Sagal Muse is a Toronto-based marketing professional, entrepreneur and artist. Upon graduating from Wilfrid Laurier University’s Lazaridis School of Business, she dove into the startup world, and began working on a B2B branding and illustration company out of her hometown’s accelerator, Communitech. Today, she is launching Muse Avenue, a digital fashion and lifestyle magazine for Muslim and women of colour.
How did you get started?
I started my entrepreneurship journey right out of business school in 2016. I specialized in marketing and was having a hard time finding a job in my field. Two days before the deadline, I learned about a startup incubator run by my school through Communitech and applied last minute with an illustration and branding related business idea. I was a part of that program for almost two years and created illustrations for small companies to use on their marketing material. By the end of year two, I realized that my passion lay in creating art with a message rather than just art used for branding purposes. This realization came to me when I created several illustration pieces for a Muslim brand called Black Orchid. The response I got after creating illustrations of diverse Muslim women was a lot more fulfilling for me than anything else. I then started to think about new startup ideas where my mission could be to inspire and empower this group of often neglected women. I explored ideas like a subscription box which soon became a modest clothing line called House of Maaliya. It was interesting because I created a small digital fashion magazine as a marketing tool to engage my customers at the time. The magazine was just a free add on to the clothing line I created, not the actual product. However, the response I received once the clothing line and magazine came out was very interesting to say the least. Everyone who followed House of Maaliya was talking about the magazine and its impact rather than the clothes. They were excited that there was finally a magazine they can refer to for modest fashion options, created by women who look just like them. I also personally realized that I enjoyed making the magazine way more than creating a clothing line. So a few months later (in January 2018) I completely revamped my idea by scrapping the clothing line, changing the name to Muse Avenue and solely focusing on creating a fashion and lifestyle magazine editions for young Muslim and women of colour living in the West.
What inspired you to create Muse Avenue Magazine?
Besides my startup journey I was inspired to create Muse Avenue magazine because of the lack of representation in the media. Sure there are many Instagram influencers who are Muslim or of colour, but I felt like that wasn’t enough. I grew up reading magazines and blogs and everything I’ve ever read or the influencers I grew up looking up to never resembled me. I could never look at a fashion spread without thinking something like, “if I made the skirt longer or the shirt less sheer then it would fit my modest style”. Likewise, I would rarely read a lifestyle or career story about an inspiring woman and see myself in her, because she never represented me the way a Muslim or women of colour could. Needless to say, there was always a lot of imagining going on.
Outside of my design and business related work, I also mentored teen girls who were primarily Muslim and of colour. Whenever I shared these experiences with them, it saddened me that years later they could also relate. So my biggest inspiration for creating Muse Avenue magazine are the young girls growing up today. I want them to have a go-to fashion and lifestyle platform where they feel inspired to dress modestly and where they feel empowered to achieve their dreams.
Can you speak to the importance of representation in the arts, specifically in fashion?
For so long there was a lack of representation in the media to the point where it [made] many young minority women feel less then or not beautiful enough. In terms of fashion, being modest was not a cool trend like it is now, so many young women struggled to find a balance between mainstream style and modesty. Today, we live in a world full of Muslim and coloured Instagram bloggers who have become token representatives of our communities. As much as I adore these women and will always cheer them on, I believe that representation is not limited to having a token woman representing an entire community of women. That token woman, I would say, is a trailblazer, change maker and a gateway to creating more opportunities, but the struggle for pushing for representation does not end with them. Muslim and coloured women who have a platform or have the skills to make a change and open the door for even more of our community members should do exactly that. Representation in industries such as the arts means that a young girl can physically see someone doing what she always dreamed of and not only has role model to look up to, but a possible connection to help her get there.
Representation in fashion means that women of all ages can look at an image in a magazine and feel good about their look and style rather than being bombarded with subliminal messages that they need to look a certain way to fit in. In a nutshell, there are a million reasons why representation is important, but if I were to summarize it I would say without representation in the media, a whole community of women are robbed of the ability to see themselves as being more than what they are normally exposed to. Representation expands one’s mind, gives one hope, and inspires and empowers women to be more than they thought they could ever be.
What do you hope to achieve with creating a digital space like Muse Avenue magazine? Why is it important to share this work online?
My mission will always be to inspire and empower young Muslim and women of colour in all areas of their lives, while providing them with resources and tips to advance their careers, wellness and style. My vision is to become a global publication house that develops various forms of inspiring and empowering content and events for young Muslim and women of colour living in the west. Lastly, it is important to share this work online because this a struggle that young women from all over the Western world – and now with globalization, the Eastern world – experience. I hope to be able to create a community through Muse Avenue magazine, where young women from all over can come together collectively and feel inspired and empowered, while also making a safe space to discuss important topics that affect us all.
What are some of the issues you’ll be addressing in upcoming issues?
Some important issues I will be directly or indirectly addressing are:
– The representation of Muslim and women of colour in the media, arts, general careers, and fashion
– Diversity within magazines, not just in race, but also height and weight (i.e. the use of real women rather than industry specific models)
– Career challenges that Muslim and women of colour face (and tips and advice to counteract them)
– Diversity in beauty
– How to live a healthy lifestyle
– Exploring and cultivating a more creative lifestyle when this group of women are typically hindered from doing so
– Showing how modest styles can fit anyone’s wardrobe no matter if they are Muslim or not
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All images courtesy of Muse Avenue.