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Melanie Elturk talks Haute Hijab and the intersection between religion and business

One of the world’s leading authorities in Islamic fashion told a group of students Thursday night to take risks and have guts in pursuing their entrepreneurial dreams.

In an event sponsored by the UNC Muslim Students Association and UNC Women’s Resource Center, Haute Hijab CEO Melanie Elturk discussed her journey of becoming an entrepreneur in a field of fashion that has become a growing force. Elturk said she did not start out as an entrepreneur. She worked for several years as a civil rights attorney in her native Detroit until she and her husband relocated to Chicago. Since she didn’t have a license to practice law in Illinois, Elturk and her husband decided to start a company that would provide high quality hijab wear to empower Muslim women. 

“Eight years ago, you couldn’t even find a hijab online,” she said “And if you did it was really traditional, from back home. It didn’t have an American aesthetic, it was really difficult to find hijabs. Back then, it was an oxymoron, 'What do you mean Islamic fashion?'”

Elturk said making the venture successful was not an easy task. She said the company first had to survive funding issues, a task made more difficult by the fact that Islam forbids taking out loans that have interest attached. After overcoming this through a series of donations and loans from family and friends, the company started online. 

Now one of the largest Islamic fashion sites in the United States, Elturk said she has ambitions to make the company the world’s largest of its kind. 

“We’re in the hats phase of the Coco Chanel story. We want to be the first thought, we want to be the Nike of hijabs,” she said. “When you say hijab I want you to think Haute Hijab. And then you can spread yourself into all these other categories.”

She said she intends to start off with just hijabs, but envisions a larger fashion empire at some point.

Junior exercise and sport science major Amina Khan said Elturk’s talk informed her a great deal about the company and its impact and opened her eyes to the possibilities of entrepreneurship.

“Even as someone who’s into science and planning on going to medical school, I’ve always been interested in fashion, so seeing somebody from my faith who has been successful in that field actually makes me feel like that could be something that I pursue one day,” she said

Event organizer Ahmad Tejan-Sie shared a similar sentiment.

“I like the fact that she explained the nitty gritty details of what exactly went into creating this company, especially one that’s so specialized and exists at the intersection of religion and economics.”

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