Israa Enan opens her handbag and gently pulls out three traditional headscarves, or hijabs.
“So I brought three colors,” said Enan, who lives in the small town of Biddeford, Maine. They are samples from her clothing startup, Muharah Collection, which she launched with a friend last year.
“Very light, very soft, goes with everything,” Enan said as she held up the hijabs.
Up until recently, Enan was on an entirely different career track working as a dental assistant, a job she was initially excited about.
But not long after she started, she said her employers asked if she would replace her hijab with a surgical hat and a smaller head covering underneath.
Enan said she agreed at first, wanting to fit in. “But then I realized, this is not who I am,” she said.
So after several months at the clinic, she put in her notice and opened the store with a friend. They began importing hijabs from Turkey, selling them for $7 each. The idea is to serve women who have found it difficult to find local stores that cater to their fashion needs.
It didn’t take long to find customers, like Tabarek Al Abboodi.
“I’ve never bought a hijab in person until actually Israa opened her Muharah Collection,” Al Abboodi said.
And Enan is now running into more and more people wearing her fashion lines.
“I saw some girls, they were like ‘Oh, we’re wearing your hijabs!’ I was like, ‘This is cute! This is so nice.’”
Enan is tapping into a Muslim customer base that has long been underserved by the mainstream fashion industry, said Lorynn Divita, an apparel merchandising professor at Baylor University.
Divita said the modest-fashion industry is growing rapidly in the United States. It includes clothing like hijabs, long dresses and modest swimwear for people of various religious beliefs.
“Because, at this point, it is not saturated with entrants,” Divita said. “It’s growing because it has been underserved to this point.”
She said that means there’s still plenty of room for small-scale entrepreneurs with connections to their communities to grow.