The title is just an excuse to use Taylor Swift lyrics, Farrah Khan is not trouble (or at least not in the way our BFF Taylor sings about.) Farrah is quite amazing. She works in Toronto as a counselor, educator, artist and fashionable babe (this last one is not an official title…yet.) Just when you think she couldn’t be more awesome, she’ll put out a comic book (Heartbeats: The IZZAT Project) and then present a workshop called “Our Heroines, Our Comics” in hopes of empowering people of colour to share our stories in the format. Getting to engage with Farrah is one of the reasons I feel so grateful to be in Toronto at the moment. For me, it means getting to talk about being brown and scars and hair and sometimes complicated relationships with family with a person who will understand, with a person that shares those experiences too. It’s something that I didn’t think possible even a year ago, let alone growing up in Alberta. Enough gushing, read on about this sparkly creature…
How does being a Muslim woman inform your personal style?
As a Muslim woman, I sometimes feel like the media, governments, our families, religious scholars, the justice system and our peers want to police what we wear. I get told I’m not Muslim enough from within my community and by non-Muslims for what I wear. At first it bothered me but now it makes me wear what I want in celebration of self and the communities I am connected to.
Sometimes this means rompers, sometimes it’s a salwar and hijab. It’s my choice.
There is a gross binary created by the media where we get seen as either liberated or oppressed by our clothing. Muslim women have pushed back at this, shifting and challenging the ways in which people see us and how we see ourselves. There is an explosion of fashion bloggers (DINA TOKIO, Fuck Yeah Fat Brown Hijabis) and artists like Yuna, celebrating the diverse fashion of our communities. The fashion within our communities alone is astounding. The young Muslim women I work with layer an outfit with multiple patterns, jewelry, sometimes hijab—looking so fierce. Being in community with them is inspiring and definitely informs my personal style.
I know you work with a lot of youth–does that energy influence what you wear, directlyor indirectly? My little sister tells me quite directly when she disapproves (holla Astrid!)
They do tell me directly if something is no good! They will tell me something I wear is boring or tired. Working alongside youth encourages me to keep trying different things, to evolve and create room for change. The same goes for elders in my life. My grandparents and community elders influence what I wear in how they hold themselves. I have a grandmother that never stopped wearing dresses, she hated pants. My love of all things femme is her influence.
Speaking of youth: you’ve mentioned your love of the Babysitter’s Club (BSC) series growing up–what did these books and characters mean to you then and now?
Being one of the only young women of colour in my grade school in Burlington, I clung to any books that remotely spoke to my experiences.
I had an after school club with three friends called the unicorn club (named after Sweet Valley Twins series club) and we would read the series. Claudia is my favourite. She is celebrated by other women including illustrator Yumi Sakugawa’s visual love letter comic and the blog What Claudia Wore. She was one of the first girls of colour I ever read about who seemed a little more like me, especially her relationship with her grandmother that lived with her. She also challenged the model minority myth that as Asians we have to be good in school. But my favourite part about her is her sense of style. In each book there was at least one description of her outfits and I would reread them even marking them down or sketching them out in my journal to think of ways to incorporate the ideas into my own style. Claudia created her own trends and fashion ideas and I believed in my grade five heart that I too was like this. One of the best compliments I ever got was when a woman said I have style that rivals Claudia Kishi. Swoon.
I still read the books on occasion and get lost in them when I am at any second hand store. They hold important ideas about family, gender, friendship and relationships. Kristy, alike to Anne of Green Gables, is a queer fiction icon in that she question gender, she challenged the idea of being in a relationship and had fierce friendships. Also, the storylines of Mary Anne and her relationship with her father, and Stacey being pulled in two directions by her parents resonate with me.
You are a big fan of comics/graphic novels and you even put one out recently–who are your favourite characters in comics (fashion-wise or in general)?
Rogue, from XMen, was one of my first crushes. Her outfit seemed slick and she was always ready for adventure. Graphic novel-wise, it has to be said that Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi is my favourite. Her discussion of hair removal made me love her so much and felt validated about my own obsession. I loved her attempt to fit into what she thought was fashionable according to her white peers. During high school, I wanted to fit in badly with my peers. I changed my style in some ways to fit into whatever group. I wanted to connect, to be in the environmental club youth or hardcore kids. I shed that in my 20’s, realizing that it wasn’t me.
Do you have any fashion role models in your family (past or present)?
My family as a whole inspires me. We definitely have a love of fashion that unites us when other conversations are challenging. My Oma (grandmother) was a cobbler’s daughter and would proudly talk about having the most shoes in village in Holland. When she was really ill and had difficulties accessing her short term memory, I would ask her again and again to tell me about the shoes. She also would always wear a hat and gloves, definitely cultivating a love for all things fancy for me. Both she and my mother could sew up dresses in a day, so I grew up wearing a lot of hand-made clothes such as embroidered corduroy skirts with ruffles all over. One of my favourite memories with my mom is when she would take me to Fabricland and we would scope out the patterns, picking out one to make a new outfit for me to wear on the first day of school. I always felt really special and deeply loved. My mom and I still craft together now, taking clothes we find at the Salvation Army and altering them to fit or dyeing them. This year we got obsessed with all the coloured leather jackets, pants and skirts. Together we made leather shorts, a purse and a couple of vests.
My dad also comes from a fashionable family. My Dadima (grandmother) wore these amazing georgette saris, one that I own now. My father travels a lot for work and always picks me up clothing, accessories and fabrics with his own vision of what looks good. He definitely follows his own fashion desires of patterns, bright colours and comfort. My favorite dad fashion moment is when he mixed henna and coffee together to dye his beard. I love any images of his outfits; he is dapper flashy and I love it.
He definitely has taught me that dressing up is a celebration of self.
Who are your style/life inspirations these days?
My aunt Mariam who was a fashion designer who did not sew
Femmes of colour who never make me feel overdressed. Everywhere is our runway.
The best part of our photoshoot was seeing you on your bike. You seemed so happy and look radiant in the pictures. I also think it was particularly special to have these images because we don’t often see brown women as part of bike culture. Maybe this is more commentary than question but do you want to elaborate on your love of cycling?
When I was a child, I had a Strawberry Shortcake tricycle which was amazing. I refused to learn on other bikes because they could not live up to that amazingness. It took until my late twenties/early thirties for me to actually learn to ride a bike. I was definitely intimidated of biking, having never learned as a child. Much like the environmental movement, the cycling culture also felt very white and exclusive. My partner at the time got me a gold mini folding bike that matched everything so of course I loved it.
Biking makes me feel so free. There is a lovely feeling of wind on my face as I ride through my neighbourhood. It also makes me feel safe, I love going from place to place with no need to depend on anything besides my body. When riding, I get lost concentrating on the movement. It feels like a mediation or a prayer. Bonus: Wearing a dress while biking feels elegant and lovely.
Tell me about the unicorns.
It started as a kid. I definitely had a unicorn phase, probably linked to my love of My Little Pony. It fizzled until in my mid twenties, I found a child’s unicorn jumper when thrifting and made it into a costume for Halloween. After that I just embraced the love of this mythical, sparkly, pretty animal.
At the “Black and Brown Girls Write a New World” workshop at the Allied Media Conference this year, Alexis Pauline Gumbs said “The fact that we all exist here is science fiction to the folks who came before us”.
Growing up I never imagined there was other queer Muslims or knew other mixed raced people. I equate it with feeling like the last unicorn, a mythical creature alone.
Now after connecting with people who have similar identities or experiences as me, I know I’m not. There are so many other unicorns, mermaids, sharks and other sea creatures building community with one another.
All photos by Karen Campos