What does it take to launch a career that was never really recognised as one and make it work?
Well, based on our conversation with Diyana Ehsan
, or Didi as she is fondly known, we could tell that it would require a lot of patience, dedication and perseverance. Sounds cliche but that’s just the reality of it.
Didi has built quite the reputation. But even if you do not know her name, you probably would have seen her work, especially if you have been in touch with the local entertainment scene. She is the fairy godmother that makes that bad hijab day go away!
Neelofa, Vivy Yusof and Lisa Surihani are a few big names on the list of those who have been graced with her magic touch.
A quirky interest
The lack of exposure to the subject of arts did not stop this gutsy lass from taking on the Art and Design course for her diploma.
After a year of learning the fundamentals of the broad field, she envisioned herself pursuing graphic design as a major. However, she was placed to take on fashion instead.
“Since then, I had no idea what I was doing because it never occurred to me that I would study fashion,” she recollected.
Despite the uncertainties that she had, we’d say she did rather well, having made the Dean’s list on numerous occasions during her years at Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM) Seri Iskandar.
Upon completing her diploma, she pursued her degree at UiTM Shah Alam.
“During my degree, I saw where I was going because I was in it for a while already. I was certain I would be a designer,” she told us.
It was the obvious choice for a fashion student. However, her perspective was broadened during her fourth-semester break when she went out to fulfil the compulsory practical session.
While most of her friends associated themselves with more widely-acknowledged, conventional designers, Didi went with a designer whose style she described as “more quirky.” At a time when blogs were the in thing, Didi had followed this particular designer’s blog. Jezmine Zaidan is her name.
One of the highlights of Didi’s time under Jezmine Zaidan’s tutelage was the opportunity she had when she got involved with wardrobe styling through the regular magazine shoots that took place.
It was this hands-on experience that broadened her perspective and has, in fact, led her to where she is today. Didi noted that there was a rise in celebrities and bloggers who started to don the hijab between the years 2010 to 2011.
And during one of those magazine shoots, there was a hijab-wearing client. Didi was asked if she wanted to try to style the hijab for the said client.
“I seriously didn’t know how to. But then I would love to try, so I just gave it a shot, however it was that I did.”
And that, ladies and gentlemen, was the start of something amazing.
“Since then, I immediately felt that I’m into that thing (hijab styling). I love to think of what style of hijab to put on. I feel that it’s kind of interesting because it’s just on the head, not on the body. If we study fashion, we would have draping classes. You have to drape the fabric on the body. But now I’m doing this on the head, so for me, it's easier,” she enlightened us.
Didi admitted that she didn’t take hijab styling too seriously at first.
But the realisation that it could be her ‘thing’ hit during her final academic year. That's because, Didi revealed, to study fashion, you need a lot of money.
“Even if you take a PTPTN loan, it’s not going to be enough because you need to spend your money on so many things, especially to buy the material. One semester is not just one design but like, five designs. And then, drawings, so many things lah,” she said.
Hence, came the need to work to get the extra pocket money.
She had noticed that a few of her friends were doing side jobs like sewing clothes. However, Didi does not find joy in sewing “...because I am impatient. I prefer the swiftness. I can’t do that (sewing clothes), so I tried to generate income through doing this hijab (styling) lah. And I saw the potential because the hijab market was really growing that time.”
Didi found herself working a lot with Aidijuma, a local hijab brand.
And it dawned on her to focus on hijab styling. Upon graduating, she was juggling her way through with bridal wear, custom made apparels and styling.
“Then, I realised that I cannot do many things at one time because I am a focused person. And so, when I have to focus on two things, I cannot give my hundred per cent. I had to choose which one can generate income as well as something I am passionate about, so I chose the hijab styling,” she stated.
It was a decision that didn’t sit well with many parties.
“Everybody was mad at why I made such a decision. They felt like there was no future,” Didi told us.
As a bright student, she was expected to make a name for herself as a fashion designer. Hence, it was no surprise that her lecturers were drawn aback at her uncommon choice.
At home, she also had a tough time convincing her family.
“I had to debate with them. ‘Can you just give me time? It’s like, if you plant something, that thing cannot grow in two to three days. You have to be patient and nurture it and give it time.’ Then, I said, 'Trust me, this thing is going to be a career one day because this is something — as much as you need a makeup artist, hairdresser, stylist; when you have a client who dons the hijab, you need someone to style the hijab'.
