When Fatima Asmaa Paciotti converted to Islam in 2005, she found scant resources in her province of Italy to help Muslim women dress comfortably, let alone dress in a way that reflected both their personal style and faith.
“I only found poor quality clothes, which were also expensive. They didn’t last long, and sometimes they were uncomfortable,” the 55-year-old entrepreneur told HuffPost Italy. That moment became a catalyst for Fatima, who saw a need for beautiful, high-quality clothing for women like herself.
She decided to start small and sell clothes on Facebook. As her business grew more popular, she turned her side hustle into Fatima Shop, a high-fashion boutique for Muslim women.
But the store is even more notable because it is located in Cantù, in the province of Como — where the most recent elections saw a politician from the far-right political party, the League, elected mayor in the first round. The city is also where local politician Nicola Molteni launched a battle against women who choose to wear veils in public places.
Journalist Elisabetta Invernizzi, who wrote the piece about Fatima, was drawn to the story precisely because it centered on Como, where she was born. “The boutique could have opened in Milan, in the fashion capital, but Paciotti chose Cantù, the territory governed by the right-wing party of President Matteo Salvini,” Elisabetta said. The League is infamous for its crusades against migrants, many of whom are Muslim, and it has opposed mosques or prayer spaces being opened for Ramadan.
Fatima’s story subverts stereotypes about Muslim women and veiling, and Elisabetta hopes it will also encourage a serious debate about politics in Italy and foster a curiosity about Islamic fashion and traditions.
“Right-wing parties, at this moment in history, have a lot of support,” Elisabetta said. “Muslims are one of the many scapegoats.”
She said reactions from Italian readers have been split: Some people hope Fatima Shop fails and believe (incorrectly) that wearing the veil is imposed on all Muslim women, while others have welcomed the store.
But Fatima says she is slowly winning over hearts and minds of her new neighbors, even those who initially worried about her setting up shop.
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