At 19 years old, Hiba Alshahal is probably one of the youngest fashion designers in central Ohio. A 2021 graduate of Olentangy Liberty High School, she began developing her Verity brand with the help of the Frank Project, a Columbus nonprofit that helps marginalized youth learn the fashion business.
In October, she was the youngest designer involved in a fashion show for Fashion Week Columbus. “It was a very surreal experience,” she says. She attends Ohio State University and is thinking about how to continue developing her fashion brand.
When we spoke, you mentioned that as a student of Lebanese descent, you were the only brown girl in many of your classes at Olentangy Liberty High School. How did that affect your fashion sense? Growing up, I was a shy kid with terrible social anxiety, and it didn’t help that I was one of the few brown kids in my classes. I just wanted to be like everyone else because I thought I could fit in that way. I was ashamed of my culture and who I was, I was embarrassed when my friends came to my house and heard my mom playing Arabic music or saw the Koran.
I would do anything to be like the white girls. It wasn’t until I started experimenting with clothes and doing fashion that I became more comfortable with who I was. The clothes were my armor and I could express myself without talking, which was great. Looking back now, I cringe at how hard I tried to fit in. But as I grew up, I became confident in who I am, and now I sing those Arabic songs with my mom and look proudly at the Koran. I couldn’t be more proud of my Lebanese blood.
You mentioned that you deal with social anxiety when it comes to presenting your fashion brand. What worries you the most in that process? I was very young when I started Verity and it was a scary process, especially for someone who had never had much experience with anything like this. I overthink and struggle with self-confidence and comparison. At first I just thought of ideas to please others, things that were simple and that would appeal to everyone. Because of this, I started to lose my creative control.
It’s been almost a year and I’ve had plenty of time to look back and realize how important it is to put things out there for myself and not for everyone else. After all, truth means “a true principle or belief, especially one of fundamental importance.” I chose the name Verity because I didn’t begin to grow or blossom until I accepted and became confident in who I was, accepting my truth. To anyone struggling with something similar, my advice would be to remember that you will only grow if you stay true to yourself.
You put together a show for the grand finale of Columbus Fashion Week. How would you describe your experience there? Being a part of Fashion Week Columbus was a fantastic experience. As the youngest designer there, I wanted to bring a refreshing energy to the space and show that even young designers have something to bring to the table. Seeing my pieces come to life and create an experience with my vision that everyone enjoyed was very rewarding.
You are part of Gen Z and spent a lot of time in high school dealing with COVID. What do you want people to know about your generation? Gen Z is a persuasive generation. We are underestimated because we are the first generation that has never known a world without the Internet. If anything, the internet has made us very powerful; it taught us that we can do and become anything. We are very hardworking and self-willed.
This story is from the December 2022 issue of the magazine Columbus Monthly.