Although her Indonesian Muslim parents never pressured her to wear a hijab, Rahmalia Aufa Yazid always figured that she would eventually end up wearing one.
Born and raised in Tokyo, she initially didn’t feel that strongly about Islam so she had followed her parents’ lead when it came to the religion.
When she finally decided to put on a hijab at age 18, it felt impersonal to her, and Yazid struggled with dressing in a hijab.
“I felt that the hijab was a religious item of clothing so I was choosing my clothes to match,” the 24-year-old freelance creator, who posts under her Instagram handle @aufatokyo, told BuzzFeed News.
As a result, she found herself missing out on popular Japanese fashion trends and feeling out of place in her school, where she was the only hijabi student in her major.
“Not only did I stand out as someone with foreign heritage, my daily outfits now consisted of my mother’s old hijab and outfits that were totally different from designs and colors that were popular in Japan at the time,” she said.
“Although it was my choice to wear the hijab, I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel as though the hijab was, instead, wearing me,” she said.
All that changed when she encountered the work of Hana Tajima, a mixed-race British and Japanese designer who converted to Islam in her teens.
It was only after she saw Tajima’s UNIQLO modest wear collection that Yazid realized modest fashion didn’t have to feel out of place in the streets of Tokyo.
“Her fashion didn’t feel like it was trying to be particularly gorgeous, vivid, or even traditional,” Yazid said.
“That was the moment the hijab changed from an impersonal, religious item of clothing to something that was true to my life,” she added.
Yazid now combines Muslim and Japanese fashions in the city of Tokyo, sharing her self portraits on her Instagram to her 14,000 followers.
She calls Tokyo a “cold and restless city,” where people dress in neutral colors of black, white, beige, and khaki and where bright colors and striking patterns are rare.
She styles her hijab the way that Japanese people style their hair – to match their outfit and mood for the day.
Just as Japanese people vary up their hairstyles, from straight to bobbed, wavy to short haircuts, Yazid uses different colors, materials, and wrapping methods to switch up her look.
For example, the hijab can be wrapped asymmetrically to create an effect that’s similar to that of bangs being swept to one said, she said.
“I also add accessories to create a more lively look,” she said. “I like hats, so I often wear a beret over the hijab.”
For Yazid, Islam’s restrictions against women showing skin is what the part she enjoys most about fashion.
Because hijabi fashion doesn’t allow women to show off their neck, legs, or figures, it’s a lot more difficult to come up with an outfit that still achieves an overall balance, she said.
“But for me, that’s part of the fun,” she said. “It’s like solving a puzzle.”
Her work has led to an increased sense of her pride in her Muslim faith in a country where Muslims are a small minority, she said.
Yazid said she wants to use her work to show people that they can wear a hijab, live a normal life, and not look out of place in the city.
Since then, she has received many comments from people who said they are inspired by her work, she said.
Some of them have begun wearing hijabs, while others have told her they want to learn more about Islam.
“Hijabi fashion — Muslim fashion — crosses the boundaries of religion and can be a source of enjoyment for anyone,” she said. “It’s something that all women who want to look beautiful with can empathize with and enjoy.”
“I want to use what I do to improve people’s understanding of Muslims, change biased views about the religion, and help people realize the value of living in a diverse society,” she added.
“I want to show myself, a Muslim, living strong and beautiful, through my art,” she said.
This post was translated from Japanese.