Laila Mir, who graduated in May as an EMAC and marketing major, wanted to originally film short documentaries on Muslim women with a focus on fashion for her senior Capstone Project. This proposal changed to working on a fashion and lifestyle publication called Demure, which tackled the lack of media expressing the issues that young Muslim- American women deal with.
“You don’t see Muslim women on the cover of magazines,” Mir said. “I wanted to show a side that isn’t in the media.”
Senior EMAC lecturer Lisa Bell said one of the reasons the project was successful was because Mir was able to build a network of people across the country that were involved in a small segment of the fashion industry. She said Mir presented subjects in the magazine that don’t conform to the stereotypes attached to Muslim women in the media.
“She showed modern Muslims that retained their identity,” Bell said. “The subjects were very approachable and likable.”
The publication explored what it is like to live in the United States for someone who is balancing a Muslim American lifestyle.
“I haven’t dealt with stigma, but many sources I talked to have,” Mir said. “Kaz Kouture, a Turkish jewelry store that started in Dallas, made it [their] mission to get rid of negative aspects of Islam in the media.”
On the cover of the first issue, Mir featured Dalia Kassem, a Muslim model. She also interviewed Aleena Khan, a fashion designer whose work was displayed at New York Fashion Week.
“I carried the principles of Islam into my work,” Mir said. “I featured women who wanted to dress modestly because that’s how we were raised.”
Mir said the magazine was too big a task for a single person, so she enlisted the help of writers and photographers to produce the publication.
“One of the difficulties was doing it all on my own,” Mir said. “My strengths weren’t in all aspects, so I needed to bring in other people’s talent as well.”
Zahra Sandberg, a Chicago-based fashion blogger, wrote about her interracial marriage, a rare ordeal in the life of a Muslim woman.
“This story about mixed marriage is not common because a Muslim woman usually won’t marry a man of another race,” Mir said. “Muslim men will marry women of other races, but not Muslim women.”
Visiting assistant professor of EMAC Mona Kasra, who served as Mir’s primary advisor on the project, said that Mir had an interdisciplinary approach to her project.
“In EMAC we really try to have all these aspects,” Kasra said. “It’s not about just the technology, the media, the social media or the Internet. It’s about having a wholesome idea about, ‘I need to achieve this. I want to use the technology to get the word out and have a bigger audience and a bigger impact.’”
She said Mir’s biggest strengths were her organization skills and flexibility through the process.
“She was very open about the process – she had an idea, she wanted to get something done and as time went by she organically adjusted what’s achievable,” Kasra said. “She was also very organized, and in the world of publication and any media production, that kind of structure is necessary.”
Mir has been putting out content on the magazine’s website since the beginning of April. 14,000 people have viewed the site and her work has reached 34,000 people through circulation on Facebook.
At the launch party for her magazine, members from Southern Methodist University’s Fashion Media Program reached out to her to see if she’d be interested in other projects that dealt with the lack of media representation of minorities. She’s considering their offer as one of her future projects.
Her work was recognized at the Capstone Celebration on May 13, in which it won the Outstanding Capstone Award in the undergraduate category. Faculty advisors nominated nine out of the 35 students in EMAC to audition to be chosen to formally present at the Celebration. Five out of the nine, including Mir, were chosen to present on stage.
“EMAC alumni who came to the celebration were blown away by [Mir’s project],” Bell said. “At a simple level, it was because of the breadth of the platform she used to develop it. She crowdfunded and promoted through social media and incorporated writing and photography. There was a lot of buzz at the event about how beautiful it was.”
Mir plans to keep producing more issues of Demure magazine and is working on an issue to be released in December 2015. She has even had some people show interest in interning for her. She hopes to turn the magazine into a quarterly publication starting next year.
“I’ve always wanted to work for a magazine, but I never thought I could start my own,” Mir said. “I got a very positive response, way more than I’d expected. [Everyone’s] pushing me to keep going with it.”
This story was written by Nidhi Gotgi and originally appeared in The Mercury.