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Using Fashion to Fight Oppression | Makeup Musings with Hawwaa Ibrahim

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Hawwaa Ibrahim is a self-taught fashion designer, blogger, and activist. They started off via YouTube when they were just twelve years old and from there, grew themself and their brand with the goal of standing for those whose voices need to be heard. You can find them on Instagram and hellohawwaa.com.

Was there a moment in time when you realized you were a creator/maker/artist aka you?

That moment was when I was twelve and made my first ever skirt from my mother’s old hijabs. It was the worst thing on the planet, because it cost basically nothing. I could wear it around town and even though that might not have been such a great idea, I felt so powerful because it came from my own hands.

Is there a relationship between your identity (queer/gender/ethnicity/otherwise) and the work you make?

I think that me being an African American, a Muslim, and gender non-binary on top of that and having to hide so much of myself in my household and even at school (when I was attending High School), it led me to a push my fashion and designs into something that represented how I felt on the inside. I always feel like I’m also pushing for something that people are going to look twice at or question because they’ll do it based off of my appearance and I’d rather it be that instead.

What do you want the beauty/fashion world to look like in 10 years?

In 10 years, I would love for this “male” and “female” label on any and everything we create or do to be demolished. I know that may be asking for a lot, but makeup is makeup—who cares if a boy is wearing it. Fashion is fashion. There shouldn’t be this whole “menswear looks like this” and “womenswear looks like this." To me, it’s exhausting and unnecessary. It should be: “They’re doing something they love and wearing something they want to."

What is inspiring to you right now — other makers/artists/musicians/ideas/cultural trends?

I will be honest, I’m kind of lost with my inspiration right now. It may just be because I have been so busy with other things, but I really haven’t had time to go in depth about it. I have been thinking a lot about how Marina and the Diamonds has been rebranding herself and Yara Shahidi has been on my mind a lot because she’s such a hardworking woman, but I’ll continue to see where my thoughts takes me.

Being a fashion designer means that you are making items for people to wear when they chose to take on the world, sort of like armor, and the pieces you make seem to be filtered through sunshine and rainbows. Why is abundant happiness and positivity so prevalent in your work?

My work often seems to have sometimes obnoxious amounts of color in them because I honestly look around in the world and see these constant horrors and trouble with race, religion, gender, government, or whatever else and it makes everything seem so dark. It makes me feel dark in the inside too. I think that it’s important to put as much positivity out there as possible so, with all the color, I figured it would make at least one person smile in these dark times.

Hawwaa wearing blue lip

You talk a lot about modest fashion and I know it's something that you feel strongly about and we'd love to understand it more. What does modest fashion mean to you and what would you like the world to understand about those who chose to dress modestly?

Modest fashion is very important to me because of my religion, which is Islam. A lot of women, and even men, I believe, chose to dress modestly, which is to show little to no skin, for self-preservation and religious purposes, even outside of the religion as well, so I really admire those who continue to do so amid all of the chaos and prejudice in the world. I will say, I’m not the best when it comes to modest fashion. Some days I will dress in such a way and other days I stray completely. I’ve gotten a ton of backlash for that, but it’s what I like. Something Muslims and even non-Muslims need to understand is that the way someone dresses is their own personal satisfaction and there’s absolutely no room for anyone to judge because they’re not dressing the way they think they should be dressing.

What is the best color eyebrow look you've ever pulled off?

Definitely blue! I have tried many a color, but I always end up going back to blue. I think the color just fits my skin tone the best even though it’s not my personal favorite color.  Purple is a very close second.

Who are your fashion/beauty icons? Whose look inspires you?

I really love, and everyone gets annoyed when I say this, Marina and the Diamonds. After five years of being obsessed with her, I always find myself looking to her for outfit inspiration or design inspiration. I say, “what would Marina do?” Which is actually kind of weird now that I think about it. Her album “Electra Heart” is one I always look to because of the vintage style it has which is something I usually incorporate into my life, but “Family Jewels” is just the album that really hits home.

What was your first “makeup moment” and what do you wear today?

My first “makeup moment”, if I’m understanding this correctly, was the first time putting it on. I went all out with shitty blue eyebrows, rhinestones, and heavy eyeshadow with the inspiration of a clown in mind. Today, I think I’ve taken that first look and just ran with it. It’s kind of bad, but when I do my makeup I’m like, “it needs more”. Some say it’s too much, but I say it’s never enough. The colorful looks I do with my makeup also translate into my outfits.

If you could have one thing at your school, Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) what would it be?

I would appreciate more acceptance from the students and even the faculty of people from different backgrounds. Whether it’s race, religion, and honestly even financially. I think that people assume that because FIT is in the middle of the city, everyone is so understanding and inclusive, but from my first year there, that has not been the case. I think they don’t push for it well enough and it’s mentioned here and there, but my time there, unfortunately, has been rather isolated because of those things. Maybe it’s me?

Tell us about an exciting and/or new work/project/thing you’re working on; how did it originate? How is it related to other work you’ve done? What is next for you? Do you have any hopes, dreams, plans you are excited about?

Right now, and all the pieces and designs aren’t together yet, but I’m working on a blog/instagram series where I take different social concepts such as status, race, religion, identity, and so on, write about them, and then create individual designs with my interpretation of those ideas to go along with the writing. My main goal is to show how my view on these ideas may vary from someone else’s views. I think that doing this would be a perfect gateway to my new goals for my personal life and designs and hopefully start up a conversation.