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The Cardiff woman with millions of followers on social media; Style guru Dina Tokio has helped promote the visibility of Muslim women in the mainstream.

Byline: Kathryn Williams

Dina Tokio may not be a household name to many, but theCardiffdesigner and blogger is an icon to many - 2.4m followers to be exact.

Dina - real name Dina Torkia - blogs about family, lifestyle and modest fashion and for the past nine years has accrued a loyal following of fans keen to hear her latest tips and watch her tutorials on style on YouTube and Instagram.

But it's Dina's contribution to the visibility of Muslim women in the mainstream that is her greatest achievement, and is probably the reason her social followers have topped the million mark and then some.

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A Cardiffian of Egyptian and English heritage, after trying out degrees in psychology, religious and theological studies and then humanities the mother-of-two decided to do what made her happy - fashion.

"Growing up I was always a bit arty farty really and teenage years I was interested in style and clothing and making clothes, but I never learnt the conventional way," says Dina, who was a pupil at Cathays High School as a teen.

"I bought myself a really cheap portable sewing machine, and I just started cutting out fabrics and sewing it into shapes.

"I didn't do fashion in uni, I just thought there was no career in this and as a Muslim woman who would I cater to? What kind of clothes could I make because that wasn't really a thing then.

"But I got really frustrated studying other things in uni - I tried a bunch of other things - one day I thougt sod this, packed it all in and basically made clothes and put them on Facebook.

"Fashion was all I really wanted to do and I wanted to show Muslim women how they can be modest and still stylish or not lose their sense of style."

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While the representation of minorities in popular culture is improving, when Dina first started out her online tutorials and blogging, she failed to relate to anyone in the public eye.

"I couldn't relate to anyone in the media then - now you can it's great - but I didn't see anybody for me. I thought I was going to do it myself because I am sick of people thinking we're drab, and we're too religious to care about how we look."

Now with fans all over the world you find it hard to believe that Dina's niche in the fashion world wasn't there already.

"Back then it wasn't a thing, but there were a few of us emerging," she added. "We didn't call it (modest fashion) back then, but it's obvious that's what we were pushing forward - but in the past five years it's definitely taken off and it's started trending.

"I could name a handful of us, a tiny group of us started, from across the world. Now there's so many of us, who pave their own way and are representing for their people rather than waiting for the mainstream media to do it...who'd then do it all wrong anyway.

"And brands in particular have started to take note of it and started to feature Muslim models who wear the hjiab, visible Muslim women. It's very new in mainstream."

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Now based out of Cardiff's Sustainable Studio where she's found new collaborators, ideas and design inspiration - namely the sustainability - Dina is pleased that global brands like Nike - who brought out the Pro Hijab in 2017 - are including modest fashion in their products, but notes that there's still a long way to go.

"I'll be honest, my first reaction was 'oh yeah great,' but also that headscarf is something we've seen already, in Egypt they're a normal thing in a sports shop," said Dina, showing us another side to the blow-up in inclusivity in mainstream fashion.

"Everybody wants to scream and shout about it which is great, but the real triumph is when brands are fully inclusive. I have worn Nike for years and when they came out with that scarf they contacted me so I could have one and maybe promo it.. I think that's great but why can't I collaborate with you on your regular lines too?

"So that's great but it's a very, very new thing and there's going to be lots of trial and error from brands. They need to have someone there working with them on their design team.

"You can see when it's genuine and when it isn't."

But on the positive side for Dina, she thinks back to her high school PE days and how she would have welcomed a big brand representing modest dressing.

"When Nike did that it was a great move, when I think of myself as a 16-year-old in high school, doing PE, if they'd come out with a huge campaign recognising you, you might not feel like such a tit. I can see how it is a great move for the younger girls, who are at that awkward age.

"I felt like I wanted to do sports, but I felt I looked like an idiot doing it in a headscarf."

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Similarly for Dina seeing Muslim and minority women on covers of magazines like Vogue has made her passion and drive seem all the more brilliant.

"You see magazines like Vogue putting women in headscarves, and black women in headscarves, on the covers - if I saw that when I was a teenager I'd feel amazing because it's someone like me.

"The reason I started doing things (fashion online) is because I didn't have that when I was younger."

For a young women who started recording quiet tutorials on her laptop in her bedroom for Facebook, to achieve and maintain her authority on her chosen subject, over nine years, is no mean feat.

Dina's natural passion about fashion is evident, but creating and maintaining that expert and influencer's authority in a world where it seems everyone wants to have a piece of that pie, shouldn't be taken for granted.

And she doesn't. While her videos and content have developed over the years her style has remained the same. She's collaborated with luxury department store Liberty and made a documentary with BBC Three about Muslim beauty pageants. Dina's also written a memoir about being a British Muslim woman - Modestly.

So, she's not going anywhere soon.

But how does she stay relevant and fresh to her followers and hold onto them?

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Her main ethos, she says, is being passionate and true to herself.

"It's easy to dress modestly now, because there are so many options on the high street.

"Why I do it, because there are people who need this and if there's no people responding to it you'd pack it in.

"When I started I'd put it in my head this is going to work and going to be big. I never really went viral, but was just consistent and the build in followers was gradual. Nothing's ever a shock

"I've been on 1.4,m followers on Instagram for ages.

"And there's the relatability, a lot of my followers got married the same time as me, had kids the same time and they are the ones who stuck around."

So, would she ever change drastically? Dina's content covers lifestyle and family now, as well as fashion and her husband Sid and she have their own Youtube channel too, but she says she's not interested in changing to up her followers.

"If you're not getting the numbers and the stats it can make you feel really sh***y. 'I'm not getting the interaction so let's make some content," she added.

"I have changed it up, to stay relevant, which I didn't like. I don't care about numbers, I'm just doing what I have to do and just going back to where I started, a passion for being creative."

You can find Dina's videos and blogs on YouTube and on Instagram and keep an eye out for her new designs in the near future.

CAPTION(S):

Credit: Kathryn Williams

Dina Torkia, the Cardiff-based YouTuber and author with 2.4m followers

Credit: YouTube

Dina addressing her millions of YouTube followers

Credit: YouTube

Dina with her husband who also appears in her videos
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Title Annotation:Lifestyle
Publication:Wales Online (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Apr 28, 2019
Words:1431
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