by Sarah Schwarz

It started when Azizah found herself hooked with DIY earrings and hair pins that her roommate busied with, while a student in Malaysia. Feeling rootless growing up as a third-culture kid, with ancestors belonging to a minority in the Philippines, Azizah felt a connection with her Uighur roommate. Like her, the Uighurs are a minority group in China; repressed and persecuted. As they shared stories, Azizah reflected on the hijab in a different light as it shed a deeper understanding and value than what she got accustomed to in Saudi Arabia where she grew up until.17. She realized the struggle that women experiences in countries such as in her ancestral land- in Bangsamoro (Mindanao) and her friend in Xinjiang. Hijab were not proudly worn back in the days, especially with the youth at the fear of getting bullied, discriminated and stereotyped. But with the influence of her Uighur friend, she felt inspired to start selling scarves and DIY items they made to the girls around their dormitory and more confident to bring some with her when she went to visit her family in the Philippines.

Hers Laha Abaya with Batik fabric accent

Around 2012, Azizah introduced her business on her marketing presentation for one of her undergraduate studies and the brand “Hers” was born. With the realization that she can earn while doing what she loves, the idea was later introduced to her sisters (in the Philippines) who were as ecstatic. The brand grew from a DIY hobby into a real business with her sister Aliah. From “Hers”, the brand’s name evolved into “Hers Laha” (an epizeuxis of the Arabic word “Laha” which translates to “hers” in English).

 Two years later, they both strategized their branding and came up with their design identity which reflects their Moro heritage. Finding the brand’s design identity and signature style had not only created a good branding for them but also helped Azizah find her own.

The indeginous hand-woven fabric Langkit that Hers Laha use as accent on their abaya

Langkit and Inaul, are some of the indigenous hand- woven fabric that can only be found in Mindanao, were added to the traditional black abaya giving it a unique extravagant look. The abaya has a good reception locally and internationally. Incorporating the locally- produced fabrics with their designs helped the local weaver’s economy and empower young women as well as preserving the Moro ancestral art.

Hers Laha ‘s fashion show featured in Gaya Magazine

The brand’s success reached Malaysia where it was first founded. Azizah’s brand was presented in several international fashion shows in Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, and Turkey modest fashion weeks, which were covered by international news agencies such as Singaporean magazine Gaya, Malaysia’s lifestyle web portal, ABS-CBN ( A Philippine national television network), and Hijabi Magazine (Philippines first muslim E-magazine), and is the first modest fashion brand from Philippines to appear in international fashion shows.

Azizah is a diplomat who represented Philippines internationally as a Youth Ambassador for United Nations. She was recently invited as a delegate and speaker for Geneva Peace Week event called “The Nexus of Peace Entrepreneurship”. She also served as the former ambassador of World Hijab Day for Philippines. When she was starting selling her DIY and slowly transitioning to fashion business, Azizah admitted that some people around her questioned whether she wanted to become a designer or pursue an academic career. By then, she loved what she was doing but going back home to Philippines made the path clearer for her as she found her true identity and purpose. She became a model of empowerment and success, and truly a shining inspiration to her fellow Mindaoanons.

Azizah (leftmost) with other diplomats from other countries

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Watch Azizah”s exclusive interview by Aviana of Hijabmode TV (Au) here

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