It used to be the case that there was very little accommodation in the legal professional clothing market for women generally. That was indicative of the fact that women generally were not properly represented at the bar. Women now make up almost fifty per cent of barristers and the diversity stats are slowly improving as people wake up to the multiple layers of discrimination women face in their professional careers.
Ivy and Normanton is a brand that tailors specifically for women and celebrates the diversity of professional women. Its founder, Karlia Lykourgou, was no stranger to me and my head-gear. She had tried wearing the hijab for a day during Ramadan when we were law students together at university. She had not let ignorance or pre-conceived negative narratives around the hijab make her afraid of immersing herself in the experience. We could all learn something from her willingness to better understand and appreciate a different perspective. That ability to understand and cater for real women’s needs is what is unique about her brand.
Fast forward over ten years; our paths magically crossed again and we are both barristers at Doughty Street chambers. We sat in my garden discussing my court-hijab woes over tea. She listened carefully and sensitively to what I said was missing from the market; quality fabric, the right size square to fit in a collarette, not too thick or too thin. Also, the broader problem of a lack of diverse representation at the bar remains. We resolved to do something about it. The Ivy & Normanton hijab represents our effort to ensure professional Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab have easy access to the essential attire they need, to do the important work they do. I am honoured and excited to have been a part of its development.
Although there is an element of uniformity in the court garb we wear, the importance of diversity at the bar cannot be emphasised enough. The people we represent are unique multifaceted individuals; it is only logical that barristers should be too. We bring with us the breadth of our life experience that in my view adds depth, value and emotional intelligence to our approach.
With Ramadan just around the corner there is an opportunity for determined self-reflection and personal growth. In between the early morning suhoor meal, the busy days of hearings and late evening prayers, I hope this year to dedicate some time to encouraging others to feel confident in their identity.
What good is it achieving personal success if you do not hold up the ladder to those below you striving to attain it?
The message I want to send is universal, not just to Muslim women: it’s time for the professional world to celebrate all people in all aspects of their identity. To those who worry about not fitting the perceived mould I would say: you do not have to compromise who you are to succeed. Don’t let anyone dictate what you should look or sound like. Be true to yourself and confident in your identity and success will come to you.