Designer Nabela Noor On Representation, Body Inclusivity & Empowerment Through Community

By Gabrielle Pharms | January 7, 2022

A true Renaissance woman, first-generation Bangladeshi-American designer, author, entrepreneur, and activist Nabela Noor is dedicated to using her platform to bolster South Asian representation in the entertainment, fashion, and wellness spaces.

Through her globally acclaimed Pockets of Peace series, which has amassed billions of views on TikTok, her self-love-inspired fashion line Zeba, and her award-winning nonprofit Noor House, Noor has inspired creators of color to embrace their skin and achieve greatness while also empowering everyone to live confidently. As a child of immigrant parents, Noor observed their focus and effort, which she cites as a significant influence on her work ethic. She tells EDITION, “I understand what it took for me to be able to have the opportunities, and so that makes me show up every day.”

See more: From Brooklyn To Beyonce: Romeo Hunte's Journey To Fashion Fame

As if the previously mentioned milestones weren’t enough, Noor pays it forward through Zeba. After taking a life-changing trip to Bangladesh in 2019, Noor was compelled to partner with the JAAGO Foundation, a nonprofit organization committed to breaking the cycle of poverty by providing free access to education and resources to underprivileged and impoverished Bangladeshi children. Therefore, a portion of the proceeds from Zeba goes directly to JAAGO.

We caught up with Noor to discuss the odds she’s overcome as a minority in industries that emphasize Western beauty standards and gain insight into the qualities that have aided in her success.

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As a first-generation Bangladeshi-American, I'm sure that came with its set of challenges. What were some of those hurdles you've had to overcome?

Bangladesh is a very underrepresented country in the media, in our news, the fight for representation in entertainment. So, walking into this space, both as an entrepreneur and as a creator, and in this entertainment space as well, it's been difficult. It’s a lot of education. Bangladesh is Bangladesh. No, I'm not Indian. No, I'm not Pakistani. I'm from Bangladesh. It takes a lot of patience, I find. When we talk specifically about the South Asian representation, oftentimes, my community is left out of the conversation. We don't have enough people in the spotlight that are Bangladeshi-American. So, I have been very proud and honored to have hit a few milestones and made history in certain aspects with my business and in my career as the first Bangladeshi-American. I'm excited to do that.

I hope that not only can I be the first in so many different ways to blaze the trail for Bangladeshi-Americans, but also more doors to be opened for members of my community in that we can see more representation for Bangladeshi. I’m South Asian, and I'm proud. I'm brown, and I want people to know about Bangladesh and the amazing talent that we have.

Awesome! From those challenges, you mentioned you acquired patience. So, how has that aided in your mission and passion for representation and diversity in the fashion and wellness spaces?

I'm very passionate about the categories that I'm I reside in online – fashion, wellness, lifestyle, beauty, and now home, which has been so fun. One of the things that is really, really special is sharing authentic experiences and stories that I've never seen before in my community. So, when I share my home content, for example, or my Pockets of Peace series on TikTok, what's cool is, when I'm doing a cooking video, I'm sharing Bangladeshi recipes. I'm sharing recipes of Bangladesh and American fusion dishes I’m creating. I'm sharing my hijabi mother and myself going shopping or cooking a dish in the kitchen. These are things that I just did not see on television and the media. I didn't see a Bangladeshi family represented in any of these spaces. So, what's really fun is creating the visibility that I have longed for for so long in the content that I create and in the moves that I make as an entrepreneur.

So, when I created my clothing brand, I named it after my mother; and I created my home brand and named it after my grandmother. I'm so happy that I can really allow representation to be the cornerstone of all the things that I'm doing. And it makes me feel like I have taken back control that I felt like was always at the mercy of somebody else. When was someone going to give us a chance, right? When is somebody going to value Bangladeshi? And now, through this beautiful world of the internet, I've been able to make that happen for myself and my community—that required patience and grit, and consistency. I'm very, very proud and thankful for the opportunity.

