take into account the season’s head-turning patterns and accessories like “grid” and “fringe.”

These designers are based largely in the West, but know there are designers like Dian Pelangi and Aere that have gorgeous, well made, innovative designs in the East as well— including the already prominent Arab designers in the U.A.E.

My point is, we don’t need validation from western fashion designers who have largely ignored our demographic until now. Don’t you think it’s just a bit convenient that after Fortune.com released $266 billion as the figure spent by Muslims in the fashion industry that suddenly big companies are advocating for us?

While I support large design houses making couture fashion modest friendly, and dream of a day the “next top model” comes from our community; I don’t support traditional clothing being marketed as couture by designers who have failed to recognize our demographic in the past. The market only overshadows women who have studied, worked hard to cater to a largely-ignored audience and have a true understanding of modest dress struggles.

Take a step back, we are already running our own industry.


Salma LSalma is a double major in the Fine Arts and Behavioral Neuroscience. She has the spirit of an artist, the heart of a humanitarian and is a fashion enthusiast. Currently, she’s standing in a cafe somewhere waiting on coffee to get over a headache.

By Brown Girl Magazine

Brown Girl Magazine was created by and for South Asian womxn who believe in the power of storytelling as a … Read more ›

Bold Helmets: Tina Singh’s Innovation is a Multi-Sport Solution

Image source: Tina Singh

Tina Singh, formerly known as Mombossof3 online, understands how to make her presence known in the parenting space. Seven years ago, she set out to create and share content related to motherhood, and there’s been no looking back since. Singh has mastered the idea of evolving with the times and the needs of her audience while staying true to her number one role in life — mom!

As she navigated her personal and professional life through the lens of a parent, she came across a void that just wasn’t being filled. So, in typical Singh style, this mom of three put her entrepreneurial hat on and got down to creating a solution for Sikh kids who struggled to find a helmet that fits over their patkas (a small cloth head covering).

The problem was personal — all three of Singh’s sons wear patkas and just couldn’t find the right helmet for their safety — and so the solution had to be homegrown. Enter, the Bold Helmets.

Singh gave Brown Girl Magazine an exclusive interview in which she talked about the Bold Helmets, the change in her journey since she’s become a public figure, and what it was like to innovate her very first product!

Here’s how it went:

Let’s start from the beginning. How did this idea come to mind?

This idea has been in my head for many, many years — over five years. I had issues with my kids and having helmets fit them after they turned age four or five.

I worked as an Occupational Therapist, in the head injury space, so I was always the one saying, ‘Okay kids, you’re gonna have to tie your hair in the back, do braids, or something in order to put on a helmet properly because I’m not gonna let you go down these bike ramps without a helmet!’ That’s just not okay for me.

So I talked to my husband and said, ‘there’s gotta be another way this works.’ So we did all the things that parents in situations like these do — they hollow out the helmets, some people go as far as cutting holes at the top of the helmet — you do what works. But I had in my mind an idea of what I think the helmet should look like based on what a patka looks like, and what my kids look like. I then found an engineer to draw it out for me to bring [my idea] to a place where I can actually take it somewhere and say, ‘Okay, how do I make this?’

But, yes, it started mainly with my kids and facing that struggle myself.

You mention that this idea had been brewing in your mind for over five years. How long did it take you to actually bring it to life?

To this point, it’s been about two and a half to three years. I let it sit in my mind for a while. Winters come here in Canada and then we forget about it again until we have to go skiing, and then there’s another problem, right?! I did let it lay dormant for a bit for sure, but once I made the commitment to do it, I made up my mind to see it all the way through.

You recently pivoted and changed the name of the product to the Bold Helmets. Can you talk me through how you came up with the new name?

Bold Helmets became the name because they’re designed to be bold, to be different and who you are. I also think that the way the helmet is made, even though it’s made with Sikh kids in mind, there are other applications to it. I do think that taking the Bold Helmets approach embodies its [the product’s] uniqueness and really focuses on being bold and who you are.

And the Bold Helmet is multi-sport, correct?