"And so, I said, if it is my rezeki
, I could be the person who makes this career happen. Then, everyone was like, ‘I don’t think so. Just wear the hijab. What’s the problem?’ I was just like, whatever. I’m still going to do it,” Didi said, admitting that she is indeed a stubborn individual.
Explaining the rationale behind her risky decision, she said: “If you think about it, when I was at UiTM, I had 45 to 50 classmates that I had to compete within my class. But when I go outside, I need to compete with more designers who have already made a name for themselves.
"Me being a tiny particle, who would look my way? I thought, ‘I don’t want to compete,’ so I decided to go where no one thought of but they would need me.”
Well, her strategy paid off. Didi has been earning her living through her role as a hijab stylist for about a decade now.
Her time with Aidijuma proved to be worthy. In 2014, she met one of Malaysia's biggest celebrities, Neelofa, and would be entrusted as her personal stylist for five years.
She was also handling Naelofar hijab then along with some other brands on the side which include ALHUMAIRA, TudungPeople and Uniqlo. In 2017, she joined dUCk as a hijab advisor — a position she continues to maintain to this very day.
Along the years, Didi is also the go-to person for several other brands.
Didi also has an eye for who can carry the hijab look. Brands do consult her before engaging with a model for their collections.
“If you noticed, mostly hijab models — when a brand engages with A, other brands would also go with A because they know she has the facial features that could carry the look,” she pointed out.
The initial struggle
Her expertise wasn’t immediately welcomed with open arms though. For five years, Didi struggled.
“Sometimes, I had to work for free just to build my portfolio. But over time, people start paying,” she reminisced.
In her quest to establish herself, she would also be sending cold emails to let potential clients know of her hijab styling service. She would attach a few pictures of her previous work too.
Despite her efforts, she would often be told outright that her service is not needed because they have their own in-house stylist. She would often ask if their in-house stylists’ niche area is the hijab and the usual response she’d get would be along the line of “it’s just a hijab, they can do it,” undermining the skills needed to assemble the right look.
Didi would have appreciated a kinder rejection.
“People looked down at this thing at first. After some time only did people realise that everything needs to have the focus. If you are a makeup artist, you focus on the makeup. If you are a (wardrobe) stylist, then, you focus on the clothes.”
Didi firmly believes that the hijab deserves specialised attention too.
“Because for me, if you are a makeup artist but you carry out a stylist’s responsibilities and a hijab stylist’s, what you give is a hundred per cent but it’s divided. If I am a celebrity and I have a stylist, a hijab stylist, a makeup artist and also someone who gets my nails done, I will get a hundred per cent focus on my nails, a hundred per cent focus on my clothes, a hundred per cent focus on my face, and a hundred per cent for my hijab. So you get 400 per cent instead of one hundred per cent from just one individual doing it,” Didi justified.
Besides the celebrities, the role of a hijab stylist is especially important for hijab brands too “because that hijab stylist will help you draw focus on your hijab. That means, when you shoot (the hijab), people don’t want to see your apparels, they want to see the hijab you are selling. I will help them in such a way that people see the hijab first instead of anything else.”
A failed mission, according to Didi, “is when you opt for a style with earrings and you have super colourful earrings that make the people distracted; to focus on the earrings or the hijab.” The purpose of the hijab marketing campaign is defeated in such instances.
Psst… Besides styling the hijab for celebrities, brands and brides, Didi is also open to providing the service for us, everyday folks, who might need it for those special occasions.
The hijab stylist hustle
On how work is like for her, Didi explained that when she is approached by a brand, she would get the briefing beforehand on the design of the hijab she would work with.
She would also be informed of the theme for the shoot which would include the wardrobe style they have in mind and the background of choice.
“But that is only during the first time they approach me. Those who have worked with me around four to five times, they would just go, ‘Didi, lock date on the 4th, the shoot will be here’ and they don’t tell me anything about their hijab. When I arrive at the shoot, ‘Surprise! This is the hijab.’ Then, I have to think on the spot. That’s me now,” Didi said.
“That’s why I always have to practice and store in my brain all sorts of styles because I have to be ready. My clients know that they can throw whatever fabric my way and I can deliver what they want,” she further elaborated.
She doesn’t deny that it makes things rather tough for her.
“Actually, pity me,” she reflected with a laugh. “But it’s okay. It makes me think more."
If you're wondering how a photoshoot typically goes, it’s makeup first, then, the hijab.
