When Dina Torkia, known on social media as Dina Tokio, was 18, the fashion industry and the hijab were, to everyone else but her, not compatible. But she wasn't bothered and took to YouTube anyway, to combine, effortlessly, the two things that were important to her. Dina, who is British-Egyptian, began showcasing her handmade clothes, reviewing halal nail polish and giving make-up and turban-wrapping tutorials to trendy Muslim women. Nearly ten years later, inspired hijabi fashionistas have followed suit and emerged in the thousands across social media platforms.
With over 92 million views, Dina Tokio was recognized in 2016 for her work in bringing more diversity to the fashion industry, and named one of YouTube's Creators for Change, a global initiative dedicated to amplifying young YouTubers using their channels to front social change to promote messages of tolerance and empathy.
VICE Impact sat down with Dina Tokio in London, where she is based, to chat about Modest Fashion, the hijab and how, even as a confident 'hijabi', she too, is struggling to cope with the UK's rampant Islamophobia.
VICE Impact: When you first started out on YouTube, there wasn't anyone like you.
Dina Tokio: I was too scared to study fashion design at university. I thought I wouldn't get accepted or wouldn't fit in. But I also thought, what's the point of doing a degree in this field, when I'd ever get a job out of it? At the time, there wasn't only no Muslim women in the fashion industry but were no Muslim women in the media, there was no representation.
But my passion was designing clothes. And I thought, 'If I want to wear the hijab and do what I love, I'm going to have to combine the two.' I was working at a call centre and also at University. It was my third attempt at University. In the Fall they didn't let me take the courses I wanted, I was doing English, so I left. A week later, I got a cheap 20 pounds sewing machine, made some crazy jumpsuit, took some pictures and made a Facebook page. People on Facebook told me, 'Hey, you should go on YouTube to show us how you tie your headscarves'. At the time I used to do it in a bunch of different ways, I just stick to one now, but that's just because I am older and can't be bothered!
I've been wearing the hijab since I was 11, but, it's really hard to wear the hijab. YouTube has also been a therapy for me.
Why do you say it's hard to wear the hijab?
It's a combination of reasons and it literally depends on the year and what's happening in the world. I used to wear it the traditional way, not really traditional but when you are clearly more Muslim and wrap it around under your chin. But now I find it very difficult to wear it that way. I get crazy anxiety. That's why I wear it this way, turban-style, it just looks easier on the eye for some people. And they don't automatically think I'm Muslim.
I'm too scared to wear it the other way out outside now, which is really sad because, since the age of 11, I wore it that way and felt so confident but now, 16 years on, I feel so intimated to do that. It's crazy really because things should be progressing and getting better but they're not.
Has the huge rise in Islamophobia in the UK impacted you? Even as a confident-looking and popular hijabi fashion blogger?
It's horrible. I've still got the hijab on but I wear it this way.
Why is society so obsessed with what women wear?
Because the world is run by men. That's literally the basis of it all, but particularly when you look at the Muslim community. They think that women are theirs and that they should cover up because of that, but that's not what Islam says about the hijab. It's not for men. But men take the teachings in their favor.
You do it [wear the hijab] for religion. I do literally nothing for men, not the hijab, not my clothes. Literally, I couldn't care less. That's what men and society don't understand.
What would you say to those that think the hijab is a sign of oppression?
The majority of women who wear the hijab are not oppressed. This whole idea that Muslim women are oppressed is something that the West decided. Yes, there are women in the world who are oppressed, and it's not just Muslim women, and yes some of them happen to be Muslim. This oppression label is something you lot decided and now we have to sit here and break the bloody stereotypes when we were never oppressed in the first place.
When it comes to Modest Fashion, what would you like to see in the future?
When a Muslim woman wearing the headscarf does something, it's like, 'Oh look a Muslim woman managed to do this! Wow, normally they can't do that shit.' When that stops happening, I'll be happy. For example, I always win stuff in the Modest Fashion Industry but I won't ever be in the mainstream fashion. I've got all the awards for Modest Fashion, of course, because I created it, it's just more layers of clothing, it's not a big deal, but what about the rest of the awards in the mainstream fashion?
Can you tell us about your 'Creators for Change' videos?
For Youtube to support us is wicked. I didn't set out thinking I was going to do all this for a cause, I just wanted to do what I loved. But there was a need.
My four Creators for Change videos are quite different to what I usual do and ended up different to what I set out to do in the beginning. I worked with a production company who are white guys, and they're great but yeah and it turned out that they were learning a lot through the process and so the videos kind of changed from the initial beginning idea. And it went so well that we want to do more now!
This interview was edited for brevity and clarity
YouTube has partnered with VICE Impact to promote the Creators for Change program. This article was written independently by the VICE Impact editorial staff and was not paid for by YouTube.