Style Q&A: Ohio State University Student Hiba Alshahal on Her Verity Fashion Brand

The Olentangy Liberty High School graduate talks about her Lebanese heritage, starting her label and what it was like to be the youngest designer in the Fashion Week Columbus runway show.

Sherry Beck Paprocki
Ohio State University student Hiba Alshahal developed her Verity brand with the help of the nonprofit Frank Project, which has a storefront on Third Avenue in Downtown Columbus.

At 19 years old, Hiba Alshahal is likely 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 included in the runway show for Fashion Week Columbus. “That was a very surreal experience,” she says. She is attending Ohio State University and considering how to continue growing her fashion brand.

When we talked, you mentioned that as a student of Lebanese heritage you were the only brown girl in many of your classes at Olentangy Liberty High School. How did that influence your fashion sense? Growing up, I was a timid kid with terrible social anxiety, and it didn’t help that I was one of the only brown kids in my classes. I just wanted to be like everyone else because I thought that’s how I could fit in. I was ashamed of my culture and who I was, embarrassed when my friends came to my house and heard my mom playing Arabic music or saw the Quran.

I would’ve done anything to be like the white girls. It wasn’t until I started experimenting with my clothing and getting into fashion that I became more comfortable with who I was. My clothes were armor, and I could express myself without talking, which was terrific. Looking back now, I cringe at how hard I tried to fit in. But, as I grew older, I became confident with who I was, and now I sing those Arabic songs with my mom and look proudly at the Quran. I could not be prouder of my Lebanese blood.

You mentioned that you are dealing with some social anxiety when it comes to putting your fashion brand out there. What worries you the most about this process? I was very young when I started Verity, and it was a terrifying process, especially for someone who had never had much experience with anything like this. I’m a big overthinker and struggle with confidence and comparison. Initially, I was just thinking of ideas to please others, things that were simple and that everyone would like. I started to lose my creative control because of that.

It’s been almost a year, and I’ve had a lot of time to look back and realize how important it is to put out things for myself rather than everyone else. After all, verity means “a true principle or belief, especially one of fundamental importance.” I chose the name Verity because I didn’t start to grow or flourish until I accepted and became confident with who I was, accepting my verity. For everyone struggling with something similar, my advice would be to remember that you’re only going to grow if you stay true to yourself.

You put together a show for the grand finale of Fashion Week Columbus. 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 young designers have something to bring to the table, too. Seeing my pieces come to life and create an experience with my vision that everyone enjoyed was so validating.

You are part of Gen Z, and you spent much of your time in high school dealing with COVID. What do you want people to know about your generation? Gen Z is a compelling generation. We get underestimated because we’re the first generation to never know the world without the internet. If anything, the internet has made us very powerful; it has taught us that we can do and become anything. We’re very hard-working and self-driven. 

This story is from the December 2022 issue of Columbus Monthly.