By SPECIWOMEN Photography MELISSA NELSON
Who are you?
My name is Hawwaa Ibrahim. I am a Non-Binary, Queer, Muslim fashion designer, writer, and activist. I began using my art and designs to inspire females, males, and everyone in between. My goal is to show the world that being different is okay through my distinct, out of the box designs and through my writing, which I use to share my thoughts and experiences with others. I wholeheartedly advocate for inclusivity amongst all genders, orientations, races, and religions and hope to use my art as a gateway for more equality in the world.
When did your interest in fashion come about?
The idea of being a fashion designer really came to me around the age of twelve. I was schooled online from home and I had a lot of free time on my hands, so I started watching YouTube videos which mostly consisted of DIYs. From there, they slowly transitioned into sewing tutorials. After discovering that people could make a living creating clothes, I immediately knew that this was something that I was going to try my hardest to make a career out of, so I taught myself how to sew.
What sparked the beginning of your career/studies as a designer?
I think what really sparked it was my first trip to New York City. I had heard before that it is one of the fashion capitals of the world, so my only thought was to go there and check it out for myself. I worked a fast food job for a month until I was able to save up enough money for the plane ticket and I took my first journey there the summer of 2015. I was about 16 years old. It was my first ever plane ride and one I had taken by myself. I think seeing all the diversity in New York within clothing choice and culture really opened my eyes to all of the things that were possible through expressing yourself via fashion. I had heard that the Fashion Institute of Technology was one of the greatest fashion schools in the world, so I was determined to attend once I graduated high school. And I did!
Describe your aesthetic in six words.
Whimsical, fun, colorful, offbeat, confusing, and extraordinary.
What inspires your brand?
The main thing that has always seemed to inspire my brand is childhood. Any concept that may remind someone of childhood, I really like to incorporate that into my designs. For example, when I did a collection inspired by dolls. I want to bring innocence into adulthood and remind people that it is okay to show your vulnerable and soft side even when you are older. Expressing yourself is one of the most important parts of life and I do that through my designs. How do you do it?
Who are some designers you’d like to work with?
I really admire Jeremy Scott and the Moschino brand, so working with them would be a dream come true. My main focus right now is to get as much experience as I can with smaller brands or designers. I feel like you can learn a lot more about the ins and outs of the fashion industry working with smaller brands, and you have a better possibility of working your way up in a smaller business.
Now, who are three designers—or trends—you think are overrated?
In no way do I want to come out and bash another designer, brand, or trend... but personally, Supreme, Gucci, and Biker Shorts need to settle down a bit.
What about designing is most liberating for you? What sets it apart from other artistic forms?
For me, I find the liberation in having something you’ve created and spent all this time on just draped over someone else's body. Seeing it move and come to life is just so fulfilling. Fashion is like art in motion and can go so far with other people.
How has your experience of gender shaped your work? How do you find gender functions in the fashion world?
About a year ago, I came out as non-binary due to my personal views on what gender means to me. However, I am still assigned female at birth, and I have found that a lot of the time the reactions I get from the work I do are usually, “you’re so mature for your age”. I suppose it is meant to be a compliment, but to me, it really just implies that other women or GNCs my age are nothing of the sort, or that it’s out of the ordinary for me to get things done. In addition to that, whenever I am being assertive in what I want or need from someone, say at an event or fashion show, my needs are often completely overlooked and overshadowed as opposed to a male’s needs. Like I am second class. I can never really pinpoint if these reactions I receive are because of my biological gender, or if it also has something to do with my race as well. Being a black American, I have definitely had my fair share of racist encounters.
How can we buy your designs?
If anyone is interested in a custom design from me or purchasing any samples I’ve designed in the past, all they must do is contact me via my website www.hellohawwaa.com and I would be more than happy to help out. I like to make sure people have one of a kind pieces that suit them the best, while still maintaining my design aesthetic. We all need a little piece of ourselves in the fashion we wear.
Follow Hawwaa’s work here.