Swimwear designer Tala Raassi has always loved fashion. However, for a girl growing up in war-torn Iran, dressing how she liked was forbidden.
During her childhood and teenage years, Iran government imposed extreme regulations on a woman's dress code. Women were to be completely covered. Tala was only able to wear the trend-driven fashion she loved so much in the privacy of her own home.
During her 16th birthday party at a friend's house, Tala experienced the harshness of the Iranian government first hand – police crashed her celebration, she was arrested and taken to prison for five days. Raassi and 30 of her friends all received 40 lashes.
All this for wearing a mini skirt at her 16th birthday...
After moving to America, Tala saw the freedom other cultures had in what they wear.
She began her fashion business, pioneering the idea that fashion is freedom. Having fashion choice gives us the ability to show our true selves and no one should be denied this.
Konbini: How did you get into the fashion business? What inspired you to create your swimwear brand, Tala Raassi Swim?
Tala Raassi: I've always loved fashion. I grew up in a creative family of entrepreneurs and as a little girl, I used to watch my mother make all sorts of cool stuff around the house.
However, growing up in Iran, I never knew becoming a fashion designer was an option for me. There were no mainstream boutiques at the time, women were covered and schools and family members only encouraged traditional careers.
When I moved to the United States, I was given so many opportunities and witnessed the freedom that women had in wearing what they desired. I was inspired to start a clothing line to empower women and celebrate their beauty.
"Growing up in Iran, I never knew becoming a fashion designer was an option for me."
In your new book, you say that Fashion is Freedom. What do you mean by this statement?
Fashion is not about the amount of clothing you put on or take off. It’s about having the choice to do so. Fashion is Freedom is about my journey of growing up as a modern woman under the Islamic Republic of Iran.
When I was a teenager, I was arrested and sentenced to 40 lashes for the crime of wearing a mini skirt in the privacy of a friend's house party. I believe people should have the freedom to wear what they desire without the fear of punishment, judgment or imprisonment.
The same goes for the women who want to cover themselves and wear a burkini on a beach in France. They should also have the freedom to wear what they want.
How do you believe fashion fits into different cultures and ethnicities?
I think fashion is a personal choice. I am a Muslim woman who chooses to design swimwear. That does not make me less faithful to my religion or unappreciative of my culture. Fashion is worldwide and we are all influenced by one another.
It makes people more creative and changes the way we showcase ourselves to the outside world. You can see this more than ever in the Middle East – women are taking risks, starting businesses in the fashion industry. They offer a different view on fashion as well. It's more than just looking pretty, it's about using fashion to create a meaningful movement or stance.
"Fashion is not about the amount of clothing you put on or take off. It’s about having the choice to do so."
How would you describe the style of Iranian women?
Very chic and elegant! Iranian women know how to dress and put a lot of effort into looking lovely. Even with all the restrictions that they have to follow by wearing head scarves and covering up, they make it look good but pairing them with accessories and beautiful bright colors.
How do you think we should support women living in such oppressive cultures?
I think we should support these women by bringing attention to the lack of freedom that they face worldwide and not just in Iran. We should also help to inspire them by becoming the best that we can.
How are your book and fashion label related?
My book is a memoir about navigating two dramatically different worlds: from growing up in Iran where I had to constantly cover myself to moving to America and becoming a swimsuit designer. It’s about following your dreams and making the impossible, possible for yourself.
My fashion line represents my journey to freedom. And I hope to be able to inspire people to follow their passions no matter where they come from and where they are going.
Finally, what is the one thing you'd like your book to teach readers?
That everything is possible. If I can become a successful swimwear designer coming from a place where I couldn't even wear a swimsuit to the beach, then everything is possible. If I could write a book in English without speaking a word of the language when I first arrived here then again everything is possible.
I just want people to look at my brand and say "I can do anything that I want!"