When Tracey Hansen converted to Islam about a year ago, her commitment to a new faith presented her with a problem: She would have to embrace a different wardrobe, one that was more conservative and often limited in South Florida.
I would wear jeans and tank tops, but after 50 years of that, I realized that as a recent convert, I couldnt wear this anymore, said Hansen, 52, who began searching online for garments in which she could feel young, comfortable and modern, but at the same time cover her hair, neck and arms, in compliance with Islamic customs.
Then she stumbled upon the YouTube hijab and fashion tutorials of Yasemin Kanar, 23, of Miami Gardens.
I didnt like anything that was out there in the Muslim sites, and through YouTube, I found yazthespaz.com, Hansen said.
Kanars website sells an assortment of hijabs, volumizing scrunchies, turtlenecks and bonnets.
In five months, she has sold her products to more than 4,000 people worldwide, reaching her largest audiences in Malaysia, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Nezar Hamze, director of the South Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said there are about 110,000 Muslims in South Florida.
Some have businesses, from restaurants to tobacco and hookah bars, that are growing quite a bit, and what Yasemin does is just another example [of the growth of Muslim businesses], Hamze said. She is a big asset to the community.
With every sale of hijabs, (ranging from $11-$14), volumizing scrunchies ($12), turtlenecks ($15) bonnets ($4), Kanar promotes a fundamental message: Women can definitely look fashionable and cute, yet still be covered, she said.
And that is a message she also shares with Rabia Zargarpur, the Emirati fashion designer who was the first Arab to show moderate yet modern couture at Miami Fashion Week 2010.
Hijab is seen as something difficult , even in our culture as well, says Zargarpur, who began wearing hijab a few months before 9/11. But there is greater awareness to this concept of modest fashion, and with that awareness there is demand, creating a big gap in the market.
Zargarpur said the main struggle for women in the West who wear hijab is confidence, which she says Kanar is breaking through.
Fauzia Mohamed, 30, is one of the many women who has found her confidence through modest dress.
I saw how Yasemin wrapped her scarf and did her makeup. I bought her products, and I fell in love all over again with dressing up, Mohamed said. I never thought that I could pull off wearing a turtleneck and hijab until I saw her doing it.
Kanar said the diversity and vivacity in Miami has given her the opportunity to be creative with color and style elements that have attracted women like Hansen and Mohamed, who also appreciate the price of the merchandises.
The material is very good, and way cheaper than in stores, Mohamed said. You can find turtlenecks at $30 in stores, but with Yasemin its only about $12.
Kanar, who lives in Miami Gardens with her parents and two siblings, decided to start her business when she realized her Islamic wardrobe was catching everyones attention every time she visited the Islamic Center of South Florida, a mosque in Pompano Beach.
The Florida International University graduate said that before then, there werent too many women creating hijab tutorials.
She started marketing her fashion vision in 2010 through social media accounts. It went viral on the Internet.
Her YouTube channel, consisting of hijab outfit and makeup tutorials, now has more than 13,000 subscribers, and her Facebook fan page more than 29,000 fans.
In February 2012, she launched yazthespaz.com.
Kanar was ranked No. 3 in Mbmuslimas Magazines top 40 under 40 for inspiring Muslim women from 9 to 55 years old to wear hijab.
Those are interesting demographics, Kanar said.
Her mother is immensely proud of her. I saw the gift that she had and how people accepted her and loved to listen to her, said Roraima Kanar, 58. Shes helping many Muslim girls develop the self-esteem, which is important for women to have.
I always tell them beauty starts from within, Kanar said. Always have a pure heart, and make sure your intentions are right.