Interview: Mariah Idrissi

From the interview archive.

Mariah Idrissi had no idea that when she signed on for H&M’s “Close The Loop” campaign it would not only propell her into modeling but also put her face at the forefront of the industry as one of fashion’s latest talent to keep an eye on. VULKAN recently had the opportunity to talk to Mariah about why putting the spotlight on Muslim fashion is important to encourage development in the industry and how she’s handling her budding career in both modeling and public speaking. 

Did you have any interest in modeling when you were younger, before you were scouted?

No, I didn’t plan on pursuing modelling as a career at any point in my life, mainly because I started wearing hijab as a teenager and didn’t think of it being an option for me. 

What is one thing you have learned about yourself since becoming a model?

I’ve learnt to believe in myself. We’ve all heard the saying “believe in yourself” but only until I created my own pathway in a field that never had any opportunities for someone like me, I realised I truly need to believe in myself to be successful. 

Who are some of your favourite designers right now?

I’ve always loved Gucci. I love the prints and colours and the quirkiness in their designs. Versus Versace is another favourite and it’s affordable luxury. An upcoming brand to look out for is Marbek – love their jackets!

For those that are unfamiliar with Muslim culture, can you give us a brief explanation on what the hijab represents?

When it was revealed to us in the Quran, it was to distinguish ourselves as ‘believing women’ but hijab ultimately represents modesty. 

What advice might you offer young Muslim women who are struggling with the decision to wear or not wear their hijabs? What question do you think they should be asking themselves to help them make that choice?

I can only speak from personal experience. I started to wear hijab when I began to pray 5 times a day and had developed a strong interest in studying my faith. I would advise to first begin to work on one’s character and develop modesty in their actions and lifestyle before physically putting it on. However, there isn’t really a right or wrong way to start wearing hijab as we all start for different reasons but ultimately, the decision is around pleasing God. 

Did you think your H&M “Close The Loop” campaign would garner as much attention as it did? Has the response to your modeling been overwhelming at all at times?

I had no idea it would attract that much attention! I honestly was not prepared for the press I received from it. It was overwhelming at times when I felt like I had no plan on how to move forward with this new journey in fashion I embarked on. I also felt quite alone as people didn’t quite know how to advise me in the right direction as what I was doing had never been done before. It was and still is definitely a learning experience! 

How do you decompress after a particularly stressful day?

As soon as I walk through my door I’ll literally run towards the bathroom to take a shower, take off all my makeup, head over to the kitchen to eat something and then pray if a prayer has kicked in. I’m usually relaxed after that checklist. 

What has been your family and friends reaction to your modeling career?

One thing I appreciate so much is the fact I have such a supportive family and friend unit around me. They’ve all been so proud and supported me right from the start. Having people sometimes see your vision and potential is always something to be grateful for. 

How has been your experience working with Select modeling agency?

The girls there are really lovely but I always believe you can’t rely on anyone but yourself and no one will know how to sell you better than yourself. 

You hosted TedxPeckham this year. Can you tell us a bit about the experience?

It was great! I realised how much hard work it is being a host so hats off to my friend Yinka Bokinni who’s a radio host at Capital Xtra! I thought when I had spoken at TedxTeen in 2016 that hosting TedxPeckham would be easier to get through but I was wrong! It was a really fun experience overall. 

Why do you feel it is important to “change the face” of fashion?

I feel like fashion is such an instrumental and influential thing to so many people worldwide that everyone deserves to have a figure that they can relate to. For so many years we had a one sided view on how a model should look like and the more diverse the world gets, the more diverse the fashion industry should be too. 

What other fashion figures do you think are instrumental to changing the face of fashion?

Plus size model Felicity Hayward is a brilliant example on a figure changing the face of fashion. It’s important for figures to not just be a face but also a voice for the people they represent. Melanie Elturk is another great example of a fashion figure as she’s not a model but founder of ‘Haute Hijab’ and uses her influencer as a designer and speaker to also ‘change the face of fashion’. 

Who is one of your biggest role models?

It sounds cliche but my mother has always been my role model. She’s taught me confidence from a young age and the ability to juggle work and family life without compromising either one. 

What would you like to say to those that are otherwise not as receptive to what you’re doing?

I’d like to say that whatever it is you do, make sure you are proud of your work. Focus on yourself and let your efforts speak for itself. Good intentions are key to success. 

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