Words by Abi Scaife
Involved in fundraising from an early age, integrating community values into her clothing line was natural for young designer Kazna Asker.
“I became very community-based when I moved to Sheffield,” explains Kazna, whose family is from Yemen, while she was born in Liverpool. “In Liverpool, we lived in a very … racist area. [But in Sheffield] there’s a huge Yemeni population. And I think that was the first time I experienced community."
Kazna's work combines streetwear with Islamic wear and Islamic modesty, she says, adding: "I don't think Muslim women are represented fully in the fashion world. So I thought it’d just be cool to show us what I see every day in a streetwear context".
Kazna became the first designer to showcase a Hijabi collection at the CSM’s MA Fashion show at London Fashion Week 2022 - though it wasn’t on purpose. “I never realised that until they told me that!” laughed Kazna. “It wasn't my intention!"
“I’m always referencing Islamic modesty. That was normal to me because that was all I saw,” says Kazna. “And I would always get comments, like, ‘this is super political, this is really different, are you sure you want to do this?’ And I was so confused because that's what was normal to me and people are making such a big deal out of it.”
Kazna’s work prioritises community and doing good, whether that is highlighting marginalised communities in her work and the models who wear it or raising funds and awareness for charities.
“I think it all came from my auntie,” explains Kazna, whose aunt is Abtisam Mohamed, Labour's Parliamentary Candidate for Sheffield Central. “She's a very prominent figure in our community. She's been doing fundraising events since she was a teenager, and now she's in her 40s. She’s really made a big difference to our community.”
During her school holidays, Kazna would go and stay with Abtisam, who would regularly host fundraisers. Kazna would get involved, along with her other young family members, and help raise funds for people in Yemen and Palestine.
As they got older and her aunt became too busy to run the fundraiser events, Kazna and her sisters took over, determined that there would still be a way to raise money for those most in need.
Kazna describes her whole community coming together in Sheffield to help support the fundraiser - people would cook dishes to sell at their rented-out town hall, and help run stalls and more.
Now, this is something Kazna wants to emulate with her designs. Inspired by the Dutch social enterprise Makers Unite, Kazna decided she wanted to use fashion and her designs to help people.
“I think that was the first time I realised you can combine fashion with your values,” says Kazna. “In lockdown I thought, okay, let me try and do my own thing. I had graphic designs, and I printed them on T-shirts and [used them to] donate to Yemen and then I started selling them in corner shops in Sheffield as well.
"That's what made everything click for me - I realised that I can do fashion with a message.”
As for doing future fundraisers - that’s a definite, according to Kazna. It’s not a matter of if, but when.
“I feel like there's literally so much to fight for right now,” says Kazna. “There are so many injustices in the world, and people really want to bypass it and create a pretty front. If you have a huge platform, you should influence people to donate to [and] raise awareness.”