Zeena CEO Bayan Jondy Opens Up About #UncoverModesty
Posted on 12 February 2019
Today on the blog, we're discussing the launch of #UncoverModesty with Zeena CEO Bayan Jondy in an interview with Zeena team contributor Jamillah K. Abdullah.
VIENNA, VA -- Having a sense of style came naturally to Bayan Jondy, a former social worker turned fashion designer, who began sewing clothes with her sister and business partner Amany several years before launching Zeena, a modest fashion brand based in Vienna, Virginia. From professional office-ready blouses, classic layering essentials and modest swimwear, to the no-pins required InstaHijab, Zeena caters to Muslim and non-Muslim women alike with their clean-edge, modern-yet-conservative aesthetic. Since 2011, the evolution of the company has been a roller coaster ride -- from its original debut as the e-commerce store SimplyZeena, to the grand opening of a retail boutique in Tysons Corner in McLean, Virginia, before circling back again as an e-commerce powerhouse with international appeal.
As Zeena continues to grow in the age of #MeToo, the Modesty Movement, and the rising acclaim of trailblazing Hijabi supermodels like Halima Aden and Instagram sensation Soufeeya Goodson, Zeena seeks to stake its place in the fashion industry as a women-owned business with a vision.
In 2019, Zeena will be celebrating its eighth anniversary by unveiling a new digital community on Instagram entitled #UncoverModesty, which aims to unite women’s voices across the popular social media app, encouraging dialogue on topics such as modest style, inclusivity, self-respect and current trends. #UncoverModesty is not only a hashtag, but a platform for those seeking an alternative narrative to the barely-there clothing options coming down the runway. In the interview below, Zeena CEO Bayan Jondy discusses how #UncoverModesty is re-examining modest fashion one post at a time.
Tell us about your upbringing. What was your experience like growing up as an American Muslim woman in Flint, Michigan?
Growing up in Flint was not easy. I went to public schools in the 80’s and 90’s at a time where the only understanding of Islam or Muslims was Saddam Hussain and the Gulf War. In those days, the Muslim community was a very conservative one. I made a lot of good friends that I still keep in touch with today, but it was the adults who made my high school experience a challenge. I still remember walking into my 9th grade science class to find that my teacher had taped a picture on the chalkboard of a Niqabi woman sitting on the beach. The bell rang, and he asked me in front of everyone laughing, “Ms. Jondy, do you know why she’s sitting on the beach wearing all that? Do you think she’s getting a tan?” That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Hearing the phrase, “Go back to where you came from!” shouted out of cars driving past our home was standard (and very un-original). Those experiences were a constant reminder of how important it was for me to strive and take control of my narrative, and in doing so, help people understand who Muslim women really are. In the end, I’ll continue to be who I am whether ‘accepted’ or not (in Muslim and Non-Muslim communities alike).
The Muslim community where I grew up was very traditional with only one way to practice. If you didn’t fit the mold, you were lacking in faith. In a judgmental environment, women were constantly picked on for the way they dressed. The young women in our community offered the protection and support that truly saved me. Through all the struggles, they showed us how to be smart, outgoing, stay strong in our faith, and always challenge the status quo.
How did you discover your personal style?
I come from a family of nine with a few older sisters that I really looked up to. I used to play in their closets and at times, steal their clothes (I think they’ve forgiven me?). My sister had this beautiful matching pale pink blouse and skirt I was in love with. To this day, I’m still obsessed with matching sets. Over the years, I’ve become settled in my style -- I’m always kind of dressy. I follow the Coco Chanel rule, “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take at least one thing off.” The reality is, I’d always be too dressed up otherwise. There are no sweats and T-shirt days in my life. I will, however, pick cute sneakers or loafers over heels any day!
What inspired you to become a fashion designer?
Fashion is very personal to me. It’s how I present myself to the world. As Muslim women, many times we find ourselves with limited options, without a true capture of our style aesthetic. I really wanted to design clothing that represents my take on American culture. My designs are a culmination of my American-Muslim heritage.
What was your motivation behind launching #UncoverModesty?
#UncoverModesty is a spin-off from our blog, Zeena Uncovered. The Instagram account was created to shed light on more specific issues, uncovering layers and layers of topics pertaining to American Muslim women. When talking about fashion, modesty and lifestyle, it’s not one way or one opinion. The conversation is larger, deeper, and much more diverse. Our goal is to bring these issues to light and provide a safe space for Muslim women to voice their concerns without being attacked for their opinions. Being a minority within a minority, we need to come together and support each other in understanding the struggle.
What are some of the challenge’s women face who choose to dress modestly?
Finding the right clothing. People judging you in hijab. There are also misconceptions that exist around who we are, including the notion that we all want the same thing -- or the same style of clothes. Think of when you go to a Muslim gathering, we’re part of the most diverse faith, and yet the expectation is we should all fit into the same cookie-cutter mold. I’m dressed according to my faith and comfort level, and that’s what boosts my confidence and gives me a no-care attitude. You can accept me or not.
Why do you feel other fashion brands ignore this type of customer?
We don’t make enough noise. Mainstream fashion brands don’t truly understand us as a market segment.
How does Zeena fit into the larger conversation?
It’s about shifting the conversation and continuing to tell our own stories. We need modest clothing that caters to American Muslim women and Zeena does that. We’re a platform that encourages others to continue to be who they are and not care what others think of them.
We should be proud of our faith and allow others to see us for who we are...because we are AMAZING! We are more in control of our narrative than ever before, reinforcing the notion that we do belong. America is our home and through fashion, we have representation, support, and tons of fun at the same time!
By launching the hashtag #UncoverModesty, what is your vision for the future of modest fashion?
We are hopeful that modest fashion will become permanent in the mainstream, making it more accessible to women who choose to dress according to their faith and values. Modesty is something that will never go away, and we need more companies catering to our needs. Our company’s vision is to continue our conversations with American Muslim women about their wants and how to achieve them. It’s about continuing our own development as well as channeling their voices so other brands and apparel companies take note and listen. The more they understand who we are as customers, the easier it will become to dispel any misconceptions they have about us and the clothing we wear.