This helmet is certified for bicycles, kick scooters, skateboards, and inline skating. It is not a ski helmet. So every helmet you use for a different sport has a different safety certification or testing that it has to go through. So, this helmet is called ‘multi-sport’ because it covers those four sports but I wouldn’t take this helmet and use it for skiing. I’d have to make sure that this helmet, or a helmet like this, gets certified for various other standards for other sports.

Makes sense! I want to change the course of the conversation here a bit and talk more about how you pivoted from Mombossof3 to innovating your very first product. How was that experience?

So what I did throughout this journey was that I went from marketing myself as ‘mombossof3’ to ‘Tina Singh’ because I was sharing more of my life’s journey as my kids were getting older and in an effort to respect my children’s space as well, and letting them decide how much — or how little — they want to be involved with what I was doing online. And part of that was about the journey of what I was doing next, and the transition came naturally to me.

I think right now, truthfully, I’m struggling in the space where I kind of have a shift in audience and so my usual, everyday self that I share on social seems like it doesn’t work. I feel like I need to find a new balance; I will always be true to who I am, and I will never present myself as something that I’m not. But, just finding a space for me to continue creating content while also taking on this new endeavor with Bold Helmets, is important right now.

Aside from this struggle of finding that new balance, what is that one challenge that really sticks out to you from this journey?

I think my biggest challenge being an entrepreneur is finding that balance between my responsibilities as a parent, which is my number one role in my life and there’s no one that can take that role for me — my husband and I are the only parents — and passions outside of that.

Do you think it helped that you were creating a helmet for Sikh children so it allowed you to pursue your passion but also work with your kids in some capacity since they inspired the whole idea?

I never thought of it that way, but yes actually, it did! So all my entrepreneurial projects have involved my kids. Even now they were involved in picking the colors, all the sample tests we did they tried the helmets on! They’re probably sick of it since they’re constantly trying on helmets, but I get their opinion on them. Even as we pivoted with the name, we involved them and got their feedback on it also. So, they were involved in very large parts of this project.

And my husband is also a huge part of this project. He’s been heavily involved in this process, too!

You have a huge online presence, and I know that you’re probably not new to trolling and bullying that comes with being on social media. More recently, Bold Helmets was subject to a lot of backlashes. Is there something that you took away from this recent experience? Was it different this time around?

The extent to which things got was different this time around and that’s not something I have faced in the past. But I have been in the online space for about seven years now, and I’m accustomed to it. I think what I learned this time around is that sometimes silence and reflection is the best thing you can do. Sometimes reflecting and not being defensive on feedback that you get — and this may be something that comes with age as well as experience — is best.

But, I’m happy with the pivots we made, the feedback we’ve gotten, and the way we’re moving forward.

You mentioned that this isn’t your first entrepreneurial venture. But each experience teaches you something different. What did you learn while working on Bold Helmets?

I learned to be okay with taking things slow. I’ve never been that person; I’ve always jumped the gun on lots of things. It’s understanding that it’s ok to slow down and recognize that things have to just run their course.

And while the interview wraps up there, there is more to come with Singh on her journey! Catch Lifestyle Editor Sandeep on Instagram LIVE this Saturday, January 28, at 10 a.m. EST, as she has a more in-depth conversation with Singh on Bold Helmets and more!

In the meantime, Bold Helmets are available for pre-order now, and as a small token of appreciation, Canadian pre-orders will get $10 off their purchase until the end of January 2023!

By Sandeep Panesar

Sandeep Panesar is an editor, and freelance writer, based out of Toronto. She enjoys everything from the holiday season to … Read more ›

Priya Guyadeen: The Indo Guyanese Comedian Paving the way for Caribbean Comics


“How could the British bring the Indians without the cows?” That’s one of the jokes you’re very likely to hear at comedian Priya Guyadeen’s show. In fact, the 53-year-old just wrapped up a set of shows with her troupe: Cougar Comedy Collective. The Guyanese-born comic spearheads the group of mostly women of “a certain age,” as she puts it.


