Practical Muslim recently connected with Hakeemah Cummings, a fashion stylist who specializes in modestwear. Her styling business, CMB Styling, is the only full-service styling business specializing in modest fashion in the USA. CMB Styling provides runway and photo-shoot 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. Established in 2009, CMB Styling not only serves stylish, modest looks, but also doses of life inspiration and empowerment to Muslim women. Hakeemah Cummings prides herself on being a mother, entrepreneur, and teacher and shares her journey with us in this interview.
Practical Muslim: Who is Hakeemah?
Hakeemah: My identity has always been framed by my religion, so above all, I am a Muslimah. I am also passionate about our form of dress as Muslim women – I believe that our faith-driven style is inspirational. I’ve created a career out of that passion by becoming a fashion stylist who specializes in modestwear. I am also a mother of 2 daughters, to whom I try my best to set a great example of a woman with dignity, talent, and self-worth.
Practical Muslim: What inspires you to get up every day? What is your mantra?
Hakeemah: Everyday I get up and try my best to be a bit better than the day before. That may be to be a bit more patient than yesterday, to accomplish a task that has been delayed, or simply to cherish time with my daughters. My inspiration is that I was given the opportunity to live another day. No matter what the day brings, I pray through the day from morning to night to remind myself of Allah’s blessings and the many bounties to be grateful for. Even if the day is rough, or I fall short, I try to see silver linings.
Practical Muslim: What challenges/struggles have you faced? How did you overcome them?
Hakeemah: I am an entrepreneur, so each project that I am working on for my styling business involves many steps of going from idea to reality. I network widely, and conversate with other talents in the industry to get the job done. Sometimes, it’s challenging to convince others of your worth and talent as a professional. I’m constantly overcoming the idea that I might be underestimated by leveling up with each project I do and trying not to take things personally. I value community over competition – and so I support others as much as I would like to be supported and readily team up with people as I would like to be included as well. I remind myself that Allah’s blessings are infinite – plenty of love and mercy to go around to everyone.
Practical Muslim: What does a day in the life of Haleemah look like?
Hakeemah: I am mostly a stay-at-home mother to my 2 young daughters. My eldest is 3 and my youngest is 2, so my day is mostly taking care of them for the past few years. In between diaper changes and play-dates, I have focused on building a business wherein I can work online, during nights, and on the weekends so that I can also be there for my children, especially in these years before school age. I hold a Master’s degree in Biology, and now work part-time as a Biology teacher at a local college. Oftentimes, between my business, family, and job, it can become difficult to wear all these hats. But each is a blessing in its own way.
Practical Muslim: How do you define your life purpose.
Hakeemah: My life’s purpose is inextricably linked to my identity. As a Muslimah, my purpose is always to serve Allah. That may look different for each facet of my life. As a mother, I hope to raise God-fearing Muslim women by teaching them and providing a loving, religious upbringing for them along with my husband. As a businesswoman, I hope to always portray a sense of empowerment to other women that they are talented and can contribute creatively to the world. In each facet, I constantly re-center my purpose, re-purify my intentions, and hope that I am doing what I do to the best of my ability as a Muslim.
Practical Muslim: When did you start CMB Styling?
Hakeemah: I started CMB in 2009. Back then, it was a hijab store mostly run through Facebook. In 2013 I started to style looks for designers for runway and conduct professional photo shoots for brands as well. I started at Washington D.C. Fashion Week, and since then have done many fashion shows. This was when CMB really started to blossom and the scope went from local to international very quickly. It is a unique styling service – the only one of its kind in the US. I started in runway, and have since done bridal styling, online e-styling, magazine spreads, as well as personal shopping and wardrobe overhauls.
Practical Muslim: How were you inspired to do this?
Hakeemah: When I was younger, I went to an Islamic school and wore a navy blue abaya every day for years. Even after graduation, I cycled through the same 5 abayas every week in my first year of college. I wanted to wear different things but struggled to find a way to stay covered and not have to wear only an abaya to do so. Back then, it was hard to find even a long-sleeved top, much less one that was loose-fitting and long in length. Once Muslim women started to be vocal about the need for accessibility to modest, stylish, and functional clothing, I felt this was an answer to my prayers. Muslim women have been sewing their own items and importing clothing from overseas to solve these issues for themselves, but it seemed to be a very quiet movement on a small scale. Until then, I had not seen the Internet used to voice our dismay at being under-served and to show the world that our clothing is empowering, not oppressive. I decided to join those voices in my own way as well.
Practical Muslim: Why do you believe in making a change in the lives of others?
Hakeemah: I treasure those who have made a positive impact in my life. My parents, my siblings, my husband – these are people who uplift me and encourage me. Some people out there do not have a single voice in their lives to tell them that they can do it, they are beautiful, they are worth it, they can succeed and excel. I try to be that voice for them. Oftentimes, I find that my appearance reflects my inner mood. Some of my clients want to appear put together, sophisticated, and stylish, but they don’t know how to achieve that and end up looking messy or frumpy. That can be damaging to her sense of accomplishment, her determination, or her sense of self-worth. I want women to have a positive mindset that is reflected well on the outside too. My addition to that would be, we can look stylish and never have to compromise the modesty standards of our deen while doing it.
