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.
How 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.
I 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.
Do 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