LEWISTON — Sahro Hassan loves the drama of a red, of animal prints, of gold that sparkles.

“I love ‘boom, in your face’ colors,” Hassan said. “I like to keep it fun.”

She’s also passionate about business.

Hassan, 18, of Lewiston, designs Muslim fashions and dreams of seeing her outfits in Seventeen magazine or on “Project Runway.”

“Modest and modern is what I strive for,” Hassan said. “When we were in Africa, we didn’t have much. You only had two outfits. One you wore, the other you washed. When I came here, we have all these opportunities.”

Hassan is off to a good start.

A live fashion show featuring her newest work will be held from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Friday at Dufresne Plaza. The rain location is Lewiston Public Library’s Callahan Hall. Hassan’s third show, it will be part of the L/A Arts’ June art walk.

She’s launched her own business, Fashionuji.

At Lewiston High School, she enrolled in Lewiston Regional Technical Center’s Young Entrepreneurs Academy program, winning a grant from the Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce.

This past spring, Public Radio International aired a full-length feature story about her.

This year and last, she participated in the Future Business Leaders of America state and national competition. When she graduated from Lewiston High on June 6, she was a member of the National Technical Honor Society.

Maybe, Hassan said, it is possible she’ll make it big.

“Absolutely, I want to be in Seventeen!’” Hassan said. She wants to make sure that Muslim girls and women are no longer left out of the fashion world.

“When girls like me buy Seventeen, you won’t see one girl wearing a hijab,” Hassan said. “It’s frustrating to see that. You don’t have a role model out there. The fashion designers do not realize the market for Muslims is growing.”

Fashion and the Muslim religion can mix, Hassan said, but it’s not readily available in stores.

Backs of tops are too open, outfits too tight. When shopping for an eighth-grade formal dress, her parents wouldn’t let her wear most outfits off the racks. In high school she began thinking about making her own clothes. Other Muslim girls wanted the same thing: fashion and modesty. She began to hatch a business plan.

But she didn’t know how to sew. With help from art teacher Deb Lewis at Tree Street Youth, she sewed her first dress. Tree Street helped her launch her first fashion show. Soon, a second was held.

Her friends are her models. “Without them, it would not be possible to do this,” she said. “They’re amazing. It’s been an amazing journey.”

Last year, she received an anonymous gift at the Tree Street Youth center: a sewing machine.

Her styles are modest. Head, arms and legs are covered, but the lines are fitted. What sets her apart, she said, is that in her outfits, women and girls “are covered up but modern, confident.”

As Somali youths assimilate into society, Hassan wants the Muslim heritage preserved. “You don’t want to lose who you are because you want to fit in,” she said. “I think it’s beautiful when people embrace who they are.”

The daughter of parents from war-torn Somalia, Hassan said what they went through motivated her to take chances, to admit in a high school class she wanted to become a fashion designer, even though she couldn’t sew.

“When my parents immigrated from Somalia to Kenya, they walked with their legs. No car. They didn’t have horses,” she said. “It took them weeks. It was really hard. It’s muddy. There’s random gun-shooting. They sacrificed so much to get here.”

She was born in a refugee camp in Kenya in 2006, and came to Lewiston at age 11, enrolling at Montello Elementary School.

“I had zero words of English,” she said. “I didn’t know how to say, ‘Can I go to the bathroom?’” She was shy.

In the eighth grade she changed, grew determined to excel. “I had to get out of my comfort zone and challenge myself,” she said. “My father was my biggest inspiration. I looked up to him. He brought me here so I could learn English, support myself.”

Everything she does, she wonders if she’s meeting her goal of “giving back what they have given to me.”

This coming fall, she plans to major in fashion design at Mount Ida College near Boston.

[email protected]

Go and do:

L/A Arts’ art walk Friday, June 27, downtown Lewiston, events at Dufresne Plaza (unless otherwise listed). Rain location, Lewiston Public Library’s Callahan Hall. More than 20 businesses displaying or converted into visual art galleries, special art exhibits, outdoor crafts, creative food and drink.

Performances include:

5-6:15 p.m. “Chicks with Sticks” (steel drum music)

6-6:30 p.m.  Maine Music Society Chamber Singers, 223 Lisbon St., Le Messager Gallery

6:30-7:30 p.m. Fashion show with designer Sahro Hassan from Tree Street Youth

7:30-8 p.m.  Maine Music Society Chamber Singers, 223 Lisbon St., Le Messager Gallery

8 p.m. The Juke Joint Devils at She Doesn’t Like Guthries, 115 Middle St.

For more information about Sahro Hassan’s business, Fashionuji: http://www.fashionuji.com/

Public Radio International story:

http://www.pri.org/stories/2014-04-28/somali-teen-fashion-designer-goes-big-animal-print-hijabs


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