Making Her Mark in Fashion - an Interview with Stylist Hakeemah Cummings
Feb 25, 2020
Dilshad Ali
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Hakeemah Cummings of CMB Styling took an unusual route to the world of modest fashion and styling! With her education in biology, she almost entered medical school when she decided to try a different path. That decision, plus a turning point at the first modest clothing showcase at D.C. Fashion Week in 2013, ignited her passion to elevate modest fashion by becoming a personal stylist! I spoke with Hakeemah about her start in styling, why it’s so important to elevate Muslim women’s voices in fashion and why our Lightweight Woven Hijabs are her favorite!
How did you get your start in fashion and your company, CMB Styling? Where did your interest stem from?
My interest in styling started when I witnessed my first modest fashion show. It was 2013, and I attended the Haute and Modesty Show for D.C. Fashion Week. I caught a glimpse of the hustle and bustle of the backstage scene and wanted to get involved with the show’s next season. I had already been selling hijabs online and had built small following on Facebook, but I wanted to pivot, and this seems like a gateway to a new specialty.
I sought longevity, creativity and uniqueness in what I would bring to the table. The next season I styled my own showcase for the runway and was hooked! I worked with more than 10 designers and boutique owners to present 20 looks featuring their collection pieces in a multi-designer runway showcase. I was a hijabi since the age of 12, and it has been a part of my life for more than a decade. But never before had my interest in entrepreneurship, fashion and hijab all merged together so perfectly.
I knew I had to make my mark in the modest fashion world.
You started out doing your formal education in biology and almost going to medical school - what led you to adjust your path?
My mother tells me I decided I wanted to be a doctor in second grade, and I guess I never lost that passion. I attended high school, then college and graduate school - and at each phase I learned more and more about the hard work it would take to actually fulfill that childhood dream. I was accepted to medical school in 2012 after a long and tough journey towards finally reaching my goal. Throughout my schooling I made sincere du'a that if becoming a doctor was good for me, dear God, make it come true. And if it wasn’t - replace it with what is better.
I let that dua be my guiding light. My huge roadblock ended up being the fact that I would have to bear tens of thousands of dollars in interest-bearing loans in order to pursue my higher education. That was something I was unwilling to do. I scoured for resources to help me with these financial difficulties, but there were none. I ultimately found myself at a fork in the road: One road was accepting my seat in medical school, loans and all, and the other road was accepting that maybe God had decreed something better outside of medical school, although I did not know what that would be.
I decided not to go to medical school, and it was the best decision I ever made. Six years later I am married, moved to a new state, have two children, a creative entrepreneurial venture in my styling business and teach biology at the college level. I think God showed me that my dream since I was eight years old was not unachievable, but it was also not my destiny.
I had another path.
Tell us about that experience with D.C. Fashion week in 2013 - what did it teach you about modest fashion and styling?
Hakeemah showcases the Lightweight Woven Hijabs in Sand and Petal, the latter of which is no longer sold. But get a similar look with Rose Quartz. Styled with Aweea modest dresses. Photography by Amina Javed.
That first season in 2013 at D.C. Fashion Week taught me that designers and clothing providers are truly the powerhouses of the fashion movement. I knew then that I wanted to work in conjunction with modestwear providers to bring their clothing to new audiences in a variety of ways - from the runway and beyond. As I stylist, I knew could do just that.
I stayed with D.C. Fashion Week for six seasons until 2017, because I believed in the idea of showing that Muslim women had a lot to offer the wider fashion industry. We are talented and creative as well as stylish, and we convey the message that objectification and sexualization of women is not necessary to display the talents of designers on the runway.
That first season showed me a glimpse of the business of fashion - the multi-faceted factories that ultimately causes us to wear the colors we wear, style clothing the way we do and wear certain fabrics at certain times. It was eye-opening that these facets could also apply to hijab and Islamic/modest apparel. As a teenager, I questioned why Muslim women seemed to be expected to dress in one way - and if they veered from that, it seemed to be unacceptable.
Muslim women seemed to not be encouraged to show creativity in their style, but all that is changing [since then] and in a public way. At that first fashion show, for the first time, I was seeing women use the power of the internet to spread the world that Muslim women’s voices in fashion were not being heard. The widening variety of ways to stay Islamically covered and stylistically expressive was incredibly intriguing. I wanted to be a part of conveying that message.
How have you grown your business since 2013? Are you working more with individual people, fashion designers, fashion shows?
I have worked with dozens of designers and clothing boutiques, both in the U.S. as well as internationally, Alhamdulliah, since my start back in 2011. I work with personal styling clients through my e-styling service, which can be commissioned from anywhere in the world. Clients let me know what they’re shopping for, and I help them find it online. These clients tend to be individual women who are looking for something to wear to an event, a way to dress a certain body type or just revamp their modest apparel selection in some way.
