Meet Hoda Katebi
, one of the most inspiring humans we've ever had the pleasure of following on Instagram (and meeting in real life)! Hoda is the founder of Joojoo Azad, which, in her words, is a radical anti-capitalist, intersectional feminist, and body-positive political fashion blog that challenges stereotypes of hijab-wearing Muslim women while celebrating these very individuals. Based in Chicago, Hoda has been featured all over the internet ranging from BBC to VOGUE, is the author of the photo-book Tehran Streetstyle, a celebration and documentation of illegal fashion in Iran
, hosts a radical international book club called #BecauseWeveRead, and lastly (phew, we're out of breath), is the founder of Blue Tin Production
, an all-women immigrant and refugee-run clothing manufacturing co-op in Chicago. And as long time admirers, we were so excited to interview Hoda for our journal and ask her about her foray into sustainable and ethical fashion, her amazing refugee and low-income immigrant women sewing co-op, and what exactly it means when she describes fashion as political.
Who is Hoda Katebi?
I am what I stand for, believe in, love, and fight for.
How would you best describe your sense of style?
I like menswear shapes in patterns and prints, and am heavily inspired by minimal architecture and my maximalist Iranian culture. And everything paired with a nice heeled boot, because I like my steps to make sounds.
Can you tell us about why you first launched JooJoo Azad? How has it since evolved?
I first launched JooJoo Azad in August of 2012, after deciding I wanted to turn the anti-Muslim violence I’ve experienced and seen into something more productive than falling into depression.
We love your book, Tehran Streetstyle (it’s on our studio coffee table)! What was the inspiration behind this project, and what did you take away from it?
Ayy! Thank you! I’m so glad you love it! Documenting streetstyle in Iran and producing this book was a game-changing experience for me, and not just because I realized after already starting this project that “streetstyle photography” isn’t really as common a concept in Iran (especially when you’re asking to photograph a look that would technically be considered illegal in Iran, so like, documenting the fact that they’re literally breaking the law). The book itself came as a request from underground Iranian fashion designers asking me to produce something that just sits and celebrates Iranians and Iranian culture for what it is. It really marks a shift in my own understanding of my work as well, from trying to create work that now feels like I was trying to explain myself and my identity to an American or Western audience, to creating work that is for my own people. A celebration of self, non-eurocentric beauty standards, and a religion and culture that I’m told I shouldn’t be proud of, is a form of resistance in and of itself.
How did you first become interested in sustainable and ethical fashion? Why is it important to you?
The same way I became interested in anything else; the more you read the more you learn, the more you get angry, and the more you want to do something about it. Well, that has always been the role of reading and learning in my life, anyway. But in particular, ethical fashion and questions of sustainability are priority for me because the women who are most exploited and harmed in the process of (fast) fashion production look like me and are from cultures like mine and speak languages that have words shared with my language. And at the same time, brands have the audacity to try to make us think that they support Muslims and women of color by making campaigns that are “diverse”. Garment workers are living and working under systemic silencing, gender-based violence, and only increasing cycles of poverty. And the disgusting truth is that most people don’t care to listen. To say Nike has sweatshops is no longer enough to dissuade people from buying their new Kaepernick collection. To say Muslim women working in GAP’s factories in Indonesia have fainted in mass due to unsafe working conditions is not enough to convince people that GAP does not support Muslim women. And that’s fucking ridiculous.
We think it’s so amazing that you’re launching a refugee and low-income immigrant women sewing co-operative. Can you tell us a bit more about it? Thank you! It has been the hardest yet most beautiful project I’ve ever worked on. I’m learning so much as I go--really, all of us are--and seeing so many people put money, time, and their skills into making this project a reality is such a blessing, and such a powerful feeling. Essentially, the refugee and low-income immigrant women's sewing co-operative (Blue Tin Production) seeks to address two issues: creating alternatives to exploitative factories and sweatshops that plague the domestic and international fashion production industry, and providing a transparent, holistic approach to labor for highly-skilled women who sit at the intersections of layers of trauma and oppression. The Co-Operative provides free healthcare, translators, mental health, legal services, transportation, and childcare, among other services, for the members of the co-operative who range from domestic violence survivors to widows and single mothers fleeing war and military occupation. The Sewing Co-Op is self-run and managed by its members, and works with fashion designers nationally to produce clothing at living wages! We’re hoping to launch in 2019, and in the meantime are hosting different workshops and trainings (from gynecology 101 to self-care to trauma-informed yoga sessions), working on curriculum for the free sewing classes that we’ll also be offering to the greater community, fundraising to cover startup costs, and starting to put together client schedules! The women who comprise the membership of the co-op are so beautiful, kind, warm, and talented. With each meeting I feel like we’re actively envisioning and building a world we want to see.
Where were you born and where is home for you now?
I was born in Oklahoma, USA but that could never be home. Home looks like the mountains of Iran and sounds like the Caspian Sea, but really is just wherever my family is all together.
We read your blog pretty religiously and think it’s so important to discuss the politics of fashion. Do you mind explaining how fashion is political for our readers?
Aw, thank you! Fashion is so deeply and inherently political. It literally frames how we present our bodies in a public space and therefore in and of itself reveals infinite information about how we identify and express our gender, culture, global influences, socioeconomic class, and oftentimes race and religion as well. No piece of clothing was created outside of the influences of the world that we live in, and therefore each piece of clothing represents something; a piece of history at the very least. On a broader level, where and who makes our clothing is also deeply political -- there is a reason why the majority of fast-fashion production and sweatshops exist in disenfranchised communities created largely by legacies of Western economic imperialism and domination. Apolitical fashion doesn’t exist. Sorry.
What are three cities that you love to travel to? What are three cities that you want to travel to? Tehran, Tangier, and Los Angeles are my favorite places to travel to! I’m also really excited about my upcoming trip to Beirut, and have always wanted to travel to Korea and Afghanistan! Favourite show to binge on Netflix at the moment? I just discovered Gossip Girl (I know, I’m like 10 years late) and I’m sort of hella binge watching (shh, don’t tell anyone) What does a typical day in the life look like for you? Everyday is really so different. Some days I wake up early and work out and power through a day of events, to-dos, and meetings, and other days I wake up, look at my task list, and have an existential crisis for the next four hours on my couch while listening to old Persian music. You get it. Can you tell us about your radical reading club, #BecauseWeveRead? What have been your favourite recent radical reads? #BecauseWeveRead is really so much fun. Basically, it’s an international, radical reading club aimed to challenge the way we understand the world and our place within it! Every two months I announce a new “unit” on JooJoo Azad that focuses on a different pressing topic (prior units included anti-Blackness, orientalism, and capitalism, among others). Each unit has a featured book (that we work with publishers to provide a free PDF to everyone because what’s radical about inaccessibility am I right) and selections from other books, as well as a massive resource list (like databases, videos, interviews, podcasts, etc) that supplement the readings. Then, we host conversations over instagram and youtube live to discuss the book together internationally and with a guest (either the author or another expert in the field), and we also have chapters globally that facilitate local discussion groups and community organizing campaigns that are related to the readings. I started it in April of this year in response to an interview I did that went viral, and we already have over 40 chapters around the world, from Ontario to London to South Africa to Pakistan, and all of our chapter leads are brilliant and kind and so wonderful!