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Shahira Yusuf: Meet the black British Muslim model with big ideas

Shahira Yusuf: Meet the black British Muslim model with big ideas
From Al Jazeera - April 6, 2018

"I ai not no kendall jenner but I am a black muslim girl from east london that's about to finesse the modelling industry".

Those are the words of atweet penned in November last year by Shahira Yusuf, known in the fashion world only as Shahira, that has been shared almost 60,000 times.

At 20 years old and standing tall at 5'11, the Londoner is one of a handful of Muslim models who proudly wears the hijab as she sashays down the runway.

In recent years, model agencies have recruited a few young, visibly Muslim women in a bid to both capitalise on the Muslim market and to increase diversity on the catwalk.


Shahira's turn came when she was 17, when she was approached in the streets of London bySarah Doukas, thefounder of Storm Model Management, an agency which represents some of the world's most recognisable faces.

Al Jazeera spoke to Shahira, who has Somali origins, about the moment she was discovered, her concerns about the world and why she does not resent labels.

On the meaning behind that viral tweet ...

"I get asked this very frequently, and I understand it can be interpreted in different ways.

But the tweet simply meant, I am not a model that comes from a tremendously successful, nor privileged background, but I am a Black Muslim that is going to take the industry by storm."

On representation in the fashion industry ...

"I do feel that the fashion industry has made some changes, but I do not think it'd be right to conclude 'Yes! Tthe fashion industry is representative!' just because improvements have been made.

I do believe that an effort is being made, especially in recent times, though there's a lot more that can be done.

Equal representation of models of different ethnic and religious backgrounds is about being completely inclusive. You should not pick and choose when to be inclusive.

In my personal opinion, I feel like there's more representation within mainstream fashion than high-end fashion. And you often see the drastic differences in campaigns or runway shows.

For me, equal representation of models of different ethnic and religious backgrounds is about being completely inclusive. You should not pick and choose when to be inclusive, it should be something that's a no-brainer and always done. Unfortunately, something that's so easy to do, is not practised to the degree that it should be. It should be a norm, not a trend.

On being discovered ...

"I was scouted at the age of 17 by the founder of Storm Model Management, Sarah Doukas. I was with a friend just casually strolling down the streets of central London, and Sarah must have tapped me on the shoulder and asked me some questions, such as if I modelled, ever considered modelling, and if I wanted to.

I was very confused, it all happened so fast but I remember at the time saying I was not really interested.

On whether labels should be resented or celebrated ...

On concerns about the world ...

I could not label the entire nation racist, but heck, no one can deny that the West has been built upon imperialism, colonisation and slavery.

On racism in Britain ...

On whether models should be role models ...

On the future ...

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