Sahro Hassan aims to bring diversity to mainstream fashion
Sahro Hassan’s passion for fashion was ignited by her love of television shows like “Project Runway” and “What Not to Wear” when she was in high school (“I was obsessed,” the 22-year-old recalls). But it really grew after a particularly frustrating trip to the mall in search of a formal dress. “Garments did not fit my curvy body, nor did they meet my cultural and religious expectations,” says Hassan. “Fashion is supposed to be part of your identity. One should not have to compromise faith for fashion.”
Soon after that trip to the mall, Hassan had her first sewing lesson at Tree Street Youth, a nonprofit after-school organization in Lewiston. Then, five years ago, as a 17-year-old student at Lewiston High School, she earned local and national attention for her Muslim-inclusive and pattern-centric fashion line she started through the Chamber of Commerce’s Young Entrepreneurs Academy. “I wrote a business plan for a line, Fashionuji, that Muslim women and non-Muslim women can enjoy,” says Hassan. “I pitched the idea to local investors who awarded me $1,100 to test out my idea. My idea worked, and I decided to go study fashion design so that I could gain experience and successfully start my business.”
“I chose the name Fashionuji because Uji was my nickname growing up. While the literal translation of ‘uji’ in Kiswahili is ‘porridge,’ my older half-brother associated uji with the characteristics of my personality: soft, easy going and trusting,” says Hassan. “I want my line to embody some of these traits.”
Hassan was born in Kenya to Somali refugee parents. She and her family immigrated to the United States when she was 11-years-old and settled in Lewiston, Maine later that year.
“My biggest achievement is graduating from high school and soon graduating college. My parents did not have the opportunity for formal education or the opportunity to pursue their dreams,” says Hassan. “Education is so important to us because we know what it is like not to have the privilege.”
These days, Hassan is working on her senior collection at Mount Ida College in Massachusetts, where she will graduate in May 2018 with a degree in fashion design and a minor in business administration. Her latest collection is a departure from her more youthful designs. “It is inspired by elements from my heritage such as African prints and patterns, Arabic calligraphy and henna art,” says Hassan. “I am working on creating a collection that will resonate with young women who are fierce, confident, romantic, modest, daring and love a touch of contemporary print.”
“My heritage has been a source of inspiration as far as I can remember,” she adds. “There is so much richness and art rooted in my heritage that I use in my work.”
With the number of Muslim women in America steadily rising each year, Hassan’s niche designs will certainly be in demand. “The fashion industry is overlooking women who want to look modest but at the same time embody the characteristics of daring, fierce, confident and bold,” she says.
“I hope to better serve the minority market. I hope to bring diversity to mainstream fashion,” she adds. “My ultimate goal is to give young women a safe space to explore and express themselves creatively while still staying true to their personal beliefs. I hope that my line will start that dialogue.”
She is not only a girl with a vision; she is a girl with a plan. “After graduation, I plan to do a year of research and start developing my business brand. I will be designing and experimenting with prints and patterns from my heritage and developing my own modern contemporary prints to add a little statement to garments,” says Hassan. “Fashion is forever changing, and I am ready to make my imprint.”
It’s safe to say she already has. “I had an amazing opportunity to intern for TJX Companies Inc. as technical design intern. This was an eye-opening experience because I got to work with an amazing team, but I also got to see different opportunities in the industry,” Hassan says.
The girl who started her life in a dangerous refugee camp has become an empowered young woman determined to make an impact on the fashion industry. “There is beauty to be honored in every woman and her personal story,” she says.
Bailey O’Brien is a Portland-based freelance writer and editor. In her spare time, she can be found in tiny bookstores, on top of mountains or beside the ocean.