The term modest fashion refers to a fashion trend for women of wearing clothes that is less skin revealing, especially in a way that satisfies their spiritual and stylistic requirements for reasons of faith, religion, or personal preference. Modest can be interpreted in various ways across cultures and countries. There is no explicit interpretation as it is influenced by the socio-cultural characteristics of each country. Beyond the various interpretations, many will agree on the concept that modest fashion means loose clothing, comfortable dressing, and covering of the body according to a person’s own comfort.
When you think of modest fashion many only think of women being covered up, and exquisite fashion sense isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when people think of Muslim women. Even the way a woman chooses to wear her hijab can be a form of personal expression. While Islam is a religion for over a billion people around the world, African American women bring their own sense of style to clothing that while modest can still be fashionable, and
Elle B. Mambetov is here to prove that.
Elle B Mambetov, is a hot young designer, buyer, and Texas native along with her husband who split their time between California, (he does affordable housing for the homeless) and Dohar, Qatar. I asked Elle how did she find her road to fashion?
Elle: I became interested in fashion at a young age. I asked for a sewing machine for my 7th birthday and I grew up next door to a professional seamstress. I remembered her having this magical thread wall that had every color imaginable and it was just this magical world that I love. My mom was very supportive as well to which she flew me out to Utah to work with a friend who was sewing and I learn how to make all my doll clothes.
Explain your modest fashion/Style?
Elle: I feel like I am the “Lady Gaga” of modest fashion. I’ve always had some feathers and was very avant-garde. I feel like I’ve always been this way with my style even before I converted to Islam.
Can you please explain the statement “the mission to change what modest fashion can be”! Please explain?
Elle: People have a perception of what Muslim girls or women are supposed to look like. From how we are supposed to wear solid colors, wear black, and how we are supposed to wrap our hajib a certain way. I wasn’t raised Muslim so when I converted to Islam, I needed to find my own identity as a Muslim. I wanted to push the boundaries to show my eclectic style. I like colors, patterns, prints, and feathers. For me, I wanted to change the perception of what Modest Fashion can be. People would think that I wasn’t a “serious” Muslim because I wasn’t wearing black or a full black dress and I would say because I don’t have to!
Elle is on a personal mission to change the perception of what modest fashion can be and that includes the fashion houses that make things for modest women.
How important or difficult it was for you to adhere to your Muslim faith in fashion design, and build a successful brand that is chic, unique, and inspiring?
Elle: I felt like as I was looking for something to wear, I couldn’t find what I wanted. I couldn’t find something that spoke to my own aesthetics. Especially in the United States. I would find a lot of solid-colored dresses that were just long sleeves made out of linen cotton, and that wasn’t really my vibe. I’ve always done prints, colors, and feathers, and overlays. So I had to figure out how to create pieces that I wanted to wear, that could be modestly dressed – and it wasn’t easy – but I feel like with each collection I get stronger. Now I will be releasing my first collection of modest swimwear collection with FARFETCH (a British-Portuguese online luxury fashion retail platform that sells products from over 700 boutiques and brands from around the world) in early 2022.
I understand that this has not been an easy road. You served time out of the country so how did you keep your faith, and stick with fashion during this challenging time?
Elle: When I was living in London, I always took turns that I felt were good for me. I took a lot of odd jobs because I was learning and even moved to China to learn about manufacturing. It seemed like I was all over the place but I had a strict vision in mind. When in London and showing at London Fashion Week, that was the life that I worked hard for and went against the grain. So when I was falsely imprisoned that was a very difficult situation for me. I couldn’t understand when you plan your life to go one way and you end up in the opposite direction: I was mad. I was mad at God. I felt very disconnected from (at the time) my Christian faith because all the Christians I knew completely abandoned me except for my mom. No one wanted anything to do with me, or to talk to me, and it was a very lonely time. I just wanted to die. When I came back to the United States I felt lost. I didn’t know exactly who I was anymore. Because I worked my life to be a fashion designer and work as a London fashion week designer and now I’m back in the United States and I did not know if I wanted to be in fashion again.
I got married, and I did nothing for a year. No fashion. Nothing. My husband bought me a sketchbook, and I remember trying to draw a few things and it was difficult. I felt in some ways abandoned by my industry. That isn’t the case but at that time, every photographer, every stylist everyone that I had worked with wanted nothing to do with me. My husband encouraged me to just try and find something that was going to make me happy again. Fashion has this undeniable pull that just never lets you go. Once you are in it and you do love it, you will always find your way back. So I started back sketching and went for it.
Tell us more about your Band? “Elle B. Zhou”?
Elle: Zhou in Chinese means completion. When I was living in China, it was the first time I had this connection to the international world. It was the first time I had friends all around the world. I knew I would always create my own brand but it was the first time I had an identity of what that brand would be and it will be my first introduction to modest swimwear. As a Muslim and doing what I do in fashion, I feel the most completed and Zhou represents more completion than I ever had in my life.
Elle is a partner with FARFETCH! (British-Portuguese online luxury fashion retail platform that sells products from over 700 boutiques and brands from around the world) and it’s been a really great partnership. Elle always focused on brands internationally but has an emphasis on Arabic and middle eastern brands. She says that it is good to have a retail partner that is interested in our voices as they will produce a Ramadan feature with them. Having FARFETCH as a partner allows Elle to have her black voice, to have her Muslim voice, and to really showcase what she can do as a designer and as a brand.
Not just a designer, Elle finds it very important to her to have her hand in activism. Along with working on prison reform for women, she is also a proud FEED ambassador. When on a trip to Cambodia, and seeing the people living in abject poverty, no food or water; FEED makes really great bags, and each bag you buy feeds families.
What’s next for you? Your brand? Your fashion?
Elle: I am excited to be opening a division internationally with an expansion in Qatar. I have a boutique in Beverly Hills and expanding that into a full-fledged department store. It will be the first of its kind with an emphasis on modest fashion. Right now there are women’s couture, jewelry, bags, shoes, but with the full expansion, we will have children and men. I’ve surrounded myself with amazing jewelry from Milan, clutches that are only found in Paris and London and because we have a lot of fun and amazing things, being able to expand and serve more of the market makes it more exciting. You can shop everything from the FARFETCH website.
What do want to say to women?
“Lastly, to Black women, women, Muslim women. I want to say we are the definition. We don’t have to let others define us. We just have to be strong enough to say what we have to say”.
Thank You Elle B. Mambetov.
You can find Elle B. Mambetov’s work: https://www.ellebmambet.com
Contributing Writer, Shera Strange can be found on social media at FB: Shera Strange, IG: missstrangefitness, and LinkedIn: Shera Strange.