Laurel woman swaps combat for the catwalk -- Gazette.Net


Air Force veteran Naja Diamond has made some bold choices. One of the most daring was leaving her steady job with the military to pursue her lifelong dream of being a fashion designer.

Diamond, a Laurel resident and government contractor, created a fashion blog in 2010. It is viewed more than 20,000 times each month and has attracted national attention through publications like InStyle and Essence magazines.

Diamond, 29, was an operations manager in the Air Force for six years and completed tours in Korea and Iraq. In 2008, she decided to leave the service, enroll in a Manhattan fashion academy and follow her dream of becoming a stylist.

“I literally went from fighting a war in Iraq and dealing with all these monumental issues to fashion school, which is a different world,” she said. “It definitely was a culture shock.”

Diamond’s three-year-old blog, From Combat Boots 2 Stilettos, has become a hot spot for military and civilian women seeking tips on what to wear or what makeup to purchase, she said. It was the natural result of her passion for clothing, design and personal style, which was apparent even when Diamond was in the military and helping female officers choose outfits, she said.

Diamond blogs part time, she said, and updates her content once or twice a week.

Diamond said she receives some revenue from advertisements on her blog and also does style consulting for private clients and friends. She eventually would like to do fashion reporting for a magazine, she said.

Taheerah Kelly, Diamond’s cousin and an Army veteran, said it was easy to spot Diamond’s fashion sense, even through her uniform.

“When you see a woman in her uniform, you can always tell who has her inner diva,” Kelly said. “She’s got that style bursting. When the clock hits 12, she’s getting ready to turn it all the way up.”

Diamond said the transition from the armed forces to the fashion world was difficult, but she doesn’t regret it.

“I just decided, you know what, I really want to pursue my passion,” she said. “And everyone thought I was crazy. They literally thought I had gone insane.”

Kelly, 32, said she subscribes to Diamond’s blog and attributes its popularity to the outlet and resources it provides for military women with inner fashionistas.

“There are a lot of women in the military who are very stylish, very funky, very fresh,” she said. “But you wear the same thing every day [in the military] and there are a lot of restrictions.”

Karimah Nickleberry, another Combat Boots 2 Stilettos subscriber, said she served in Korea with Diamond in 2006 and is still on active duty with the Air Force. Nickleberry follows Diamond’s blog to get fashion tips when shopping for different events.

“[Diamond] always had a great sense of style off duty,” she said. “She is a savvy shopper, able to make thrift items look like a million bucks.”

Nickleberry describes Diamond’s style as glam mixed with urban chic.

“It’s feminine, but not too girly,” she said. “[Diamond] has come a long way from digging ditches.”

Miranda Levy, a fashion designer and the first female veteran competitor on the “Project Runway” reality TV show, said clothing is a powerful tool that shapes identity and perception.

Levy, who joined the Army as a mechanic at age 17, said she struggled to find her individuality after leaving the Army and its 300-page rule book on how to dress.

“Being in the military, they teach you that you’re not an individual and your experience is not individual,” she said. “I really believe that the process of creating a civilian identity and creating a uniform that is separate from your military uniform is a really beautifying and inspiring way of healing, and I think it can be empowering.”

Diamond plans to use her blog to redefine the image of military women.

“I’m very passionate about my blog because it represents me,” she said. “Through that, I’m able to motivate and inspire others.”