A few years ago, 26-year-old Hilal Ibrahim of Minnetonka was looking for a dressy hijab to wear to for Eid, the Muslim holiday that marks the end of Ramadan.
Nothing she found was quite right. Major retailers sell all kinds of beautiful scarves, but they weren't long enough, or the fabric was too sheer, or didn't lie well when wrapped around the head.
So Ibrahim headed to S.R. Harris, the massive Twin Cities fabric outlet, and began sewing her own hijabs. By 2017, she'd launched her own company, Henna and Hijabs.
Ibrahim first became known for hijabs designed for health care workers and now, through a new collaboration with Nordstrom, she's bringing luxury hijabs into a major department store.
Ibrahim began volunteering at Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park when she was 14, and after turning 18, she worked in a variety of health care jobs, from receptionist to certified nursing assistant.
One day Ibrahim was working as a phlebotomist in the emergency room and got a patient's blood on her clothes. Since the hospital stocked backup scrubs in the employee locker, but no hijabs, she had to go home and change. Ibrahim also noticed that if a patient needed a clean hijab, the only thing the hospital could offer was a blanket or towel.
Her design of a medical-grade hijab — made in durable, breathable jersey that won't slip, in a shorter length so the fabric doesn't get in the way, with slits to accommodate stethoscopes and masks — was groundbreaking.
"A lot of individuals came to me and said they couldn't have imagined hijabs in a health care setting 20 or 30 years ago," Ibrahim said.
Ibrahim sits on the Park Nicollet Foundation's board of directors, but is now focused on Henna and Hijabs full time. She's been especially busy launching Nordstrom's first-ever line of hijabs, which are intended for special occasions and come in a variety of materials, from silk to linen. (They're available online as well as at Nordstrom stores at Ridgedale and the Mall of America.)
Sustainability is important to Ibrahim, so she gravitates toward eco-friendly materials such as organic cotton ("I want to become the Patagonia of hijabs") and is also preparing to sell organic henna (a plant-based dye used for body art and hair dye), after seeing young Muslim women come into the emergency room with reactions to the harmful chemicals found in some commercial henna pastes.
Ibrahim also feels strongly about accessibility and bringing hijabs — which are hard to find at major clothing retailers — into more malls and department stores.
"I want Muslim women to be able to go anywhere they want and buy a hijab," she said. "I want everyone to know that Muslim women can become pharmacists and police officers and lawyers and athletes who compete in the Olympics, and still be who they are."
Rachel Hutton • 612-673-4569