Leading fashion to new grounds

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By Kelly Hawkins / Special to Viewpoints

By Kelly Hawkins / Special to Viewpoints

If you clearly see a void, why not fill it?

Designer Marwa Atik has done just that by creating a fashion forward scarf line that introduces modesty to the fashion world, yet boldness to Muslim culture.

“I want to put modesty on the runway, not just sexy,” Atik said over the phone as she diligently prepared new samples for an upcoming convention.

The 20-year-old trendsetter from Huntington Beach also aims to provide cooler alternatives for Muslim women who wear a hijab. In an industry that typically offers a limited choice between solid and print scarves, Atik’s company Vela, which is Latin for “veil,” serves as a breath of fresh air. Her innovative designs incorporate a wide variety of fabrics, textures and details, such as delicate silk, casual denim, girly lace and edgy zippers.

“Alexander McQueen has always been my favorite designer. Every design told a story and he wasn’t afraid to think outside the box,” Atik said.

In order to stay ahead of the curve, Atik keeps a close eye on her favorite high fashion designers: Marc Jacobs, Karl Lagerfeld and Alber Elbaz, who are behind major design houses Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Lanvin, also provide style inspiration. Staying in tune with pop culture and studying trend forecasts is also essential to Atik’s creative process. The latter she credits to the library at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising where she majors in Apparel Management.

“In one week I learned so many things that I could instantly apply to my business,” Atik said.

While already the artistic type, Atik strives to better her business sense as she hopes to see Vela expand not only to sell dresses and sleeves, but also to reach a broader audience. Atik’s trendy scarves can be worn on and off the head, which serves as a great way to ease the divide between different cultures.

“There are so many misconceptions about Muslim women. We’re just as normal and fashionable. I want to shed a different light,” Atik said.

One way she has been able to do so was through a story for the Los Angeles Times in October 2010 that focused on modern, Western, Muslim women who express themselves through personal style while remaining faithful to their religion.

“It was exciting to see the story finally published after a year and a half of being interviewed,” Atik said. “Our website was launched around the same time so it was also great publicity.”

In addition, conventions such as “Reviving Islamic Spirit” aim to gather and unite this new, young generation of Muslims by focusing more on empowerment and less on religion. Atik, who will have a booth there again this year, seems to be one small part of an even bigger movement.

Furthermore, the online world has also welcomed Vela with open arms: various blogs and websites have been giving the brand positive feedback since its start in 2009.

However, none of this success could be achieved without a little help from family and friends. Atik’s older sister, Tasneen Sabri, is the co-founder of Vela and helps manage the continuously growing business.

“I also have a couple friends who help with packaging, hemming, production, to-do lists and ideas,” Atik said. “I joke around and call them my interns.”

This early in her journey, Atik already has plenty of advice to give her fellow aspiring entrepreneurs: create a business plan first, expect plenty of hard work and manage time wisely.

“As little as 30 minutes can be so valuable,” Atik said. “Just wasting that much time can set me back days.”

Nonetheless, that knowledge wasn’t acquired over night; it came from plenty of trial and error, persistence and determination.

With an impressive start and an even brighter future, neither Marwa Atik nor Vela will be slowing down anytime soon.

Shop the Vela Spring 2011 Collection at velascarves.com.

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