The Barakah Beauty Collective: Building Community Through Sisterhood

The Barakah Beauty Collective: Building Community Through Sisterhood

by Nura Ahmed

Michaela Corning, founder and CEO of the Barakah Beauty Collective, has created a women-led, women-only beauty and wellness space especially for Muslim women — the only one of its kind in the Pacific Northwest. Now an essential hub for community, healing, and laughter, the road to founding Barakah Beauty Collective came with some unexpected twists.

Corning was born in Eastern Washington before settling in Vashon Island shortly after. She was introduced to Islam when she took a Middle Eastern history class in high school while doing Running Start. She attended the University of Washington, graduating with two bachelor of arts degrees in linguistics and Spanish. She became intrigued by Islam after she graduated from her undergraduate studies, which led her to conversion to Islam in 1999. “The Quran was a linguistic miracle,” she said. 

In 1999, with her new faith, she was also working at her first job after college. Shortly after making the decision to convert — six months before 9/11 — she started wearing the hijab, only for her world to change the day after 9/11. “I didn’t even watch the news the day of 9/11. It was only when I came back to work that next day that everything started to change for me,” she said. “I was only the white lady in the hijab. Now suddenly I am that Muslim woman.” 

Corning started her first job in corporate America in sales and client services shortly after graduating from college in 1998, but not everyone took a liking to her. “No one likes assertive women. Especially if you are an assertive Muslim woman,” she explained. 

Starting her corporate job while also wearing the hijab, it was hard for her to find clothing that was modest and culturally acceptable enough to wear to work. In the early 2000s, modest fashion options for Muslim women were limited. This inspired her to start her own fashion brand, Al-Andalus, focused on making modest clothing for Muslim women and other communities that prioritize modesty. 

In the early 2000s, Corning was the owner of one of the few modest fashion brands in the U.S. As an artist herself, she initially started selling clothing she made herself, and it wasn’t until 2009 that she started to import clothing from Kuwait, a country with a mixture of both westernized and Islamic style. “I asked the people in Dubai where they get their style from, and they said they copied Kuwait,” Corning said. 

At the time and even now, the typical representation for modest fashion brands tended to be thin 20-something Arab and white-passing Arab girls. “I wanted to combat this image when I first started my businesses,” Corning explained. 

She started featuring underrepresented Muslim women in the fashion industry, including women who were older, plus-size, Black Muslim women, and converts — people who normally aren’t seen as the idealistic version of the Muslim woman. She used her brand to combat the traditional image of what a Muslim woman is, which many modest fashion brands were and still are perpetuating. She saw how it played out in her own experience of being a white Muslim convert. “Islam is for every culture and people. It doesn’t ask us to change who we are, as long as they are not against Islam,” Corning explained. She knew representation mattered and made sure she uplifted Muslim women who normally don’t get the spotlight. 

In 2010, Al-Andalus opened a storefront in Greenwood — hiring young Muslim women from the community. She hired women from all backgrounds and made sure the most underrepresented groups were accounted for in her store. She closed the store in 2013 because it became too much to handle while also having a full-time job. “When the girls heard I closed the store, they cried. Solely because they wanted to be in a Muslim space,” Corning said. 

Meanwhile, Corning continued to work in corporate America, frustrated at the misconception that outspoken, assertive Muslim women were not acceptable in the workplace. 

In 2017, still working at a corporate job, she decided to relaunch and rebrand her modest fashion business under her own name. She created a place where that old standard is abolished and that includes Muslim women whom that standard didn’t fit. Corning continued to do the work she was doing regardless of what other people thought. “When you do what is right, the rest will surely follow,” Corning said. 

However, sales started to drop at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. At the same time, a friend asked her to create masks for the Palestinan Community Center of Washington State, and she made at least 2oo of them. Corning was frustrated at how inconvenient it was to be a hijab-wearing woman with the mask, which further inspired her to create the hijabi-friendly mask. 

After introducing her first hijabi-friendly masks, Corning’s brand saw first-month sales of $6,000, and there was no sign of the demand slowing down. Meanwhile, her corporate work environment grew increasingly difficult to endure. The company she worked for claimed to value diversity, which wasn’t actually the case: “They were incredibly performative.” She ended up being fired for being assertive, not just about the inherent racism happening there, but about many other things regarding the workplace, and she felt she was viewed as a threat because of it. 

Throughout this fallout at her job, she continued to make good revenue from her online brand. It was then that she decided to pour everything she had into making her brand what she wanted it to be. By early January 2022, Corning needed a bigger production space in order to keep up with demand. But the space she ended up renting became so much more than what she had imagined. She had a dream: a women-led, women-only beauty and wellness space near the Northgate light rail station. That’s when the Barakah Beauty Collective was born. “It was a culmination of 20 years of being Muslim, being in the community, serving the Muslim community, and in the corporate space, and having the modest fashion brand,” Corning said. 

This space is meant to bring women, especially Muslim women, from all over Washington, into a place where their privacy is respected, where they are able to build community and more. It is a space where Muslim women from all backgrounds are able to build a beautiful sisterhood. 

The Barakah Beauty Collective offers services such as hair, makeup, clothing, holistic medicine, massage, and cupping. Her modest fashion boutique shares the collective space. Corning, along with four other Muslim women artists and entrepreneurs, co-work in the space and assist their clients individually while building community collectively. “Every day, the women who come here either leave this space laughing or crying,” Corning said. “It is meant to be a healing space.”

Corning believes this space can create tremendous momentum for helping Muslim women and women all over to invest in themselves and in their talents. “It truly came together through Allah’s timing,” she said. “If I bring other women-owned businesses in, then we can all benefit together. We are stronger together.” 

Barakah Beauty Collective has hosted 10 events since it opened in January 2022 and is hosting an Eid Henna social on July 7 and 8. Plans are in the works to start a divorce support group for Muslim women, as well as a monthly convert social and support group. Additionally, it hosts a Muslim women in business networking and coaching group. 

Barakah Beauty Collective is located at 540 NE Northgate Way Suite B, near the Northgate light rail station. Follow its Instagram account at @BarakahBeautyCollective to stay up to date on current happenings.

Nura Ahmed is an organizer, writer, and artist based in Seattle and South King County.

📸 Featured Image: Michaela Corning, founder and CEO of the Barakah Beauty Collective, has created a supportive space for women, especially Muslim women. (Photo: Michaela Corning)

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