Haute Hijab CEO Melanie Elturk Takes a Bold Approach to Modest Fashion
In our new series MC Muse, savvy women around the world share their style, their ambitions and the most coveted pieces to shop right now.
An American-Muslim teenager, daughter of Lebanese and Filipino immigrants, Melanie Elturk has found it unnecessarily difficult to find stylish, high-quality hijabs in her hometown of Detroit, especially ones that match her classic aesthetic with a twist. His options were limited: stocking up on hijabs on a trip abroad or reluctantly shopping for bulky scarves at local department stores.
Elturk was not alone in her frustrations. An active participant in the Muslim community in Detroit while in law school, she began to notice that Muslim high school students were completely abandoning the hijab, due to limited options and a lack of attention to young consumers. . âThe girls didn’t really have role models that they could look up to and say, ‘Wow, look at this woman in the world wearing a hijab and kicking.’ She’s successful because she wears a hijab and not despite it, âsays Elturk. (Elturk verified the name of Ilhan Omar, the first Somali-American Muslim congressman, in a blog post, as someone she hopes young Muslim women will be inspired by today.)
In 2010, Elturk was a part-time civil rights lawyer, but as a lifelong fashion enthusiast, she decided to take matters into her own hands. She started researching and selling vintage scarves that could be worn around the head, as she had done for many years. Six years later, she and her husband embark on launching their e-commerce site, Haute Hijab, as full-time jobs. The website offers Muslim women a range of hijabs for any occasion, including sports, without skimping on quality, comfort or modest principles.
Creating a well-designed hijab and a successful shopping platform were important parts of the couple’s business plan, but Elturk wasn’t just focusing on the product. She added a blog to cover topics that are of interest to Muslim women but that the mainstream media spends little time covering, from advice on raising children to politics to spirituality. âI really wanted to work on the substantive questions of why we wear [the hijab], the importance of it and shows examples of amazing and successful women who wear it, âshe said.
This year Elturk plans to expand their business globally. It will begin with an expansion into the UK in the second quarter, with the hope of entering the Middle East by the end of 2021. The international expansion brings the brand closer to Elturk’s overall goal: that the top Hijab reigns as the first brand of hijab.
We spoke with the busy CEO about her role in the Muslim community, her newfound streetwear obsession, and her penchant for wisdom on Instagram.
Marie Claire: First of all, explain to me your professional background.
MÃ©lanie Elturk: I moved to Chicago in 2009 when I got married, and my husband and I started the business together while I was still pursuing my legal career. The website was a bit like this passionate project that I had alongside. A few years later, our jobs moved us to Dubai. I was a trainee for three judges, which was an interesting job because the country [the United Arab Emirates) is still in its infancy, so I was basically creating the law. Fast-forward to 2014 and we started getting interests from investors in New York City. My husband and I wanted to move back home anyway, so in 2016 we both quit our jobs, and pursued the business full-time. In the last four or five years, weâve raised a few rounds of funding, built a team, and established our office in downtown Manhattan.
MC:Â Has your own style changed over the years, moving from Detroit to Dubai to New York?
ME:Â Iâd been wearing heels since I was in seventh grade; [in] New York, my choice of shoes has definitely changed. It’s like, are you serious? I wear much more comfortable shoes now. In the last year or so, I’ve also really gotten into streetwear. It brought me back to my roots in Detroit. I feel like I’ve come full circle, wearing the loose Ralph Lauren windbreakers, Tommy Hilfiger polo shirts and rugby shirts from my high school days.
I dress according to the energy I feel that morning. If I’m feeling really happy and excited about the day, I might wear a bright color. If I’m a little sleepy and lazy, I’ll wear an oversized sweater. If I know I have an investor meeting, I’ll put on a collared shirt and maybe a blazer. I love to dress up. I like the clothes. It’s so much fun for me. There’s this woman called Sheikha Mozah [the wife of the former emir and mother of the current emir who works against domestic violence and advocating for access to education] in Qatar. She’s like my muse. I am obsessed with it. His style is out of this world.
MC: Tell us about the blog.
ME: [At first], I was the only contributor. It was mostly fashion pieces, because that’s what interests me: lots of style stuff, fashion stuff, stuff like that. Eventually, we hired a blog editor who uses a team of freelance writers. We wondered how we could enrich the lives of our consumers, because there are not enough outlets speaking to this woman. Unfortunately, even within our community, I think sometimes the conversations aren’t as helpful or honest as they could be. She needs real topics to talk about, whether it’s faith, kids, going to school, passing an interview, wearing hijab style tips, or raising kids.
MC: How has social media changed the way you do business?
ME: The Muslim community is so diverse and fragmented across the world. The only real way to reach the consumer is online. We have a whole host of Instagram Ambassadors we work with who align with our brand values: cool girls of all ages, backgrounds and demographics. I control our Instagram myself, and it’s a great way for me to really engage with our customers and our community. They know it’s me and it’s a direct line of communication, which I think is a huge plus for our brand as well. They coined the term “Aunt Mel” because I’m gonna go live on Instagram and just shoot shit with it. [my followers]. It’s a really fun, frank and raw conversation. They ask questions, and I’ll share what little knowledge I have. I think that feeling of connection and community has been really essential to our success.
Shop for some of Melanie’s favorite pieces:
Lauren Ralph Lauren printed taffeta windbreaker
Tommy Hilfiger striped organic cotton rugby shirt
A version of this story appears in the Spring 2021 issue of Marie Claire.