Introducing: Summer Albarcha

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Summer Albarcha is easily one of St. Louis’s most recognizable fashion influencers. What started as a modest fashion blog has since grown into a personal brand with almost 400k followers. A social media force to be reckoned with, student at the John Cook School of Business at Saint Louis University, and real-girl model at the Karlie Kloss x Express runway show, we had the chance to sit down with Summer to learn how she describes her personal style and what she hopes her fans gain from her.

Tell us about what you’re doing now.

I’m a student at St. Louis University studying business management but my full-time job is being a blogger on the Instagram site @summeralbarcha. I share content almost daily about different ways to layer you wardrobe. I really want girls to get the most versatility out of their wardrobe. I want to make it easy for the everyday girl to style themselves and perhaps be inspired one day in their everyday lives.

One of the things this blog allows me to do is travel and that’s really changed my style in the past year because I’ve been able to go to so many places and meet so many people. Sometimes I feel a little more influenced by Middle Eastern style, sometimes I’m more influenced by New York street style. You can definitely see that in my post, depending on what country or city I’m in and what I’m wearing in regards to the background.

We love your mix of modesty and modern fashion. How does staying true to your beliefs influence the style and fashion choices you make?

This was always something I was conscious of when I was growing up. I went to a private school so I always had to wear a uniform. The moment it was the weekend I couldn’t wait to get dressed and not wear my plaid jumper uniform that we wore to school. That really allowed me to always be conscious of what I’m wearing and how I present myself. From there I grew up and decided to wear headscarves, like how my mom and aunts do. I always held much respect for them and how they wear it, and how they continue on with their daily life. I never saw it as a barrier to anything they were interested in. So when I began wearing a hijab at age 13, I really wanted to make it a point for girls to know that you can totally still do whatever you want while still staying true to what your personal beliefs are. From there I began styling. I’d always styled clothing for different family or friends. I’d go to my mom’s friends closets and help them reorganize it and get rid of pieces they didn’t want. I was kind of like a mini stylist in my community in a sense. I then decided to make an Instagram page because I always got a lot of questions and I thought it was a very cool place to share photos. I began sharing photos and tagging the brands I wore. It really grew over a short period of time. Now I have almost 400,000 followers.

The 2014 photo that Orthodox Jewish clothing boutique Mimu Max posted of you in one of its designs sparked major controversy. How did you handle this? As criticism arises, how do you deal with it?

It all started when I shared an image of me styling a skirt from them. It never occurred to me twice that it would be a problem because of our religious differences. I thought it was actually great because we’re both sharing similar styles and we’re both interested in modest fashion. I never saw a problem with it. I styled the lime green skirt they had sent me and I posted two photos on Instagram and everyone was really happy about it. Then later on the brand reposted the image and that’s when a lot of controversy occurred. The image started getting a lot of hate comments. There were a lot of people spilling out a lot of hate about how we don’t support terrorism, and asking why are you sharing this girl who supports Palestine versus Israel? I never said anything in regards to anything. The photo was literally me wearing my headscarf and wearing a piece from them. And if anything, that would be more of a sign of unity than dividing. From there, the company released a statement saying they are 100% supportive of me in sharing my photo and anyone who doesn’t like it doesn’t have to be a customer. They don’t tolerate this type of behavior from their customers.

I actually never saw any of the comments. I was at an event and hadn’t checked my phone in a few hours, and when I did, they had deleted all of them. Mimu Max came out with a statement saying, “we completely support sharing Summer Alabarcha and we can’t fight hate with hate.” They shared another photo of me the next day. The story then got picked up by the news as a story of unity during a time of war because there was a small war that occurred in August 2015 in the area. I started Skyping different news outlets like the Huffington Post and AP Press, and from there I got the opportunity from a big company called Fashion Forward Dubai. They called me and said they’d love for me to come to Dubai and speak about my experiences at their convention. I thought is this real? I was an 18 year old in college starting my freshman year. I flew to Dubai with my mom, gave a speech in front of hundreds of people and tons of world press. My following went from 20,000 to 100,000 in a matter of weeks, it was ridiculous.

Your chic style has inspired an international audience from all walks of life. What do you hope your followers gain from you?

I really hope they gain a sense of confidence in being able to participate in everyday activities and not feel there is a barrier because of what they believe. I want them to always show others that they are confident in who they are and what they chose to wear in public. Some women feel liberated when they wear less and some women feel liberated when they wear more. It doesn’t matter which side you’re on. The point is that you’re comfortable and you’re making everyone around you comfortable as well.

You’ve talked about how American and European brands lack modest fashion trends despite Muslims making up a large population of the world. How are you hoping to change this?

I think even being here is changing it a little bit because I’m able to style what is already available but kind of pair pieces together to my taste which is also shared by millions of people in the world. Being able to style towards my personal taste is a step forward in bridging the gap between modest fashion and mainstream fashion.

What’s next for you?

A lot of traveling. I’ll be going to Miami, Dubai then LA.

PHOTO CREDIT: SUMMER ALBARCHA