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A post shared by Priya Guyadeen (@pguyadeen)

She says the group was formed in 2021 but she started dishing out jokes back in 2020 during the pandemic, over Zoom. She was always labeled the “funny one” in her family and decided to take her jokes to a virtual open mic, hosted by her friend, where she says failure was less daunting. 

[Read Related: Indo Caribbean Actress Saheli Khan Lands Role as Young Anna in Disney’s Musical ‘Frozen’]

Cut to 2023, and the comic was able to take her show on the road. Guyadeen and her fellow performers recently hit the East coast for a set of shows called “Cougars on the Loose!” The shows even featured two male comics. 

Guyadeen’s comedy routines touch on her Indo Guyanese background, highlighting stereotypes and a clash of cultures. In one of her jokes, she tells her audience that her Guyanese mom is bad with names when she introduces her white boyfriend, Randy, and he gets called Ramesh. 

Out in the Bay Area — where she spends her days now — she tries to connect the sparsely Caribbean population to her jokes. 

That includes talking about the 1978 Jonestown Massacre which had ties to San Francisco and ended in Guyana. She uses this as a reference point — trying to connect her audience to her background with historical context. She says this does come with its challenges, though. 

The single mom also practices clean jokes. Once she finishes up her daily routine with her eight-year-old son and day job as a project manager for a biotechnology company, she tries to find time to write her material. 

It’s a balancing act. I’m like the day job-Priya for a few hours or for a chunk of time. And then I’ve got to put on my comedian hat and do that for a period of time because with comedy, I’m not just performing. I’m also producing, managing the shows, booking talent, seeking venues. 

Though it’s not easy, she says she’s learning through it all — the business side of comedy and discipline. 

Guyadeen, who’s lived in Brazil and Canada, says her young son really contributes to her comedy. A lot of her material focuses on jokes for parents, and single parents like herself, because she feels:

[We live] in a society that doesn’t really create a support system for single parents.

Her nonprofit, Cougar Comedy Collective, was born out of all the great reception she received. She noticed a “niche market” of women in their 50s who loved to get dressed up and come out to the shows to hear jokes that related to their own lives that aren’t typically touched on. These were jokes about menopause, aging and being an empty nester. Guyadeen says her nonprofit,

…bring[s] talent together in our age group to celebrate this time of life; celebrate this particular juncture in a person’s life.

As Guyadeen continues her comedic journey, she says she hopes she’ll be a role model for other Caribbean women to follow their dreams despite their age. She also hopes to see more Caribbean people carving out their space in the entertainment industry.

Featured Image of Priya Guyadeen taken by Elisa Cicinelli Photography

By Dana Mathura

A natural-born skeptic, Dana is constantly questioning the world around her with an intense curiosity to know who, what, where, … Read more ›

Shedding Light on South Asians and Intimate Partner Violence


In July 2022, Sania Khan’s life was ruthlessly taken from her by her ex-husband. Sania was a young, vibrant South Asian woman – a creator and photographer who had the courage to step out of an abusive marriage, even in the face of community norms that discourage women from speaking out. While this tragedy seemed to stir a consciousness in the South Asian diaspora that we can no longer justify the status quo, it is far from the only such incident. Just months later in December of 2022, Harpreet Kaur Gill was stabbed to death by her husband in Vancouver. While the most extreme cases like those of Sania Khan and Harpreet Kaur Gill are highlighted by mainstream media, a small body of research provides evidence that intimate partner violence experiences are equally, if not more, prevalent in South Asian communities than the general population in the US or Canada. That’s why we need to do more as a community and throw light South Asians and intimate partner violence.

[Read Related: A South Asian Daughter of Divorced Parents Speaks up After the Tragic Death of Pakistani-American Photographer Sania Khan]

Violence prevention researchers have long used traditional gender roles to explain intimate partner violence in South Asian countries. These norms are deeply entrenched beliefs in society about appropriate roles for people based on their gender. In South Asian communities, these norms typically privilege men in intimate relationships. These beliefs are further perpetuated by mainstream media. For example, despite historic criticism for its depiction of harassment as “romance” or abuse as “lovers’ quarrels,” Indian cinema has only normalized toxic masculinity and violence as a form of conflict resolution with its hundreds of millions of viewers.

