Heritage Collection Changemaker Spotlight - Sumaiya Bangee
Posted on Jul 19, 2019
Haute Hijab Staff
Editor’s Note: As part of our coverage of our Heritage Collection and Haute Hijab’s 10th anniversary, which includes our conversation with Melanie about HH’s origin story and an exclusive behind the scenes look at the design process for the new silks collection, we are featuring interviews with five extraordinary Muslim women making waves in their communities. Each woman chose one of our five hijabs from the collection, and this series of interviews discusses their hijab journey, their work and why one’s heritage is so important.
Job: Pastry Sous Chef for Crown Shy
Scarf Selected: The Modern
Sumaiya Bangee has been working in kitchens for ten years and has a thirst for knowledge and a continuous curiosity for everything food related. She is a tastemaker both in and out of the kitchen and is dedicated to achieving her goals, short and long term. Sumaiya moved to New York to work as a cook at Eleven Madison Park, and she’s currently shaking up the culinary world as a pastry sous chef at one of New York’s hottest new restaurants, Crown Shy.
We spoke with Sumaiya, who chose The Modern hijab from our Heritage Collection, about what it’s like to (usually) be the only one in any cooking space wearing a hijab and how that spurs her to work extra hard at being the best at her job, and about how she strives to share her heritage through food.
1. Tell us a little bit about your profession and how you developed your interest in your career.
It sounds very cliche, and many chefs say this, but being in the kitchen cooking/baking/creating was something I loved since I was a young child. I joke that I am not good at anything else, and that's why I do this. But, the reality is that I never really felt true drive and passion for anything quite like I do with being in the kitchen. In school, growing up, I was fairly shy and quiet and very much your average student. But as soon as I started culinary school, it felt like a fire was lit inside me, and I became obsessed with being better than everyone around me. A different side of who I am surfaced, and I became highly competitive and driven for success. This holds true to this day - 10 years since I started.
It is actually pretty apropos that this collection marks 10 years of Haute Hijab, because it also marks 10 years since I started culinary school and got into this industry.
About my profession - I am the pastry sous chef at Crown Shy in New York City’s financial district. We open just about three months ago, and we have been booked and busy ever since. I was recruited to this project by my former pastry chef of Eleven Madison Park, where I worked under her as a cook for about a year and a half.
2. Talk to us about your hijab journey and how your hijab has had an impact on your path to becoming a chef.
I started wearing my hijab when I was in sixth grade. There were moments of struggle early on when sometimes I felt like when I walked into a room, all eyes were on me. But that ended up playing into my strengths as I got older. The hijab played many roles in my journey as a chef, first as mentioned before about all eyes being on you. No one ever forgets me because I’m usually the only one in any cooking space wearing a hijab. So with the added bonus of always standing out, I knew I needed to always work extra hard to be great at my job, because people would always remember me for it.
But, there were also moments when I felt judged for wearing it and/or people would label me or expect me to be one way or the other. To some extent (again) I became obsessed with breaking stereotypes of what a woman in hijab looks like. Also, in kitchens we all work so closely together for so many hours that we become a family, So, it opened up doors for me to teach those around me about the hijab and why I wear it.
3. Did you have a mentor or someone who helped you achieve your goals in the culinary world? If so, tell us about the impact they made on you.
I think mentors are very important in life. I have always struggled with the idea of mentorship and people mentoring me, because we are all flawed humans and everyone’s journey is different. Growing up, I definitely was not one to really look up to people, and I believe that holds true to today. But, I will say I have crossed paths and been able to meet with certain individuals who have helped me to navigate my life. My current executive pastry chef Renata Ameni is someone whom I seek advice from about the industry, work, as well as personal life. Also, my first pastry chef, Nathaniel Reid, is someone who has always helped and guided me, always there if I called, no matter what.
These two individuals are very much people I choose to emulate as I grow into higher positions in my career. Renata has taught me to stand my ground as a strong woman and always make sure my voice is heard. She taught me how to command respect from my peers and bosses while not sacrificing my femininity. Nathaniel taught me to listen to those around me, to be caring towards my peers and to lead with a sense of purpose always. If I can become a balanced combination of these two people, I will feel like I truly succeeded.
4. What made you choose this specific printed silk hijab? What about it appealed to you?
I loved the colors and the different prints in The Modern. I loved how elegant and almost royal it feels, and then there was a little edge with the stripes I love any opportunity to dress up, and this hijab makes me feel very beautiful while wearing it, so I look forward to wearing it on many more occasions!
5. We developed our exclusive Heritage Collection to showcase the story and history of Haute Hijab. Our own personal heritage is so important - how do you celebrate your own heritage?
Heritage is very important, and how many of us are redefining heritage as first-generations Muslims in new spaces is even more important. I obviously think the way I celebrate my own heritage is through food and the sharing of my food with people who are not exposed to it. But, it also goes vice versa as to learning new things and creating unique traditions and bringing them home to create a new normal.
6. What does the hijab mean to you?
Hijab is representation to me. I want to be a thoughtful, strong, hard working and fearless woman in spaces where seeing a Muslim hijabi isn’t the average. I want to change people’s perspectives about who and what a Muslim woman should look like. I don’t take my hijab lightly, and I make choices based off being a hijab-wearing woman every single day.
7. We love seeing powerful Muslim women in our community doing big things, which is why we chose you as one of five honorees for this campaign. Is there a message you’d like to convey to inspire women to live a big life?
The underlying theme throughout this interview and throughout my life is to be strong in who you are, whomever that may be. Do not let other people define you, and never let anyone tell you what kind of person you should be or what you should do with your life. Find what inspires you and follow your passions. There will always be obstacles and people who tell you no, but continue forward. You never know where life will take you. Never fear risk, because truly through risk comes reward and growth.
Check back on the blog for more interviews from the other wonderful women we interviewed as part of the debut of Haute Hijab’s Heritage Collection!