The Fashion Show selects Khadija Ahmed as first hijab-wearing model


Mikinna Kerns/Iowa State Daily

Khadija Ahmed is the first hijab-wearing model to walk in TheFashion Show.

Olivia Hanson

For the first time in its history, the Iowa State Fashion Show has selected a hijab-wearing model, Khadija Ahmed, to walk in their annual fashion show.

Ahmed, a freshman in business and supply chain management, said she had no idea she was The Fashion Show’s first hijab-wearing model. She said she thought she was just another to fall in line. In the future, she said she hopes to see more hijab-wearing models try out to model for The Fashion Show.

“I honestly didn’t know because there’s a lot of Muslim people and I thought I would just be like one of people who’ve done it before, but to be the first is kind of cool,” Ahmed said. “I hope more people come and try it out.

“I’m helping people step over those boundaries that hijab-wearing people can’t do modeling or fashion.”

What prompted Ahmed to try out to be a fashion show model was when she came to The Fashion Show at Iowa State last year on a field trip with her sewing class from East High School in Des Moines.

“I think that’s why I wanted to try it was because it left a good impression on me and because of how all of the clothes were represented,” Ahmed said. “The music and everything… it was nice.”

This year’s modeling directors, Emily Curtiss, Abigail Goeser and Shane Fye, were the ones that selected Ahmed to be in this year’s show.

They also didn’t know they’d picked The Fashion Show’s first hijab-wearing model either until Fashion Show adviser Sarah Bennett told them. They selected Ahmed strictly on the basis of her walk and the confidence she displayed.

“I remember the first practice. I remember this so distinctly because she was just killing it,” Curtiss said. “She has such a sassy walk and we love that. We love walks with personality.”

Everyone was nervous for the first modeling practice, Curtiss said, but Ahmed had a look of confidence when she walked. Curtiss then stopped the practice and had Fye turn off the music. She said, ‘Hey, I want to point someone out for everybody.’ She had Ahmed walk in front of the whole room and she just lit up and everybody clapped for her.

“I mean she did phenomenal,” Curtiss said. “She has an amazing walk. That’s why we chose her.”

The design Ahmed will walk in at The Fashion Show is an athletic outfit made by Rose Echard, a junior in apparel merchandising and design. Originally, the outfit was a V-neck, short-sleeved shirt with cropped leggings, but Echard tailored the garments to be less revealing for Ahmed. She made the shirt long-sleeve with a higher neckline to make Ahmed more comfortable, as it is a part of her religion to wear modest clothing.

Echard also made Ahmed an athletic-wear hijab, a task that is not taught in the apparel, merchandising and design department and one that Echard hadn’t done before. Echard said she made it the night before the garments were due by searching online how to make a hijab. Her inspiration was the Nike Pro hijab, which was just released this spring.

“It was definitely a cool experience because it was something that I never tried and it’s something that is being talked about a lot right now — just kind of like inclusive fashion and obviously diversity is a big topic on campus right now. So it was a cool experience to get to design that for her and it was something I had never tried, so I just figured it out as I went,” Echard said.

Originally, Ahmed was going to wear a blue one to match, but Echard thought a Nike Pro type hijab would be better and Ahmed hopped on board with Echard’s idea.

“She made it and she showed it to me. I’m like, ‘That’s so cool.’ I put it on and it fits nice. I’d never tried the Nike Pro hijab, but it looked like it and it’s really nice. It’s an activewear feel. You can run or actually exercise and even wear it day-to-day,” Ahmed said.

When Ahmed first learned that she was selected to be a model in The Fashion Show, her sisters and her mother were happy for her, but her dad did not want Ahmed to pursue it in fear that she would be judged.

“The only person who opposed it was my dad,” Ahmed said. “He was like, ‘No people are going to watch you, they’re going to judge you.’ And I’m like, ‘I don’t really care if people judge me. Being Islamic, people judge you and no matter what, everyone gets judged.’ So I wasn’t scared.”

“My mom was like so chill. She asked what I was going to wear,” Ahmed said. “Then I told her and she was like, ‘I don’t care.’ My sisters were the first people I told when I got in and they were like, ‘Oh I’m so happy for you!’ They said, ‘Yeah! Go for it! Fight!’ I’m like, ‘There’s no fighting involved.’”

One thing that inspired Ahmed to try out to model for The Fashion Show is her desire to break down cultural barriers and make people understand that Islamic people can do what everyone else can do even though they may have certain clothing restrictions.

“It’s important to step aside stereotypes that Muslims or people that are super religious and if we wear the hijab, we can’t to other things — besides wearing it,” Ahmed said. “I think bringing it into fashion and showing that we can style it with our outfits is a big step. And how it’s prevalent nowadays is that people are seeing that we are also showing our identity with our religion and it doesn’t stop us whatsoever with how we represent it and being ourselves at the same time.”

Ahmed said she was inspired by another hijab-wearing model, Halima Aden, who has been making headlines ever since she won the Miss Minnesota Pageant and became the first hijab-wearing pageant winner in the history of the contest.

The two have similar backgrounds. Ahmed’s parents were Somalian refugees who fled Somalia to come to the United States in the 1990s. Aden grew up in a U.N. refugee camp in Somalia until she was 7 years old, when her family was approved to come to the United States. Aden and her parents settled in the nation’s largest Somali-American community of Minnesota. Ahmed’s family landed in Minnesota as well.

Ahmed, who is the middle child of nine children, was born in Minnesota. She wasn’t there long before her family moved to Council Bluffs, Iowa. Ahmed went to elementary and middle school in Council Bluffs. Her family moved to Des Moines before she entered high school.

Throughout her time in Iowa, Ahmed said she has not faced much discrimination. Though she does remember growing up when her and family would go to the grocery store and people would stare and ask, ‘Why are they wearing those?’ Or when she was younger and kids would ask her if she was bald. She would say, “No. It is my religion and I like wearing it.”

To counter ignorance, Ahmed had a few suggestions:

  • Get educated

  • Watch the news

  • Ask someone

  • Go visit a mosque

“You could easily go to a mosque,” Ahmed said. “You can go in there. Everyone’s accepted to come in and you just learn about the religion. You can ask, ‘What’s the Quran?’ Everyone’s open minded. They will talk. Like if someone asked me, I would sit down and talk to them or just give them the basics. I want people to be educated that it’s not bad. It’s a peaceful religion.”

As for her future, Ahmed said she hopes to use the knowledge she gains as a supply chain management major to eventually make her own line of hijabs and modest clothing, inclusive to everyone.

“I want to be the CEO of the place, running everything, telling people what to do,” Ahmed said. “Not right when I get out of college — probably intern and work right under a company for awhile and get experience. Then I would try expanding myself into making my own product and my own label for myself.”