You’ve achieved quite a lot with patience, grit, and drive—all those things no doubt helped you get to where you are now. Touching on your fashion line, Zeba, I think it’s cool that it’s not size-focused, but it's replaced with words of affirmation. So, what inspired you to go down that route?

I've always advocated through myself online and throughout my career. I’ve always believed that we're more than our size. I think that we are such complex individuals with so many layers, and they all deserve to be celebrated. We are so much more than what society wants us to believe that we are. And I wanted to help people focus on that. It’s not that we're escaping our size. We know our size. It's about realizing that we're more than that and creating an enjoyable experience when shopping because oftentimes, it can be an emotional experience when shopping. So, I wanted to create something that felt like a gentle reminder, a gentle hug, that you are passionate and brave and inspiring and fearless and radiant, powerful and loved and independent and worthy. I wanted to do that, and I felt like it could be a great contribution to the fashion space.

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Beautiful. I noticed the reception has been amazing. How does that make you feel?

It feels awesome. Then, when people might not understand or might not see the need, I think that there's some privilege in that. I also think that there's a preference. For some people, it may or may not resonate with them, but the people that resonate with it, oh, that feeling that I get is like, ‘Okay, this makes it all worth it ‘– the sleepless nights, the designing and scrapping and all this stuff that comes with this journey of having a clothing brand. It all becomes worth it when you know the impact that you can have in the space that you can create. It’s fostered a community. We have a great community on Instagram that supports one another, empowers each other, and is all focused on what makes them beautiful from the inside out.

It’s such a great thing that you're doing. What motivates you to show up as your authentic self with your personal brand?

I think I'm motivated by a lot of things. I think first and foremost would be, being a first-generation Bangladeshi-American. Being the daughter of immigrants, there's a sense of responsibility that you feel to just make your parents’ sacrifices worth it. They've done so much to come to this country, leaving so much of what they knew behind, to give us a fighting chance at the American dream. So, my very acute awareness of this growing up made it be where I just really wanted to make sure that I showed up and took advantage of the opportunities that my parents had afforded me. I don't come from a wealthy family, and my parents worked extremely hard. It made me have so much more grit. My dad drove a taxi when he came to this country. My mom sold bows for five cents per bow. They didn’t know English. They learned everything by immersing themselves here in this land. So, with all of that comes – I think for me specifically – just a lot of drive to make this life count and these opportunities count.

Then, secondarily, I just really want to help bring representation for South Asians, specifically Bangladeshi-Americans, to the forefront in the conversation of inclusion and diversity. We're often forgotten, and I just want to continue to help empower my community and share more authentic stories.

My last question is about Beautifully Me. Personally, growing up as a person of color, I didn't see that many books that highlighted bucking at the Western societal standards of beauty and embracing your body. So, keeping the book in mind, what do you want to pass on to the next generation of minorities?

Growing up, there weren't many book options like you said that showed a brown girl on the cover. It was just unheard of. At the time I was writing Beautifully Me, I was deep in my fertility journey. All I would think about was the future for my children and future generations. I would just think about where are brown girls or Bangladeshi girls going to feel seen and how can I help them feel seen? But also, how can I help any kid in their journey towards loving their bodies? How can I help parents have this very nuanced conversation about body image? How can I help them understand the role that they play in influencing a child's body image because that goes beyond any race – that's universal. So, Beautifully Me touches on so many things. It offers representation for a very underrepresented community with beautiful imagery done by Nabi Ali. So, not only do we have gorgeous imagery and visual representations that I have longed for since I was a young girl. Then, we also have representation for plus-sized bodies. We also have important dialogue and a thought-starter for parents and children. What I’ve been so happy about is hearing parents and guardians say, ‘I learned something when reading the book. I realized that what I say can influence how my kids feel.’ So, that's really gratifying, and it makes the journey that much more special and worth it.

Photography by: Kinna Shaffer