Brent Housing Partnership Youth Blog

Brought to you by the'Our Say' Magazine Team and BHP Youth Board


November 2015

Model advice from H&M model Mariah Idrissi

Maria Derissy

The Our Say team interviewed Mariah Idrissi, who became H&M’s first hijab wearing model. She also grew up in Brent.

Can you tell us a little about yourself e.g. where you grew up and went to school?

I grew up in Wembley though I live in Queensbury now. I’m 23 and have just graduated this year with a degree in English Literature.

I have mixed Pakistani and Moroccan heritage. I love spoken word poetry. When I was growing up I used to write poetry and rap and my Sunday School teacher, who used to be a rapper, inspired me and encouraged me to perform and do shows. This gave me a lot of confidence.”

How did H&M approach you to be part of their campaign?

A lady I know has a modelling agency and she told me that H&M were looking for a model who wore the hijab because they wanted to show diversity for a campaign they were running and she sent them some photos of me.

Mariah Idrissi 5How did you negotiate not changing the principles of your dress with H&M?

I didn’t have to explain much to them. I just pushed my opinion of what I wanted to wear. It wasn’t because the other options were revealing, it was just a case that “I liked that outfit” so overall it was easy going.

Were you surprised by the reaction to a Muslim woman being part of this campaign?

I was very surprised when the pictures went viral. It was part of a wider campaign on recycled clothing which featured celebrities like David Beckham and Kevin Hart. The campaign wanted to reflect diversity so I expected to be a small part of this.

I didn’t expect it to be a big campaign at all. However, it ended up being huge so that you would walk down Oxford Street and see a great big advert outside the H&M store. I really did not expect that at all.

What inspired you to be a model?

It wasn’t like I always wanted to be a model, it just happened. The H&M thing was supposed to be a one-off campaign. Before they asked me to be part it and H&M were already looking online at the bigger bloggers who wear the hijab but they couldn’t find what they were looking for, and my friend sent them my pictures which they liked and it went from there.

Do you plan to continue the modelling?

I’ve had Muslim designers and even Jewish designers ask me to model their clothes. I also have a manager now who handles all my interviews and he’s been contacting lots of brands telling them that he has this Muslim model and this is what she’s done so far.

However, it’s much more than just about the about the modelling for me; it’s about trying to adapt the modelling world so they take into account more modest dress.

Mariah Idrissi 2I want more modest fashion and wearing the hijab to be more part of mainstream fashion. There’s a big gap between the two, there’s the Muslim world and the mainstream world. It can be hard looking for modest clothes especially in the summer, even a nice skirt could have a slit in it.

I think it’s important to open people’s minds as I have done so many interviews with newspapers and magazines across the world and it’s like they’ve never seen someone wearing a hijab before, they’re so intrigued. Less so in Britain though, people seem more open minded here.

Do you think there is a demand for modest dress in fashion?

There is a demand as many women want modest clothing, and Muslim women are spending billions on fashion globally so companies are realising this and starting to tap into that market.

Mariah Idrissi 4Do you have any advice for young girls who may want to pursue modelling?

The fashion industry is tough- there is lots of competition and agencies stick by height and weight restrictions. However there are other avenues for modelling, it’s not just runway modelling. And I hope that someone like myself who doesn’t fit any of the accepted stereotypes to be a model, can help change things for the future girls who want to be models.

What message would you give to young people to succeed in life?

I would say to make sure you have a goal as I wasn’t as clear when I was younger. I kept changing my subjects and lacked focus. Find a goal and try to stick to it.

By Our Say Team


Tackling homelessness through art

Olugbemi Linda Moronfolu

I’m involved with NCS The Challenge which is a once in a lifetime opportunity for 16 – 17 year olds.

It encourages young adults to help others, immerse themselves in new situations and to take society and others less for granted.

The team I am in on the challenge, Sabesan, were fortunate enough to be paired with Café Art as a community partner. This is a non-government funded organisation that tries to tackle homelessness in a unique, creative and inspiring way. People who have been affected by homelessness are given the opportunity to express themselves through the medium of art. This concept may seem ludicrous – homeless people need homes!

Where does art come into the picture? However, art can change a life.
We met David who became homeless after a series of health problems and hardships. He developed depression and tried to kill himself more than 10 times. Through selling and making art, David was able to get his life back on track.

We live in a society where victim blaming is prominent. We believe that people get what they deserve. The homeless person who you always see in the park must have brought their homelessness on themselves, probably through drugs. However, we need to step away from that stigma. People become homeless for several of reasons such as mental and health issues as well as injury – none of us are immune to those factors, some of us are just lucky.

We are all human so why should homeless people be segregated by our society?

To create more awareness of homelessness, we have decided to fundraise for Café Art on the Saturday 28 November. We will be on a store in Spitalfields Market between the Giraffe and Canteen. Please attend to show your support.

Coming together on this day shows that we are one as a team and that our human rights matter.

Olugbemi Linda Moronfolu

Interview with Andre Anderson and Nathaniel Tenemaque, writers of ‘Authors of the Estate’

Andre Anderson interview group pic

Andre Anderson, a young graphic designer and writer and Nathaniel Tenemaque, writer and recent post-graduate in Urban Studies from University College London were part of a collective of young authors who wrote ‘Authors of the Estate.’ They spoke to ‘Our Say about their inspiration and aims for the book.

What is the ‘Authors of the Estate’ about?

A group of young people who live St Raphael’s Estate wanted to create something that would change people’s perceptions about the estate.

A few of us had written books before and knew the process of writing and publishing a book. We felt that writing a book for the residents of the estate as well as outside the neighbourhood would help change negative perceptions about the local area.

We were keen to create a ‘passport’ for those who lived on the estate, a ‘passport’ in the sense that we believed that by creating something you become free, and we were creating a ‘passport’ which would take residents anywhere they wanted to go. There were no boundaries and no limits.

Where did the idea come from?

We always had the idea to do something creative on the estate, to bring people together and make a difference. The book was published a year later and it all came together when we received funding from Starbucks Youth Action who were thrilled about the project.

Why did you choose the name ‘Authors of the Estate?’

The word author and the word authority have the same root meaning. As a matter of fact, the word ‘author’ in Latin is a term to describe someone who is a creator, a master, an enlarger and a sustainer. So when we say that we are the Authors of the Estate, we are not just saying that we are simply writers. We are saying we are the creators, masters, enlargers and sustainers of the estate. Those who rule are those who write.

How would you encourage the youth of today to achieve their goals?

We would say that young people should never stop creating because when you create something you have something tangible to show for your time. It also helps you to express yourself and gives you a sense of fulfilment.

Young people should also do what they love rather than being driven by shallow goals such as money. When you truly love what you are doing, you will be successful. It will also give you that drive and motivation to get up in the mornings.

How successful has the book been so far?

We have been interviewed on various media including BBC Radio 4. Starbucks advertised the book for us by having posters in Starbucks coffee shops across London. The book has also been gathering interest abroad. We created a short film about the book and posted this online and have gained a lot of interest on social media and we have created an ‘Authors of London’ Facebook page.

You can request a copy of the book through “Authors of London” website.

By Our Say Team

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