Modest Fashion and Academic Research: An Interview with Romana MirzaWritten by Chelby Daigle
Romana Mirza is researching Modest Fashion at Ryerson University.
Muslim Link interviewed Romana about her journey into academia and what she hopes to explore in her research.
Tell us about yourself
My family is from Hyderabad, India. My father's paternal grandfather was a chief advisor to Sir Maharajah Kishen Pershad who was appointed by the Nizam/King of Hyderabad as Prime Minister or administrative head of state. The Maharajah was knighted by the current Queen's father! In a move to keep courtly business "all in the family" the Maharajah betrothed his daughter, Sayedunissa Begum, to the son of his chief advisor (Babar Mirza) who at the time was passionate about civil aviation and built the first civilian airport in India on my family's land in Hyderabad.
At the time of partition my mother's family left Hyderabad for Karachi, Pakistan. The material side of my family identifies as Pakistani. Eventually all her siblings married and most of my maternal cousins were born in Pakistan.
My father's family moved to Delhi as my paternal grandfather was working on India's national civil aviation plans. The paternal side of my family identifies more with their Indian heritage.
My father came to Canada in 1957. A long time ago! My mother joined him in 1963 when they married and I was born in 1964, in Illinois, where my father was pursuing his PhD. He never completed his studies because this was the time of the Civil Rights Movement. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. were all alive and assassinated in these times in the US. My father found the atmosphere to be quite racist so we left and came back to Canada, I was just months old. I'm one of the first Indo-Pakistani Muslims to be born in North America! I was raised in Toronto, it's all that I know. My US citizenship has afforded me the opportunity to work in the US from time-to-time but Toronto is home.
I did my undergraduate studies at the University of Waterloo in the 1980s. Marketing was my career of choice. I worked for 20 years as an employee in increasingly senior positions with architectural, interior design and furniture manufacturing companies. Then for 10 years I worked freelance as a brand strategist and two years ago a number of things came into play that allowed me to go back to school and pursue a master's degree at the age of 53! I just turned 55 and I hope to be graduating from the MA Fashion program at Ryerson University this spring.
Back in the 90s married and divorced twice. I never had children. Now, I live at home with my parents who are in their 80s and it's wonderful! They get to stay in the home they've lived in for 40 years, with no need to downsize because I'm here to lend them a hand when they need it. For me, I have the support of family while I bury myself in graduate studies.
Tell us about your research into Modest Fashion at Ryerson University.
I applied to the Ryerson University School of Fashion with a proposal to study Modest Fashion. There is not a lot of scholarship on modest fashion and what does exist has not been researched widely by Muslims who were born and raised in the West. There are Muslim scholars who write about modest fashion but none that actually grew up here. This is significant because the understanding of what it's like to be from here and how that frames how you see the world is totally different than someone who grew up in a Muslim majority country.
This research and scholarship is needed because what has happened is that scholars have studied the veil or veiling practices or they have been mesmerized with the rise of modest fashion bloggers and businesses. Essentially scholarship has decapitated the Muslim modest fashion consumer. They either talk about the veil or the clothing that covers the body but never about the whole person and their lived experiences in clothing. This is what my research is about.
My Master's research project is titled "Women Undercover: Exploring the Intersectional Identities of Muslim Women through Modest Fashion." In the fall of 2018 I interviewed 16 hijab-wearing Muslim women in the GTA and Ottawa and I'm currently writing my thesis. My research included the arts-based method of Digital Storytelling which gives voice to participants and allows them a way to communicate who they are and what they believe using their own voice. The use of digital storytelling is new to fashion studies and has never been done before in Modest Fashion research. My research project is now with the Centre for Fashion Diversity and Social Change, at Ryerson University, and a couple of our digital stories are posted on that website.
I will be continuing my research into modest dress practices beyond the Muslim experience when I begin my PhD this fall in the Communication and Culture program that is offered jointly by Ryerson and York Universities. My research will be based out of Ryerson University and the Centre for Fashion Diversity and Social Change.
Why do you feel it is important to recognize the diversity of Muslim women and how this is demonstrated through their modest fashion choices?
I want to recognize the diversity of Muslim women through their fully embodied experiences. This is important because media and scholarship focus on the practice of veiling only. They haven't looked at the whole individual. We all have intersecting aspects of our identity, our ethnic background, class, age, education and interests all make us unique. Exploring this uniqueness is key to building upon the stories that are being published and told about Muslim women.
Tell us about the event you organized on March 12th at Ryerson University and why you chose to highlight these three particular Modest Fashion businesses.
My lecture was part of a broader course taught in the School of Fashion at Ryerson called Fashion Concepts and Theory. In this class students are taught about the importance of diversity in fashion. How do we dress dis/abled bodies? What does "fashioning" reconciliation with Indigenous communities look like and how can we support it? How do we provide fashion beyond the normative gender binary? Along with these topics we also discuss modest fashion. How do we push the normative industry beyond the objectification and sexualization of female bodies? When a special topic like gender fluidity, modesty or reconciliation is being presented in class the classroom space is opened up and the Ryerson community and public are invited to listen to the lectures. T
The title of my lecture was Modest Fashion: Revolution or Revival? My lecture didn't answer this question but it presented information that can compel one's thinking one way or the other.
The panel was chosen to represent the entrepreneurial side of modest fashion. Afterall the class is made up of fashion and creative industry students who are getting an education to get out into industry. Through the panel we brought that real world experience into an academic setting.
Each panelist was chosen for the stage they are at with their business.
Tuesday in Love is a homegrown loved brand that is not doing clothing but breathable nail polish for Muslim women, we wanted to introduce this diversity to show that the Muslim consumer's needs are diverse. We hope to learn from Dr. Umar Dar, founder, about what it is like to be building a business in a sea of clothing brands. They were recently on Dragon's Den and got a deal from a Dragon and we hope to learn more about that!
Nur_by_Tahira was chosen because Tahira Munir is an established modest fashion designer in the GTA. She has She has a bricks and mortar store, NurShop, she has established manufacturing relationships overseas and she can bring this vast experience to the panel. She has also recently shifted her focus to sustainable business practices and we hope she will share her journey toward that strong ethical drive with us.
The Wifey Collection was founded by Nadia Ibrahim who is originally from Ghana and came to Canada as a young child. She is influenced by her heritage but also by Toronto's diversity. Her brand is a start up and she is a fashion design student. We hope our students will be inspired by Nadia's drive and we look forward to hearing her talk about how she balances her education with building a brand.
To learn more about Romana Mirza's work, visit her website here.
- Centre for Fashion Diversity & Social Change, Ryerson University Centre for Fashion Diversity & Social Change, Ryerson University
- The Wifey Collection The Wifey Collection
- Nur_by_Tahira Nur_by_Tahira
- Tuesday in Love Tuesday in Love
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