I also offer in-person wardrobe overhauls for local clients in the Northern Virginia area. I purge your closet, style your existing wardrobe and go shopping with you for new modest clothing. I also have worked with plenty of designers to style looks for runway shows throughout the years, conduct photoshoots with professional models for their marketing materials and introduce their brands to my social media audience in a variety of ways. I help new designers connect with manufacturers as well as offer consultation with designers on product development and collection creation.
Alhamdulilah, I have grown in a variety of ways all with the aim of getting beautiful women dressed modestly.
What is your favorite type of outfit to wear?
I am all about a flowy maxi dress and a beautiful drape. If I could wear a regal gown and look like a queen everyday and pull it off effortlessly, even on an errand to the grocery store, I would totally do it! I don’t like to wear a ton of makeup, (I’ve never even put on lashes!) so I wouldn’t say I’d like to be full-on glam. I like to look put-together, but also effortless and sophisticated. I love makeup that makes my face glow and outfits with pretty fabric flow. That’s my favorite look!
How would you describe your modest style?
Hakeemah is wearing the Modal Maxi Hijab in Pewter. Styled with Modest Xpression pinafore dress. Photography by Amina Javed.
Of course, on an everyday basis, I unfortunately can’t look like a queen. I’m the mom of a three year old and a two year old. Life can be hectic, and so I have to be pragmatic. But, my personal style still involves lots of dresses and maxi skirts, abayas, kimonos and anything loose and pretty. I have only one pair of real jeans, so I’m definitely not a casual girl - I just try to wear what I love no matter where I go - a party or the playground.
Even if everyone else is in jeans, I’m probably the one with a dress on. But, I’m usually in comfortable shoes and relatively tame styling - not too many accessories or impracticalities. I love to mix in colors and print with basics to spruce up an outfit. I really value how I feel in an outfit because it reflects in my mood. Even if I’m wearing something regular, I love to grab some cute sunglasses and dainty necklace or a nice lip color. It helps my self-worth to know that I took the time on myself, because I care about my appearance.
How would you describe your personal hijab styling? What types of hijabs do you like to wear?
I love getting super creative when styling models for shoots - that’s where I get all my creativity out. For my personal style, I keep it relatively simple - wrapped to cover all my hair and neck and draped nicely about the chest and shoulders. I don’t like wrapping my hijab tightly, so I love to wear fabrics that can stay put, flow and are breathable, like the Woven Hijabs. I love to experiment with colors of my hijabs because it can really pull an outfit together to have the perfect hijab on. I’m not much of a prints hijab girl - I love solids!
What is it about the Woven Hijab that appeals to you?
The Woven Hijab is great because it is a stay-put fabric that easily contours to your head without appearing tight. I love that you can achieve a slight level of volume with the woven fabric due to the looser weave, which also makes the fabric very breathable. One of the best things about Haute Hijab’s Lightweight Wovens is the size - it’s actually huge! You can get it in regular and maxi, and I love the maxi! I love that because I want to have enough fabric to cover my chest, drape on my shoulder, drape across my back or any other extra styling I would like to do. I love flow, and this fabric is flowy like chiffon but stays put like jersey and is light and airy like viscose - the perfect combination!
What colors do you like to wear with our Wovens - and why? Do you change your color palate with the seasons?
My first Woven was black, so I’ve worn that the most and the longest. Black has always been my go-to color for my hijab, so it was just natural that I chose black for my first HH purchase. I wear black hijabs a lot, no matter the weather or season - it’s my comfort zone. My palette has changed over the years as I experiment with various colors in hijabs, but I still reach for black more than 50 percent of the time. I’ve expanded my collection of HH Wovens, and I’ve since worn and loved Pewter (which isn't sold anymore, but Ash is similar!), Oxblood, Petal [sold out, but Rose Quartz is a similar color] and Sand. I have tons of hijabs from many hijab companies, and these HH shades are unparalleled!
What is one piece of fashion advice you can give our readers about how to marry one’s hijab with one’s outfit?
Never allow your hijab to compete with, or detract from, your outfit. It should always complement the outfit and pull it all together. If your outfit was great and the hijab ruined it, the problem isn’t that you covered your head, it’s how you covered it. Imagine a queen wore a stunning gown, perfect jewelry, makeup, the whole nine - then ruined the ensemble with a ridiculously mismatched crown. The crown is often placed on last because it’s the best part and grand finale. Treat your hijab like your crowning moment. Make sure it’s clean and presentable, that it compliments your outfit and is wrapped beautifully.
Hakeemah Cummings, a fashion stylist who specializes in modestwear. Her styling business, CMB Styling, provides runway and photoshoot styling services to modestwear designers and boutiques, online marketing and social media content creation, e-styling for personal style clients, bridal styling as well as closet overhauls and personal shopping. Find her here on instagram @HakeemahCMB. Check out her services on her website.
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