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Aiming for inclusion, Pittsburgh moms create Muslim fashions for dolls

| Sunday, March 12, 2017, 9:12 p.m.
Maranie Staab for the Tribune-Review
Hand-made hijab adorned barbies are a common sight at the Fetterman home. Gisele Fetterman partnered with Safaaa Bokhari, both residents of Pittsburgh, to offer hand-made hijabs as accessories for dolls. The new initiative is called Hello Hijab and will have locally made products available this month.
Maranie Staab for the Tribune-Review
Salma Bokhari, age 5, and Grace Fetterman, also age 5, play with Graces dolls while their mothers, Gisele Fetterman and Safaa Bokhari, met to discuss plans for their new initiative, Hello Hijab.
Maranie Staab for the Tribune-Review
Safaa Bokhari and Gisele Fetterman met at the Fetterman's home on Monday, March 6th, 2017 to discuss plans for their joint initiative, Hello Hijab. The two partnered together after recognizing that there were no muslim dolls available to their children.
Maranie Staab for the Tribune-Review
Grace Fetterman, age 5, plays with one of her barbies on Monday March 6th, 2017. Grace has barbies inclusive of many nationalities, races, religions and disabilities.
Maranie Staab for the Tribune-Review
Salma Bokhari, age 5, greets Grace Fetterman, age 5, with a small gift. The two met for the first time on Monday, March 6th, 2017 while their mothers met to discuss plans for Hello Hijab.

On the day of the Women's March on Washington — Jan. 21, the day after Donald Trump took office as President — Gisele Barreto Fetterman and her 5-year-old daughter, Grace, held a march of their own in their Braddock home.

A doll march.

There was a black doll, a doll in a wheelchair, a doll with glasses ... Fetterman has made it a point to raise Grace and her two other children in an environment of acceptance and inclusion, so nearly everyone was represented.

“Anyone missing?” she asked her daughter as they studied the lineup of dolls.

Only then did they realize an obvious omission:

There were no Muslim dolls.

“That seemed wrong,” said Fetterman, who is married to Braddock Mayor John Fetterman. “The refugee population coming in is mostly Muslim, and they are not welcomed by everyone, which is painful to see. Of course, there are children among the refugees. But there are no dolls for them.”

So Fetterman talked to friends, including Safaa Bokhari, 30, of Oakland, a Muslim woman from Saudi Arabia who is in the United States while her husband studies at the University of Pittsburgh. Bokhari also has a 5-year-old daughter, Salma. She and Grace play together often.

Fetterman and Bokhari searched online for Muslim dolls, found none and decided to fix that.

Enter “Hello Hijab,” a small colorful piece of cloth that can be folded into hijabs for Barbie-sized dolls.

“My dream is that every school, with all the dolls they have, will have at least one,” Fetterman said as Grace and Salma played nearby with Barbies wearing hijabs. “If they play with it as children, when they become adults and see someone with a hijab they'll be more accepting.”

The hijabs are locally made, by hand, the first batch by Rankin resident Cindy McCune. Future production will be completed by Muslim seamstresses in Pittsburgh who will be paid $15 an hour.

The hijab will cost around $6 and be available April 1.

Hello Hijab is one of many altruistic efforts Fetterman is involved in, all of which will be found at the recently launched website Fetterman runs the site with Kristen Michaels, 34, of Edgewood; they met when Michaels visited Fetterman's Free Store in Braddock -- in which goods donated by individuals and businesses are given to those in need — and decided to launch one in Wilkinsburg.

All proceeds from Hello Hijab will go to the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, ACLU and Community Blueprint Pittsburgh.

Mattel, the toy company that makes Barbie, did not respond to an email asking whether the company has ever produced or has plans to produce a Muslim doll.

Though Hello Hijab did not go public until Monday, word has already spread. Fetterman said she received two donated adult hijabs, to be cut up and turned into doll-sized hijabs, from an anonymous donor.

“She heard about the project through a friend at a birthday party,” Fetterman said. “It made my heart explode.”

The project is particularly important now, Fetterman said, because of what she and others see as a growing sense of animosity toward immigrants.

Plus, it enforces her belief in finding value in the devalued.

Originally from Brazil, Fetterman's mother decided in 1990 that she wanted to raise her kids in a safer environment. She told her children to pack their favorite belongings into a single suitcase, then flew them to New York. Her mom cleaned houses and checks coats at a night club to support her family. Fetterman and her brother chipped in by rolling newspapers. The family furnished their tiny apartment by salvaging “garbage” left out by neighbors on bulk garbage day.

“I want my children to know that the whole world is different,” she said. “I'm sure many people will be offended by this, but why can't we all love each other and accept each other?”

Michaels and Bokhari are prepared for pushback.

And they vowed not to look at the reader comments following this story.

“It's just noise,” Michaels said.

“Haters gonna hate,” Bokhari said.

“I think there will always be people who find the negative, but we choose to find the positive in all things and that includes all people from all parts of the world,” Fetterman said. “My 5-year-old will say, ‘Why can't they all move here? It's more people for me to play with!' I feel the exact same way.”

Nearby, Grace and Salma played with dolls.

“Would you like some juice?” said Grace, speaking for her Barbie. “Yes? Ok, I'll get you some strawberry juice.”

“Thank you,” Salma replied through her Barbie.

“Here you go!” Grace said, and the dolls sat down together in the doll house.

It was a scene played out in little girls' rooms around the globe.

Only in this room, the Barbies wore hijabs.

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