Asmah Mansur-Williams is a Nigerian visual creative and student living in the UK. Her works gravitates towards exploring the subconscious of her mind as evident from her intricate collages and image reimagination. She also shares with her audience her personal style which subtly seeks to break the stereotypes associated with Modest Fashion.
I got a chance to chat with Asmah about her style, being a Muslim woman and her visual work. Check out the interview below.
Bilphena: What has the process been like evolving into your own style?
Asmah: I think it has just been an evolving process for me. Not until very recently did I start noticing my style patterns and studying the business of clothes. I think understanding what clothes mean to me and how I can use a piece of clothing to create an expression has been a major factor in getting comfortable with my style.
My parents have also definitely been a huge factor in my aesthetic choice. It's all in the little things that I never really notice. Growing up, my dad for instance, would never be seen without a crisp ironed outfit and that has unconsciously resonated in me. Now, I would never leave home without steamed clothes. It’s those simple things.
Bilphena: How do you represent yourself through your style?
Asmah: It’s actually funny because with everything else, I am very quiet and my life is almost mundane but with my clothings, there is a lot of expression going on. It's almost as if my clothings own my being and I’ve just submitted wholly to that.
I also know a lot of people expect Muslim girls to dress in a certain way and tick peculiar boxes but I knew I didn’t want to fit in that spectrum so for me expressing myself as individually as I can helps me break from that stereotype as well.
I don’t know if I’ve successfully transitioned Into my ideal style, I still think there’s a lot about myself I want to learn that will inevitably transcend into my style. My style is mine and when someone looks at me, I want it to say ’this is what I am giving you, myself through this expression’.
Bilphena: in addition to being a stylista you're also a visual creator. as the child of nigerian parents, how has the process of choosing this path been?
Asmah: I picked up a lot of things from my parents. I don’t know if my Nigerian background has necessarily influenced my creative path but growing up with my parents definitely have. I’d actually never hinted at being a visual creator. I did love writing but that was probably about it. My mum would always say now though ‘it's always been in you’. I guess Nigeria as a culture is restricted regardless of your family background, the educational system is almost philistine and I never really discovered my innate passion for creating until I moved to the UK.
My parents are still in Nigeria so every once a while, I’ll send pictures of my works or outfits. My mum is my biggest fan, she’s always longing to see what I wear next so while I post something on Instagram, I should be sure to send one as well to her.
I wouldn’t say I’m fully satisfied with choosing a creative path just yet. I study something completely different to the arts, a marketing course and ultimately post university, I’ve realised I’ll have to fight for my place in the creative field, so that’s still a major challenge to come.
Bilphena: What advice would you give to other children of immigrant / african parents who are straying away from being a lawyer or doctor and going into a more creative path?
Asmah: I think the most important thing is the passion- Find a medium to conveniently share your work, to engage with an audience. The biggest lesson I’m teaching myself as someone who is also building a niche creatively is to share with the world. Open up any parts of yourself you are comfortable with letting others see. Seek opportunities. Let your work teach you about yourself. Be open to vulnerability. Be honest to yourself and what you share. Forget the mere numbers. Regard the substance in the numbers. Hold on to faith at least as I am. Notice the patterns and the pieces will eventually fall in.
Bilphena:As someone who wears a hijab, how do you use your personal style to dispel common narratives about muslim women.
Asmah: I wear the Hijab and I think it's important for people to feel highly confident in their appearance. I’ve had my fair share of struggles with wearing the Hijab and dressing a certain way to fit in or making the Hijab look ‘cool’. I’ve also noticed that with a lot of other young Muslim girls, who necessarily want to make a statement about dispelling the ideals of Muslim fashion and sometimes I get really sad because all I see is girls trying too hard. You can’t blame them. A girl walks into a room wearing a hijab and all anyone will judge on first is that piece of clothing so she tries to make herself more than the Hijab. I believe Modest fashion can be as exploratory and expressive as any other, that is my primary aim when addressing myself with my Hijab.
Bilphena: How do you navigate the stereotypes that comes with wearing a Hijab and how that may conflict with your own personal style
Asmah: People are easily judgemental when you wear the Hijab and for me dressing in an expressive way was my way to ease pass those judgements and set a pace for myself. I’m constantly seeing myself where I want to be and dressing in a certain way is slowly opening up the ideals to me.
I never want to feel like because I wear the Hijab, I am limited to opportunities. I have been limited to opportunities, whether or not it's due to my appearance is questionable. But in my own little bubble, I use clothes to set myself apart.
Bilphena: How do you think we can begin building the confidence of Muslim women who are interested in the fashion industry?
Asmah: There is a lot of confidence that comes when you wear clothings that resonates with you and for some Muslim girls, that confidence is still far fetched. Its no secret that as a Muslim girl, to get fully recognized and respected especially in the West, you need some kind of authority. My personal style is my authority.
For me, it's also about creating opportunities for Muslim girls and myself to realise dreams in any industry including fashion as far-fetched as that may seem. I am currently working on my final project in University and researching into the influence of religious identity on fashion choices, the findings of that research will hopefully be beneficial to brands in recognising Muslim girls as fashion influencers as with any other. I’m still looking for opportunities, a million and one things are constantly running through my head in how I can create a bigger opportunity for Muslim girls to express themselves comfortably through style.
Bilphena: when you get dressed, do you have a certain story in mind that you are trying to convey or are you spontaneous in your choices?
Asmah: I’ve always had a deep feelings for cloths - fabrics, textures, I have an unhealthy desire for my clothes to speak for me and because I am quite withdrawn, I leave it all to my clothes to express all the emotions for me, poor things!
I think of clothes as a living form, I always have and I tell myself each day, what emotions do I want my clothes to convey today because I believe its more than just making a statement or clothing as a basic human need. I try to experiment a lot, each time asking myself what I want to see in a particular garment, what form I want to fabric to take. My clothing choices really depends from day to day, because I am in full time education, rushing up for a 9am or impromptu group meetings means it's a spontaneous choice but even in that spontaneity, is a lot of careful deliberation based on my emotions, I rarely leave home in something I’d rather not wear or I’m not comfortable in
I believe wholly in the saying ‘dress the way you want to addressed’, I see life as what you put on and it works for me. I’m trying hard to be my own person and my dressing reflects just that - that is my way to be addressed.
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