Young People in Business: A sewing machine and a design dream
Many of us have experienced that feeling of dread, sitting at a desk under the crushing weight of an unfulfilling 9-5, while your dreams are placed on the back burner to catch dust and wither away.
Would you have the courage to leave a job behind to bring those dreams into reality?
Mahdiyyah Muhammad did.
The 29-year-old designer walked away from the desk, took her rightful place behind her sewing machine and has been living a life of contentment ever since, creating pieces that keep jaws dropping and heads swinging where ever she goes.
Her decision to step onto the entrepreneurial path as a designer was brewing from the time she was a little girl. The self-taught, New Jersey based creative has been dabbling in design from age eight, using whatever scraps of cloth she could find around the home to deck out her dolls in stunning pieces. By age 10, she started to sew on her own after watching her mother hem a pair of her older brother’s pants by hand.
Mahdiyyah’s creative spirit blew her onto the shores of Barbados for an inspiration trip, where she has been using the City's streets, bars and restaurants as her own personal runway to showcase her work.
Loop caught up with Mahdiyyah for an interview to learn about her switch from PR rep to designer and get a first-hand look at her authentic designs.
Loop News: What was the ‘ahha’ moment when you knew that designing would be your craft?
Mahdiyyah: I’ve been designing since the age of 8, starting with creating my doll clothes from whatever scraps laying around the house I could find. I started sewing when I was about 10 years old after watching my mother hem a pair of my older brother’s pants by hand. At that moment I knew I wanted to keep it going. I started to tear out pictures of fashion I would see in the magazines, and tape it up on my wall. Then I created a portfolio using an old photo album, disposable camera, and magazine tear outs. At this point I couldn’t tell you exactly what I would be doing in Fashion, I just knew I was drawn to it creatively.
LN: How did you transition into life as an entrepreneur?
M: The early stages were mostly me creating and designing from 6pm-5am with the security of a 9am-5pm job. I worked in public relations for a few years and would wear my designs to the office and to events. Everyone who truly knows me knew that I was still designing and sewing, just not turning a profit from it. I was building my confidence up I guess. One day I decided to use social media to share an outfit I designed, and the response I received catapulted my courage to share more and then eventually start taking custom orders. Before I knew it, I was taking custom orders, designing merchandise, and creating a sewing program for the youth.
Designer Mahdiyyah Muhammad
LN: Was there any resistance from your family or friends when you decided to pursue a non-academic career choice?
M: When I presented the idea to my mother, I put together an actual pitch for her. She appreciated the effort but told me that fashion wasn’t lucrative, and was too fickle an industry for me to put all my eggs into that basket. She was worried that I would go that direction with no plan B. She told me if it was an interest that I should at least get my degree in something that I could fall back on just in case. This response was of course not what I wanted to hear but I did as I was told and went to a University to pursue a degree in English with the intent to follow that up with law or something. Majoring in English came easy to me because I already loved to read, was a poet, and enjoyed writing short stories but in the back of my mind I knew I was supposed to be focusing that energy into my passion.
LN: How would you describe your fashion style?
M: I’d describe it with the words onion or cake. Lol it’s layered and never one way. Tuesday you might see me in a tracksuit and nice kicks, Thursday I’ll have on all black with a pop of color lip, Friday I’ll have on a Jersey dress, Friday night a jacket that sweeps the floor with ankle boots with a 5 inch heel, Saturday I’ll have on a geometric print paint suit and oxfords, and Sunday I might have on a Canadian tuxedo. It varies to say the least. I don’t have a uniform or one way of adorning my body. It’s whatever I feel that day or that hour honestly. I’m inspired by just about everything so my style is ever changing. The key for me is style, functionality, and comfort.
LN: What are some of the shows/events where your designs have been featured?
M: The National Action Network Convention Fashion Show, the Roots HowardU Fashion Show, and a short list of others as I’ll be looking to do more events this year. I’ve been featured on News12 Brooklyn, BlacknFashion Podcast, Lookvine, LoveArtGroup, Come Chat Wid Me TV, Product of Society, and The Hultian to name some. Looking forward to expanding my network more this year as well.
LN: Is there a particular fashion piece that you are proud of? What was the inspiration for it?
M: Yes, this gold armor suit I created. I was planning to go to a masquerade party, ordered a gold chain mask, and decided to purchase a fabric that was similar to a plastic but gold metallic. The fabric was so stiff I wasn’t sure how I would shape it to fit. I had never done a bustier before so this was a first. I used my dress form and one of my bras to mold and create the top, and then did the pants. It took me about 2-3 days to complete but it was well worth it.
LN: The fashion industry is often thought to be very competitive, how do you survive and set yourself apart from your peers?
M: I believe the industry or art form you practice can only be considered competitive or cut throat if you are involved in a certain aspect of it. I view my competition as myself moving from one level to the next and my own personal challenges on this journey. Unlike most designers, my process does not involve sketch, pattern making, or using cad illustrator. I envision a design in my head, go to the fabric store and then cut and sew. In a way, that does set me a part from most designers. My process is solely about vision.
LN: Have you drawn any design inspiration during your vacation to Barbados?
M: Most definitely. I am surrounded everyday by nature, colors, sounds, and culture. These aspects help motivate me to try varying color palettes and fabrics, in addition to researching the Fashion culture here in Barbados. My plans while here are to connect with the fashion and art network, contribute to the community, and learn as much as I could about Barbados history. I like to represent this in my work.
Mahdiyyah intends to capitalize on all opportunities to grow her craft and her business in 2020. To stay in the loop with her work, check out her website mahdiyyah.co and follow her on Instagram @mahdiyyahofficial