The Haute Hijab staff dines together. Photo courtesy of Erin Smith

My surprising journey to hijab fashion

(RNS) — Whenever I tell people that I work at a hijab brand and that I have been a part of the team for almost a decade, I’m almost always met with some good-natured confusion. Since I am not hijabi or Muslim myself, many are understandably curious about how I was connected to the brand in the first place.  

Even as a child, I was always globally minded. I’d pore over scientific magazines and picture books about history, dreaming of time traveling to ancient Egypt, snorkeling in the Galapagos or seeing the snow-capped Himalayas with my own eyes. My love for, and insatiable curiosity about, the many different people, places, languages, foods and art in the world only grew as I got older. But it was only later that I recognized how this seemingly innate need to broaden my worldview was also at the root of a lot of spur-of-the-moment decisions that ultimately determined much of the course of my entire life. Perhaps — to my slight annoyance — even more so than my more “conscious” decisions! 

If there’s anything I’ve learned about life, it’s that some of the smallest, most seemingly insignificant decisions can be the source of the greatest epiphanies. 

In 2010, while an undergrad at North Park University in a heavily Arabic-speaking neighborhood in Chicago, I decided on a whim to take a beginner’s Arabic class. I had no concept of where this two-second decision would lead. It connected me to Interfaith Youth Core, which got me started in interfaith work as a campus leader for the Better Together campaign — the first time, to my knowledge, that an interfaith group had existed on my evangelical Christian campus. It also opened a door for me to study Arabic intensively in Jordan, which made for experiences and friendships I’ve carried with me ever since.  

While doing interfaith work, Facebook ad algorithms seemingly could tell I was interested in spirituality but couldn’t figure out what religious community I actually belonged to. Every time I logged on, I was met with a hilariously diverse assemblage of ads — Mormon singles sites, Jewish professional orgs, the local Shambhala center ... and a little company called Haute Hijab that had recently started up in Chicago.  


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Being a fashion-interested person, I’m sure I thought something along the lines of ooh, pretty!, hit the “like” button and forgot all about it. Six months later, they posted looking for blog contributions and I submitted a piece; a year later they were looking for a part-time order fulfillment specialist and I applied. Three years later, I helped them transition to a dedicated warehouse after the boxes of hijabs took over my apartment; and now, eight years later, I’m living in New York City and working for them full time.  

At literally no point did I ever expect that a simple curiosity about other languages and faiths would somehow lead to me becoming the designated hijab stylist on photoshoot sets, writing blog posts about modest dressing or spending my days thinking about innovations for products for women who wear hijab. It is only the couldn’t-make-this-up' consequence of a small series of tiny decisions. I feel so grateful to have a life surrounded by so many beautiful people of different backgrounds and so blessed to be able to serve the community of incredible women that I do. Amazing things can happen when we take the pressure off ourselves to plan and simply let Love lead.  

Erin Smith. Photo courtesy of Haute Hijab

This life is full of twists and turns. In this unprecedentedly chaotic and scary time, I pray that you may find the kernels of beauty and wonder in your own circumstances. That any doors closed by this crisis today will lead to open doors tomorrow. Let your heart lead you to reach out toward the people and things that give you joy. You never know what spur-of-the-moment decision could change the rest of your life.  

(Erin Smith is product manager for Haute Hijab, an American hijab brand for comfortable, quality hijabs that is headquartered in New York City. This article first appeared on Interfaith America, a website of the Interfaith Youth Core. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)