Fashion: How a Sheffield designer caused a stir at London Fashion Week with a collection featuring hijabs

Fashion student Kazna Asker is getting used to causing a stir. Her collection for London Fashion Week was based around hijabs, a first for the MA show she featured in.

Monday, 14th March 2022, 8:16 am

Kazna, studying at the famous Central Saint Martins arts university in the capital, based her collection on the Sheffield Yemeni community she was raised in.

It combined tracksuits and outerwear with jilbabs, which are full-length outer garments, traditionally covering the head and hands.

There were also kaftans - a man's long belted tunic; chador - a full-body-length semicircle of fabric that is open down the front and thobes, which are ankle-length robes.

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Fashion student Kazna Asker

This was a student determined to reflect her roots and show the wider world that fashion can have many faces.

Her collection combined fabrics such as nylons and sportswear details with traditionally woven fabrics used to make majilis - a grand looking sofa with intricate designs - and Keffiyeh scarves.

There was nothing else like it and not surprisingly, it made waves.

Kazna’s work impressed fashion bible Vogue and the online fashion magazine Sleek-mag, which called her a name to remember.

Kazna Asker's collection for London Fashion Week was based around hijabs, a first for the MA show she featured in.

She is more modest, just happy to be true to her roots.

“I specifically designed in pairs to create matching looks to show the brother and sisterhood of our community and that we are all watered by one water,” she says.

Back to that community theme, which she is so determined to showcase.

“The Sheffield community and charity work has always been important to me and considering Yemen is facing a humanitarian crisis, I have always felt responsible to showcase the beauty in my culture and the selflessness of my people.”

Kazna Asker's collection for London Fashion Week was based around hijabs, a first for the MA show she featured in.

Born in Liverpool, she was a regular visitor to her Sheffield grandparents in Upperthorpe and Burngreave.

Aged 12, her family moved to Millhouses, but Kazna struggled to find a school and was on an eight-month waiting list. Left in limbo, her family were determined she would not miss out so sent her to Sheffield Girls High.

“I wasn’t in catchment for state schools and had to go private. It was a big culture shock,” she says.

“At weekends, I went to Fir Vale to Arabic school and I realised what community was thanks to the Yemeni Community Association - it was a cultural experience.

Kazna Asker's collection for London Fashion Week was based around hijabs, a first for the MA show she featured in.

“I felt like at school it was more academic but I wanted to do something creative so after A-levels I went back to Liverpool to do graphic design and fine art.

“I was really interested in fashion and ended up doing a BA in fashion at Manchester Metropolitan.”

Then she moved to London to Central St Martins, or CSM to those in the know.

Its designer alumni include Stella McCartney, Marc Jacobs and the late Alexander McQueen, chief designer at Givenchy. They have all shared the catwalk Kazna has just graced. The course is as demanding as it is rewarding - just 40 per cent of students get to show their work at London Fashion Week.

Now 25 and one of four children, Kazna was one of the lucky few to be chosen.

“It was intense and competitive, so different to what I’d been used to,” she says.

Kazna Asker, studying at the famous Central Saint Martins arts universityl, based her collection on the Sheffield Yemeni community she was raised in.

That had been charity shows, but despite the pressure Kazna was determined to keep her link with the communities which had hosted those charity shows. After all, those community roots have shaped her style.

“I was looking at what people in the community were wearing and it was tracksuits. I wanted to combine that with our heritage, carpet material or material from a majilis.

“My aim was to combine my British upbringing with the Yemeni culture, the immigrant culture - that is to state our spirit with clothes.”

To get material, she did a poster project in Burngreave which asked three questions: what does community mean to you, who inspires you today and what are you fighting for?

She printed their answers on the back of the garments throughout her collection. “I knew I wanted this collection to be as interactive as possible in order to showcase the voices of my community.”

It was statement clothing and to continue the community link, her Sheffield friends were models on the catwalk at London Fashion Week.

“People from the show wanted professional models but it didn’t click and we agreed to use my friends.”

Her determination paid off and the collection was a hit. Sleek-mag called her ‘a name to remember’, adding: “The Sheffield native made a particular impression by sending hijabs down the CSM runway.”

It was a bold move, but one she wanted to take.

“I wasn’t nervous, all my family wear headscarves and it is normal for me.”

But that isn’t the outside world. “When I put it on outside that community I realised it was not normal and they have not seen one on the catwalk before.

“It is not a political statement, I wanted to be sincere about what I was raised around.

“My collection focuses on community and challenges the narrative and stereotypes associated with Muslim men and women – to show that we are actually cool people!”

Matching men’s and women’s wear was a key part of this.

“I’ve heard people think we are oppressed and really wanted to show how selfless women are and the effect it has on men.”

Vogue Runway picked up on her collection at CSM. She told Vogue: “I wanted to share how powerful we are. I made a documentary in the community and when I asked the guys who’s the most influential person in your life, they would all say their mums.”

Representing her own second generation’s way of dressing, Kazna said she made ‘an abaya tracksuit, which is like me’. An abaya is a full-length outer garment which she adapted,

She added: “I brought my friends, my sisters and brothers, down to model for me—they’re from Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Pakistan, and Morocco.

“Our families are all from war-torn countries. Every week there’s fundraising in our community, and I want to make my fashion an interactive part of that. In Islam, our main purpose is to give; charity is one of the pillars.”

So what is her message to aspiring students? “Go for it,” she says, smiling.

“Circumstances can change everything, but if you really want to do something just go for it, fight for what you believe in and if you have a message fight for it.

“People might say they don’t want to see it, but you’ve got to believe in it.”

Most of the feedback has been positive.

“I got a few racist comments but I just ignored them.”

So what next, Sheffield or London?

“I prefer Sheffield. People are kinder, more relaxed, it’s greener, I just prefer it as a whole. Also, my family is there.”

She hopes to have a show here but will stay in London until September to work on her own clothing brand.

“Most of my family have only seen my work on the internet but not in real life.

“I’ve also had messages from Sheffield people doing fashion and would like to do a creative exhibition by minorities.

“I'll stay in London because of the connections and see what happens.”

It should be worth watching. This student is clearly on the up and deserves the accolades she’s getting from challenging stereotypes and taking risks. How very Sheffield.

Kazna, studying at the famous Central Saint Martins arts university in the capital, based her collection on the Sheffield Yemeni community she was raised in.
T-shirts designed by Kazna Asker which she sold for charity.
Kazna did a poster project in Burngreave which asked three questions: what does community mean to you, who inspires you today and what are you fighting for? She printed their answers on the back of the garments throughout her collection