Multi-American

How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Meet Jamesa Nikiema, Muslim fashion designer, pure Southern California girl

When I first called up budding fashion designer Jamesa Nikiema several months ago, I had no idea what she'd sound like or where she’d be from. I was fascinated by her work, which I’d read about, and by her designs, street-influenced fashions for young Muslim women. I was especially struck by a photo I’d seen on her website, a model in a punk-inspired black-and-red plaid hijab and tunic ensemble, posing with a skateboard.

When I picked up the phone, I was surprised to hear a lilt that sounded just the slightest bit – Latina? As it turns out, Nikiema, who lives in Corona, has a background that is pure Southern California. She’s half-Salvadoran, half-Caribbean, raised in L.A. It’s here that she met her husband, an immigrant from Africa and a Muslim. She told me that she had already converted before they met, becoming curious about Islam in college after the maelstrom of media coverage and controversy that followed the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Today she has a small and struggling but highly creative fashion business, Rebirth of Chic. She’s one of a number of young American Muslim woman who have taken an interest in combining high fashion with modest standards of dress, among them some great fashion bloggers. Nikiema’s styles are interesting in that they go beyond high fashion to what can best be described as local-girl cool, a punk/skate/reggae blend of Southern California pop subcultures.

KPCC videographer Mae Ryan traveled to Corona to film Nikiema’s very visual story for Multi-American. Expect to see more video profiles like this one on the site in the near future, exploring unique slices of Southern California life as lived by members of its immigrant diasporas, people who play a part in the ongoing reshaping of the region’s culture just as it shapes them.

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