Practical Muslim: How do you do that?
Hakeemah: I try my best to build a positive online community that is also reflected through in-person interactions. Each interaction with another person online is an opportunity to inspire, encourage, guide, or otherwise provide a safe space for conversation. I provide styling tips, photos of my work to serve as inspiration and representation of positive images of Muslim woman, and personal style to inspire women to achieve similar looks. I also attend events and have done workshops on how to style interesting, modest looks. I am sure to respond to emails, comments, and private messages and engage with people at events I attend. It is all a part of spreading the joy of modesty.
Practical Muslim: What is your ideal client?
Hakeemah: My ideal client is any designer or boutique that provides modest clothing, as well as any woman who is interested in dressing stylishly without compromising Islamic values.
Practical Muslim: How do you get involved in the community?
Hakeemah: I have done workshops in my local community to present to young girls about entrepreneurship and the work I do in modest fashion. It was enlightening to see that young women are searching for ways to channel their creativity, they are reflective on their roles as future leaders, and are very insightful about who they take inspiration from and why.
Practical Muslim: You’ve had some recent wins with exposure on fashion stages, can you elaborate?
Hakeemah: Alhamdulilah, I have presented showcases featuring the work of dozens of designers, both local and international. Each look is always styled by me. I started off my runway styling career in February 2013 and have been presenting modest fashion on the runway since then, so 2019 is my 6th year. My latest showcase was in Canada and the International Muslim Fashion and Design Festival in 2018. I consider runway as a great way to showcase talent in the fashion industry. Just as painters want to see their items displayed in an art gallery, stylists and designers want to see their items on the big stage as well. It was a pleasure and continues to be a pleasure to be a part of that moment.
Practical Muslim: What are your thoughts around modest wear and how the non-Muslim industry is responding to the trend?
Hakeemah: The rise of modest fashion has no doubt dispelled many stereotypes non-Muslims have had about Muslim women. We are not oppressed by wearing hijab if it is our choice, and more often than not, it is our choice. We are not held back by wearing hijab a certain way – there are thousands of ways to stay covered and still be stylish. We are businesswomen with talents who enrich the broader community. In that way it is very positive. On the other end, I hope that we Muslim women who are in the position of portraying a good example of empowered Muslim woman do not dilute our identities to become more palatable in a non-Muslim environment, especially because the Islamic hijab can be a controversial symbol in the eyes of those who have not fully grasped the meaning behind our mode of dress. As our fashion becomes more and more accepted in the mainstream fashion community, I hope it also maintains its distinction and unique fusion of both faith and fashion.
Practical Muslim: For those who criticize the non-Muslim, big corps of catering to the modest wear industry, what would you say?
Hakeemah: It is important to be invited to have a seat at the table as the pioneers of this movement. We all, Muslim and non-Muslims, see this industry as a money-maker, but we do not want our dollars to just be capitalized on without any true representation. There are some brands that simply co-opt modest fashion for their own financial gain. When that happens, it is clear. They do not hire professionals in modest fashion to aid in their designing, or styling, or marketing. They do not use actual Muslim women to present the modestwear to the world. They only care to claim inclusivity without actually including us. Other brands have done a much better job. Nike made an athletic, sports hijab and has Ibtihaj Muhammad, first US Olympic medalist to wear hijab while competing, amongst other hijab-clad athletes, as a part of their campaign. Nike has found a niche they never tapped into and was sure not only to make a profit on the venture, but also to listen to the community it stands to serve.
Practical Muslim: Where do you see your business going?
Hakeemah: Inshallah, to new heights. Two weeks ago, I made my TV debut by styling a full segment of 3 modest looks inspired by NY Fashion Week. This was a long-time dream come true for me. I find myself feeling the need to jump into new things and see where they take me. I would really like to delve even more into personal styling with personal shopping and wardrobe renovation. I have been e-styling clients over the internet for a while, but it’s another realm to visit women’s homes and help them achieve looks with my own two hands. I’m excited for the adventure.
Practical Muslim: What would you say to promising entrepreneurs looking to break into this industry?
Hakeemah: Have a clear sense of who you are in your soul first, map out at least a tentative business plan, and take it step by step. Your sense of self is important because there are lot of trends out there and you want to be leader, not a follower. You never want the industry to change you – you want to change the industry. Your business plan is important because it will serve as a gauge of your personal success as your reach each benchmark. You never want measure your success from someone else’s accomplishments – your business plan is your guide. Take it step by step so that you do not become overwhelmed. Sometimes your current step may be small such as making a post for the day on social media. Or it might be a big as showcasing on the runway. Whatever it is, it’s your step to take and no one else. Have your support system in place but believe in yourself first. The sky is your limit!
Click on the links below to learn more about Hakeemah and CMB as well as see some of her designs:
Watch HakeemMy TV segment : https://on.wusa9.com/2BSoNzX
Latest feature as 1 of the top 10 modest fashion influencer for 2019: https://www.hautehijab.com/blogs/hijab-fashion/10-hijabi-influencers-to-look-out-for-in-2019