“My call time is usually one hour after makeup. If the makeup artist starts doing makeup at 8 a.m., I need to arrive at around 9.00 a.m. Usually, I come by early because I want to see the hijab and the clothes the model is going to wear and so that I can discuss the stylist.”
A typical shoot usually takes about four to five hours of Didi’s time.
Didi stressed that the draping process, which is a big part of what she does as a hijab stylist, is an act that requires practice.
“If I look back at my work during those 2010 to 2011, my draping was a mess. I’m like, ‘What is that?!’ But it was a start. I didn’t even care about the draping. I cared about the style. But since five years ago, I am very, very particular about donning the hijab neatly. It has a style to it but it’s neat.”
Didi does acknowledge that certain styles require the messy element. But from our observation, her ‘messy’ touch still has an appealing neatness to it.
All the perks that come with the job
Didi’s fondest memories of her role as a hijab stylist are the travels.
Well, “to travel without using my own money”, to be exact. Her job has taken her to major cities across the globe. To date, that list includes New York, Los Angeles, London, Istanbul and Vienna.
But the best part about her job is "that I don't have to buy tudung,” Didi declared.
She also told us that the shelf that was once housed her books are now stacked with her great collection of dUCk boxes. We’re talking about over 200 units here!
“That was the day I decided not to read books anymore,” Didi joked.
On a serious note, she told us that she does not buy hijabs anymore. There simply is no need for it. Her role as a hijab stylist and reviewer blesses her with the privilege of getting them as gifts.
“Shopping is only for clothes. And I don’t have to think about the hijab. The colour range, Insya-Allah, I have.”
The challenges of today
Of course, it’s not all roses. Like many service providers, Didi had experienced the bitter taste of untimely cancellations.
“Sometimes, when the clients book a date and then out of the blue, cancel the dates that I’ve locked for them. Well, how about the clients whom I’ve turned down because the date was locked for you? It’s irresponsible. That’s why now if you want to lock the date, pay up, sister.”
Didi has also learnt that there are certain segments of people who do not mind paying a high rate for the models but are very calculative when it comes to the professionals whose role is to enhance the looks.
“If you have a pretty model but you don’t prepare her looks properly, you wouldn’t get the nicest look lah.”
“Just put on the hijab, they say. But sometimes people try to go for the loose style when they are given a hard cotton fabric. It would not be loose; it would be stiff. And then, there’s wrapping a turban with satin. That turban is going to meet the floor. That’s why you need someone who thinks — is it relevant or not, is it suitable or not. "
Didi’s hijab journey
Flashing back to the early stage of Didi’s relationship with the hijab which had started during her diploma days, she revealed that it wasn't always rosy.
“It was definitely a struggle. I didn’t know how to style it, so I always wear black hijab — all my hijab were black in colour — and go pinless. I just wrapped it around and tucked it. And every now and then, it would fall apart.”
No, don’t even think about bringing up the instant hijab with the ready-placed awning. It was not up for consideration for Didi then.
Well, knowing what she wanted (and detested), she took it upon herself to learn how to get it done.
“I tried a lot at home. At that time, there weren’t many tutorials on YouTube. I really had a lot of trials on my own. And also, my on-the-body-draping-class really helped me on how to imagine if I were to drape the fabric on my head.”
She added, “Yea, I had to experiment. My early years were more on experimenting materials and styles.”
For Didi, the black tudung is the equivalent of putting your hair up in a bun — it’s simple and timeless.
About her opinion regarding the link between the hijab and oppression, she said, “For me, (the) hijab is a symbol of my pride and I choose to wear it. I empathise to those who were oppressed to wear the hijab or do not have the correct understanding of why we wear it. I hope my simple explanation will help enlighten a little bit on this matter.”
The hijab gives Didi a sense of security.
“I feel safe when I wear the hijab. I feel like it covers sufficiently.”
The Ipoh-born also mentioned that the hijab has taught her to be a better planner.
“The hijab makes me plan ahead. It will get me thinking about what hijab I will be wearing the next day. And when buying clothes, it makes you think if you have the right hijab to match it with.”
The followers who motivate
When asked about what are the common misconceptions people have towards her job, Didi was quick to respond with a frustrated, “It’s an easy job — everyone can do (it).”
To that, she raised this challenge: “Give it a try when a client throws at you 360 pieces of hijab and you have to finish the shoot in one day.” Any takers?