Despite the identification and investigation of these norms in South Asia, there’s so much we still don’t know about diaspora communities, especially in relation to South Asians and intimate partner violence. In the US, South Asians have become one of the fastest-growing populations, but we remain unaware of how the stresses of raising a family in a different culture, and the weight of growing up between two worlds, affect these norms, expectations, and experiences among South Asian immigrants, the second generation and beyond. 

In this article, we’ll take a deeper look at how these norms are enacted to influence intimate relationship dynamics, discuss the recent rise in intimate partner violence, and explore the work that researchers, policymakers, and program implementers can do to address violence in South Asian diaspora communities.

[Read Related: On Domestic Violence: Model Minority, Private Pain]

Social Norms and Violence in South Asian Diaspora Communities

Why does it take catastrophic events to serve as a call to action? For one, the “model minority myth” continues to portray South Asians in America (who originate from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka) as a healthy and wealthy group. As a child of Indian immigrants, I always thought this was just a frustrating trope that lived rent-free in my head next to the eternal question, “Log kya kahenge?(What will people say?) However, I have realized that this constant worry is not just an innocent preoccupation. It’s the result of a dangerous spiral beginning with the portrayal of South Asians as a model minority and the need to maintain that well-to-do image. This only reinforces the traditional gender norms that overlook men’s perpetration of violence and encourage women’s silence, crippling any efforts to understand the scope of the problem and draw attention and resources to address it. 

The Impacts of COVID-19 on Intimate Partner Violence

Prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the frequently-uttered phrase among researchers, practitioners, and advocates alike was “one in three” — one in three women ages 15-49 experiences physical and/or sexual violence inflicted by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Under the cover of the COVID-19 pandemic however, rates of violence against women rose dramatically, prompting UN Women to call for recognition of this “Shadow Pandemic.” During the height of the pandemic, the social isolation that came with lockdowns and quarantine procedures to curb the spread of disease made home a more dangerous place for an increasing number of women. As communities seek to rebuild, the inequities in access to and use of potentially lifesaving services have deepened. Now more than ever, it is critical that we shine a light on the many intersections of our society to prevent South Asian women’s experiences of intimate partner violence from being pushed even further into the shadows. 

[Read Related: How to Talk to Your Child About Domestic Violence: 5 Tips for Parents]

Addressing the “Shadow Pandemic”

First and foremost, to better understand South Asians and intimate partner violence, we need better data disaggregated by racial/ethnic group. Since the 1980 Census, only those of Indian origin have had a fill-in bubble. All other South Asian groups have to write something in, decreasing their participation. South Asian communities in the US are not a monolith and they are certainly not all of Indian origin. This perception, fed by our lack of data, likely privileges the Indian community in America and limits the visibility of other South Asian communities. 

More accurate information will help us better understand where the need is greatest. We can make a stronger case for more equitable resource allocation, improve South Asian language materials for survivors, and enhance provider training programs, accounting for the specific cultural implications of disclosing and seeking treatment for violence in South Asian communities. Public health researchers should increase efforts to understand the prevalence of experiences of violence, the environmental factors that make South Asian women in America vulnerable to experiences of intimate partner violence, and how it impacts their health.

While outstanding organizations such as Narika in California and Sakhi in New York are leading the charge in raising awareness, running active helplines, and providing support, they cannot be the sole safe space for survivors. While the system’s failure to protect Sania is not an isolated incident, it has served as a wake-up call.

All South Asian women in America should be able to be healthy and safe and lead lives free from violence, coercion, or abandonment. To achieve this, we need better data, more research, culturally-tailored resources, and appropriate legislative action that will allow for prevention, screening, and treatment efforts to finally take root.

 Intimate Partner Violence Resources:

  1.     National Domestic Violence Hotline Call: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224; Text: “START” to 8878
  1.     National Dating Abuse Helpline Call: 1-866-331-9474
  1.     National Sexual Assault Hotline Call: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)
By Sneha Challa

Sneha holds a PhD in Global Health and is currently a researcher at the University of California San Francisco working … Read more ›