“Africa Made You Rich”: Model Mariah Idrissi Has an Important Message for Everyone

If you haven’t heard about Mariah Idrissi yet, you’re missing out! For those who have been living under a rock the past year: Mariah Idrissi is a 24-year-old model of Moroccan/Pakistani descent born and raised in the UK. Idrissi broke boundaries by being H&M’s first Muslim hijab-wearing model. Recently, she published a video called ‘Africa Made You Rich’. We, at MVSLIM, had the chance to interview her!

Tell us more about yourself – in the unlikely event that people wouldn’t know you
In 2015, I became the world’s first hijab wearing model to feature in a campaign with H&M and to then be signed to Select Model Management, making me the first hijab wearing model to be signed to a modeling agency. I also developed as a public speaker as there was a lot of questioning around my career and interest in my journey becoming a model.

Your modeling career took off with the H&M campaign. Did you expect it would blow up like that?
I had no idea! I thought I wouldn’t even be noticed amongst the other people involved but because it was something that had never been done before it literally just blew up and interested people both in and out of the fashion industry.

The journey I’ve been going through ever since,  has been a real rollercoaster. Initially I had no team, no management, just me trying to figure out what to do next. I am however so grateful that I was pretty much thrown in the deep end because it has really developed my character and my business skills. It has also boosted my confidence to help others in their fields.

Can you tell me more about your life before becoming a public person?
It’s been quite a change but nothing too dramatic in my opinion. I feel because I’m so focussed on my career I don’t take much notice of the attention around me. I am more conscious however of what I say and how I dress etc because of the responsibility I have on my shoulders. Although I wrote poetry and performed as a teenager, I was young and people could see that so there wasn’t that much pressure on me.
How do you combine modeling with your Muslim identity?
Naturally wearing hijab is a part of my identity and so that has always been the way for me as a model. I always have to remind myself that I need to ensure my platform and influence is used for positivity and not vanity. I ensure that I have other areas I work in outside of modelling so there is more substance to what I do as both a woman and a Muslim.
How would you like the fashion industry to develop (for Muslims)?
In my opinion it’s most important for Muslim designers to be involved in the mainstream fashion industry and develop on that. For me it’s about accessibility, many of us love Islamic fashion brands but want the ease of shopping on the high street. I think once this begins to develop more we will see more positive change.
You recently published the video ‘Africa Made You Rich’. What made you want to write the poem?
This is a field that is very special to me as writing and performing poetry has been something I did for many years. My father is Moroccan. I travel to Morocco every year and noticed that the media and other sources often portray Africa negatively. This and other factors inspired me to write a short poem which I actually kept jotted down for a year until I felt that the message needed to be shared. It’s such a relevant time with the political and social climate we’re in.

What’s the message you want to get across?
It’s a message to all. A message to educate those who have been fed this misrepresentation of Africa and a message to empower those who have been misrepresented.

Who/what inspired you to write the poem?
I watched a TEDx talk by Mallence Bart Williams who truly was my inspiration for this poem. She spoke so beautifully and passionately which resonated with me and I had this urge to write a poem reflecting on this.

What did you want to achieve by publishing this video?
I simply want to voice out what I know an what people think and feel but can’t/won’t express. I want to be an example that I am in a field where as a model we’re expected to be seen and not heard and too often our voices are drowned in fear that we may not conform to what is ‘normal’. I also want to educate and empower those who have been affected by the lack of knowledge of Africa as a continent and to almost begin ‘rebranding’ the way Africa has been portrayed for centuries.

What kind of reactions did you get after publishing the video? Did it have an influence on you, your work or your modeling career?
I was actually surprised that up until now I have had no negative feedback. Everyone has been really positive about it. In all honesty I haven’t pushed it out as much as I could have and feel I want it to just organically spread through people’s genuine interest and liking to the message behind it.

What did you expect the impact would be?
I didn’t know what to expect. My followers naturally are mainly interested in fashion and beauty so essentially I was putting out something that would be opening up to an entirely new market.

How/when did you become interested in writing poems?
I started writing stories and poems at a very young age around 6/7 and developed as a spoken word artist when I was 14 with my first performance in front of around 100+ people. I was around a lot of Muslim poets and spoken word artists which really helped develop me not just as a poet for that audience but as a Muslim woman and I’m very thankful to have had such a great circle around me. I’ve always been into creative fields whether it be music/drama/poetry/fashion but it was always a hobby until more recently.

Are the topics you write about always social critical?
I would say yes. I write about areas I’m passionate about or affected by. I ensure I write from the heart and try to be quite literal rather than over complicate my writing style.

Are there any upcoming projects you are working on and that we can look forward to?
With this project around ‘Africa Made You Rich’ I have a some things I am working on for this year and the next. I also featured in a major launch coming out Spring next year to look out for!

Written by Mvslim

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