“There are certain times when I feel like I’m done with this (industry). You have to understand that this is work. It’s not like I’m just doing this just because I love to do styling. This is my source of income; my means of supporting my family.
"Certain people assume that I just help them, without paying me. Sometimes, it makes me feel down because people don’t seem to understand that whatever service that you acquire, you need to pay for it. Even if you go to the restaurant, you’d have to pay the service charge. In some places, you even tip.”
Don’t get her wrong. Didi is willing to hear her clients out regarding their budget. She is always open for discussion. But she asks that it doesn’t take place after she has performed her duties.
The 31-year-old revealed that on several occasions, only after she has done her part was she informed of the client’s inability to pay the agreed rate.
“That's why now I always take a deposit or I take the payment before I deliver the job. A few times I have experienced work done, my name and photos used, products launched but payments weren’t made. That’s why sometimes I get demotivated because it feels like people don’t value my work.”
Didi utilises social media as a platform to share her relatable (and often, aesthetically-pleasing) life updates and connect with her followers. As a result, she has built a strong relationship with them.
Didi even credits her online followers as her source of motivation to continue moving forward in this industry. She is touched by the support and encouragement she receives from her followers.
They keep her going, reminding her that every task in the world has its challenges. The interaction she has with them makes her feel that they are more like her friends than just her virtual contacts.
Hijab =/= Fashion?
Some have argued that the hijab and fashion do not go hand-in-hand. Those wearing the hijab could only dream to look stylish, they argue.
To that, Didi rebutted, “First things first, that is merely the perception of those who don’t want to give hijab a chance. It’s actually more interesting to experiment. There are many out there who could don the hijab with style. Some styles are relevant, some are not — that is up to you. But fashion-wise, you surely can. It’s not the hijab. It’s you who do not know how to make it fashion.
"If you know how to make it fashion, the hijab would not be a problem for you. If you have what it takes, even if you’re given a cap, you can style it. Even if you’re given a tudung saji, you’d know how to pose with the tudung saji. It’s always you. Don’t blame it on others.
"I never like those who are fond of blaming other things. It’s you, yourself who would put it on. You solve the problem. Yes, sometimes you may feel that a certain something is not suitable for you, so then you have to find the right hijab and style that you feel you can carry.”
Being an artist in this trade, Didi feels that for the hijab.
“As long as it covers whatever that has to be covered, it’s okay.” However, there is one style that she finds unacceptable. Unless you’re going for a themed event, “Don't, don't, don't, don't, don't turn your hijab into hair — the fringe at the front.”
Friend or foe?
As a pioneer of the hijab styling career here in Malaysia, Didi said she would encourage others to take it up “if they have the passion — not just because of fame and money.”
“You have to remember that being a hijab stylist is not easy. You need to have passion, patience and always be hardworking. Laziness is a trait you cannot afford because every day is a learning process."
While you can take a shortcut to achieve a certain hijab look, Didi assured that there is no shortcut in making your way in this line of work.
“My advice to those who want to be a hijab stylist is you have to learn a lot. You can look for me if you want to. I’d be happy to teach you.”
Didi is also happy to see that hijab styling is a career now and one that is becoming the means for many to earn their income.
Is she threatened by the rising number of hijab stylists we have today? Once upon a time, yes.
“Before there was a time when I thought, ‘Alaa
, now there’s a lot of people (doing hijab styling), people might not call me anymore. But I’m done thinking like that.”
She continued, “It’d be exhausting if you keep thinking that ‘Oh, I have rivals now.’ You would be depressed and you cannot focus on your work. And then, your work is affected.”
Didi stated, “I cannot be greedy. I only have two hands. I couldn’t possibly cover 10 clients in one day, so now that my friends are doing it too, I could delegate the tasks to them when I’m not available because I’m not fond of doing my work in a hurry. The client would still have someone to style their hijab instead of none at all.”
Didi firmly holds onto the belief that God’s blessings are abundant.
“What Allah has set for you is yours. And you have to work more to get extra, so you don’t have to worry about other people doing the same job as you and you will earn less. People would say that I am just trying to be positive. No, I am setting my mind to be positive,” she asserted.
She does admit that the badmouthing and undercutting culture exists in her field. Her clients have been told that her rate is expensive, she is a stuck-up and the list goes on.
“But I always feel that it’s okay. Our industry is so small. You are bound to meet people like that, so for me, it's better to have a good relationship with everyone rather than you bad-mouthing about people.”
