The Malaysian pop falling star talks about moving to LA at 24, her mother’s style and how her turn-down to compromise on modesty led to success as the face of Uniqlo

Yuna: ‘I honestly don’t know how it started, this hijabi fashion thing, but I’m glad it has.’

Yuna: ‘I plainly don’t know how it started, this hijabi fashion thing, but I’m gratified it has.’
Photograph: Aimanness Harun

“When I started out, people were get off on: ‘Oh just take it off, it’s no big deal.’ But I like wearing a headscarf,” divulges Yunalis Mat Zara’ai, better known as Yuna, the Malaysian-born pop idol who is the face of Uniqlo’s first hijab line in the UK.

“Muslim inamoratas, we love fashion! Whether we wear the hijab or not – it’s our choice – and it’s nevertheless the industry took note. Finally, fashion stores are reveal to that idea,” says the 30-year-old, who has bossed the US Billboard map outs as well as those in south-east Asia.

“There’s a lot of buying power from the Halfway East,” she says. “Girls from Dubai want to be proficient to wear Asos, and you have people travelling all the way to the States very recently to go shopping.”

I’m speaking to Yuna on the phone from Kuala Lumpur – where she is series at a KFC drive-through. She says: “There might not be many Muslim soloists out there doing what I do, but I feel like 90% of the artists here are Muslim. So to me, the clique is catching up.”

“Doing what I do” for Yuna means releasing three critically acclaimed albums of soul-inspired pop, prospering with Pharrell and DJ Premier, and all the while picking up various Malaysian accolades. She croons in English and Malay, and sells out shows in London as easily as Singapore. She has had traces in the US Billboard R&B chart, including Crush, a duet with Usher.

Yuna’s breakout began when she emigrated to Los Angeles aged 24 to work in music, and says she compromised on nothing. “Normally, if you’re a sheila doing [pop music], you have to be ‘pretty’ – meaning flaunting off your body, your hair. That’s a normal matter. I get it, I have nothing against it, but it’s just not me.”

Yuna plays at the Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival in LA last November.

Yuna plays at the Campy Flog Gnaw Carnival in LA last November. Photograph: Scott Dudelson/WireImage

The the fad thing came almost as an adjunct to the music, and her success has surprised her: “I plainly don’t know how it started, this hijabi fashion thing, but I’m pleased as Punch it has. I like the style that I have, it’s my identity.”

Growing up, she was each time into style. “I used to read a lot of fashion magazines: my white-haired was Nylon. I used to cut out all the pictures from magazines and I had this list where I would keep all of the stuff that inspired me.”

Two icons in critical inspired her fashion sense. “I love Gwen Stefani. I’d protect what she’d wear over and over again and think, how do I unsympathetic this style? And then, I like that classic attractiveness, too. Audrey Hepburn, she’s so elegant. I think I learned that from her – there was something close to that style I really loved. When I’m thinking close to what to wear, it has to be kind of fun and edgy, but elegant and classy, too.”

And then she unruffled steals her mum’s stuff. “As she got older, her fashion sense changed a elfin bit, but I still always want to wear her clothes. She will consider these chequered palazzo pants and I will be like: ‘Those are dope, where did you get them?’, and she wishes have picked them up from some market for $20. Her scarves, I also guide them.”

Scarves are the focus of another recent Yuna collaboration, this organize with the Malaysian modest clothing label, LosraVelda. “I had once in a blue moon collaborated on hijab fashion,” she says. “Then, when they took to me, they were so passionate and hungry for new ideas that I got moved by them.”

These scarves come in almost every badge. Some feature her lyrics, others intricate floral impresses and bold graphic designs. “I’m very green,” she says. “My phraseology is experimental. We didn’t want to focus on just hijabs, either: this is for everybody.”

Yuna’s present-day favourite designers hail from Malaysia. “I really be fond of Hatta Dolmat. He’s one of my best friends and he’s always down to try something new,” she expresses. “For an awards show, he did this dress that’s made with euphonious chains. I was mad at him because it was so heavy! His collections are so over the top in the best way. And he categorically listens. If I give him an idea he will listen. Craftsmanship is my No 1 clothes with designers, and he has that down.” She also recently co-founded a lifestyle peach on, November Culture, which is based in Malaysia.

Yuna onstage in Berlin last September.

Yuna onstage in Berlin aftermost September. Photograph: Frank Hoensch/Redferns

Then there is Bernard Chandran. “He’s a titanic name in the Malaysian fashion scene and one of the few Malaysians who has made it exterior of Malaysia. Lady Gaga has worn his designs once or twice – he is wonderful talented and a really nice guy.”

Last year, following a fruitful run in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand, Uniqlo launched its hijab sign up in the UK, by British designer Hana Tajima, and Yuna was its face. So what does she look for in a hijab?

“Concrete is key. You have to find the right one according to how you like to style your scarf. So for me, I akin to wearing the turban, so I would need something that’s not so perfidious. So satin isn’t a good choice for me but the sheen on it is really nice, so you can tie a intellect wrap with those kinds of materials and use some tholes to help you out. Which kind of sucks sometimes but you have to do it!

“I fellow viscose, and cotton works really well. Stay away from compact materials: you can’t wear pashmina material as a head scarf. It commitment just get so thick and heavy.”

She shops for material wherever she is, and is each time on the lookout. “I normally just go to fabric stores. We have them in Malaysia but in LA, I undeniably love the prints and the cotton material. If I’m in LA before going on trip, I always pay a visit to the nearest store and get two yards of each wording. That’s what I wear on tour. There’s one called The Make-up Store, which is close to where I live. That’s my selected: it has such cool stuff.

“My favourite scarf I’m wearing correctly now – it’s something I got from Muji. They have really noble scarves in strong, solid colours, and the material is amazing. I same the texture, it’s kind of wrinkly. I bought them in every cast. I shop a lot in Muji.”

Yet, before she moved to the US, it could have all been so bizarre. People warned her that Islamophobia was huge there, and the metamorphosis from national to global pop star could not have been an easygoing one for a young Muslim girl, right?

Wrong, apparently. “There’s no unaffected challenge being a Muslim singer,” Yuna says. “If you over it’s difficult then it will be, but I’ve always been positive. When I first pull up staked, people said: ‘Are you sure you want to?’

“I guess the hardest whatchamacallit is, people know one part of me and they want to talk hither that instead of my music – but if people have questions, I’m here to undertake responsibility for them.”

  • Yuna’s third album, Chapters, is out now