The year was 2004.
We had just launched our fledgling Islamic clothing venture, artizara.com, and decided to premiere it at ISNA (The Islamic Society of North America) convention in Chicago. Having never been to ISNA before (never even to another big convention, unless you call Eid Prayers a convention), we didn’t know quite what to expect. We stayed up all night packing and caught an early morning flight, with husband, two kids (aged 6 and 8 months) and ten huge suitcases full to bursting with specimens of our prized new Islamic clothing line.
We arrived at Chicago airport in the evening to a warm Midwestern welcome complete with flashing signs: “Chicago Welcomes Delegates of the Islamic Society of North America”.
“Wow, is this a great country or what! Welcoming 40,000 Muslim Americans with open arms to one of its finest cities, not long after the tragedy of 9-11.” Our hearts were filled with gratitude and pride. Little did we know that the ISNA convention had been taking place in Chicago for over FORTY years!
We rented a giant van, got lost, wandered around in downtown Chicago for a few hours, and finally got to the Convention Center. Boy, this place was colossal! Couldn’t figure out where exactly it started and where it ended. It.seemed to just go on forever!
Found our tiny 10×10 booth, nicely located adjacent to “Hair Back”, a company marketing a miracle cure for male baldness replete with large glossy posters plastered on all four walls, outlining the “treatment plan” .
We really took our time setting up our booth. Both of us are kind of big on decorating so our muslim clothing had to be displayed to the best advantage. The booth was embellished with silk greenery and floral carpeting. Sparkling beaded shawls were draped on the walls (thankfully obliterating “Hair Back”). The result was, well… like Asra’s living room: very cozy and very inviting!
Next came the task of displaying our Islamic clothing fashions to perfection. Long tunic tops were all the rage and we had designed a dozen in our first clothing collection. We had paired them with coordinating long skirts and long pants and finished them off with the perfect finishing touch – coordinating hijabs. And most prized of all were our Islamic evening gowns, complete with matching wraps; sort of a crossover between a Western gown and a jilbab.
Our fashions were hung up on the nicest hangers we could afford, all neatly arranged by color and size. Out came the steamer to iron away every last crease and wrinkle. The plume of steam from the contraption billowed up, up, up.. all the way to the ceiling. Pretty soon we had gathered a crowd!
Women of every description swarmed our booth, touching, feeling, rummaging through racks. With oohs and aahs all around, it was like a party!
We engaged everyone in conversation, asked questions, and made many new friends. The most inspiring to talk to were the new Muslim converts, sharing what motivated them about their new faith, while at the same time shopping for a new Muslim clothing wardrobe. We asked people what they liked (and did not like) in our clothing line and got great ideas from them on new clothing styles.
We also paid close attention to what people wore and got lots of creative inspiration from folks dressed in all manner of Islamic clothing, from every corner of the globe.
There were the Syrian and Jordanian ladies in western style skirt suits with coordinating hijab in stripes and florals. There were Moroccan and Algerian sisters in long traditional caftans called galabiyas and takshitas. Indonesian and Malaysian sisters came wearing tailored long tunic jackets called kebayas and and ankle skirts called sarongs. Chinese women came wearing elegant pant suits with beautiful Mandarin collar jackets. Nigerian sisters came in bold, colorful print robes and coordinating turbans. Pakistani sisters showed up in all varieties of salwar kameez, a knee length tunic and loose gathered pants. Indian sisters arrived in the traditional Indian sari modified with a modest blouse and the dramatic pallu (or decorated end of the sari) draped over their heads. And of course… the American sisters came in pretty loose tops and blue jeans.
What an uplifting experience to be surrounded by so many confident, exuberant women!
All different, all beautiful, all in their unique styles of Islamic clothing.
All upholding their common values of modesty
and all rejoicing in their great, shared faith