Her approach is in line with the life principle she has held on to from her blogging days that is, ‘Happiness is free.’
“Until today, I still think that happiness is free. Why do you have to sadden yourself thinking of useless things when you can be happy?”
Didi also finds strength in her client’s trust for her work.
“My clients know my quality of work, so they willingly pay me based on the quality. And one more thing about me (is that) I not only have many ideas but I’m fast,” she said confidently.
“If my client would, for example, have 20 hijabs they need to settle within two hours, it’s ‘Okay, let’s do this!’ I can. And they know I always really deliver. They don’t mind paying me because they know that they don’t have to reshoot.”
Some tips and some tricks
If you couldn’t already tell, Didi is big on simplicity and minimising the usage of pins.
For Didi, simplicity is key.
“When you do a tutorial, people wouldn’t feel like watching when you have too many steps. Simple is easier and preferred, so I would always come up with easy tutorials. I always tell myself that I don’t have five minutes to put on the hijab. I only have like, one and a half minutes,” she further explained.
While following a step-by-step hijab tutorial is easy, choosing the hijab to get started can be quite dificult. For Didi, she pays attention to two aspects when she buys a hijab: the finishing and the material.
“The finishing is the first thing that I would look at before the material because the finishing is the deciding factor on whether it’d be easy for you to style the hijab. If the finishing is not neat, you will never get the perfect awning.”
(Finishing here refers to the edge stitch)
And Didi’s golden advice “to get the perfect hijab look and one that does not trouble your life” is this: iron your hijab.
“Whatever it is, you need to iron your hijab. Please don't go out without ironing your hijab unless it's a hijab that does not require ironing like the crinkle shawl. But then, if you wear satin, cotton that its wrinkles are visible, you have to iron,” she urged.
Should you decide to go against this piece of advice, the sassy mother of one has this to say: “If you still go out without ironing (your hijab), then, don’t complain that ‘OMG. My hijab today is so messy,’ ‘I’m having a bad hijab day.’ No, it’s you. It’s not the hijab. It’s you. The hijab is not going to iron itself, so you have to go and do that.”
One of the frequently asked questions she gets is on how it is that her inner hijab sits nicely.
“It actually depends on the shape of your head. There are various types of inner — the headband style, snowcap, ninja, whatever. You need to find one that you are comfortable with. First, the design. Second, the material — which material is compatible with your head and your hair.
"The relationship between the hair and the inner plays an important role because if you have slippery hair, don’t go and wear a jersey inner. Definite bye-bye. It would slip because it’s slippery over slippery.”
Didi vouches for cotton lycra. It’s the safest option, she insisted.
And be mindful of your shampooing timing, folks.
“Sometimes, when we put on the hijab and we just shampooed our hair, the hair would be slippery. And so, when you pair slippery hair with slippery inner, they just slip.” Hence the reason she would only shampoo her hair in the evening or at night — never in the morning. Otherwise, “It would cause me trouble for the whole day,” she explained.
A message for the young
Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither was Didi's success.
“Whatever people see with me, it’s not a one-night work. It took me 10 years to be here. I’m not saying I’m successful but to be at this level of comfort, it’s not a one-night work. Requires patience, hard work and the spirit of never giving up and continuing to learn.”
Didi sees herself getting involved in business sometime in the future.
“Maybe not tudung,” she said.
What it is, has yet to be confirmed but what she is certain of is that “I aim to retire early with lots of money," she said with a laugh. Well, don’t we all? For now, she is still hungry to do more.
Having initiated a glorious career she chose on her own terms and paved the way for others to follow suit, Didi’s advice for aspiring hijab stylists is simple.
“Always go for it. When you think that you are the one who thinks outside the box, you are. Often people feel like they want to do a certain thing but then they brush it off because everyone always feels safe in their comfort zone, so you get out of it.
"Getting out will get you a better opportunity, so just go for it. Because if you don’t try, you will never know. When you don’t try, other people will try.”
She used her own career path and her own journey as a perfect example.
“I was contemplating whether I should give it a try. But I was scared. What if it doesn’t work out? Well, if it doesn’t work out, then, I just have to think of another thing lah.
"But it’s better that I go first. If it works out, Alhamdulillah. That’s your rezeki. But if it doesn’t, maybe Allah wants to give you something better. So just try.”
You can follow Didi’s journey on Instagram: @didiyanaehsan