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Sarah Abshir takes on the modelling world

Sarah Abshir takes on the modelling world

Sarah has us all mesmerised with her ability to demand the attention of a camera lens from all angles, which is recognised by many brands that want to work with her. Sarah has worked with brands like The Body Shop, New Look and recently featured in the #Second Skin Campaign for Pretty Little Thing. You have probably seen her face whilst casually walking through stores, or in your favourite artists music video. She has broken boundaries that should have been broken a very long time ago. Sarah sits at the forefront of the rise in representation of racial and religious diversity within the UK’s fashion industry and beyond.

A young Somali model who is demanding space for other modest models across the UK to be included, dispelling outdated and Islamophobic Western ideologies. Sarah is amongst many Black Muslim models like Iman, Halima Aden and Shahira Yusuf, her work showcases her vibrant personality and the multitude of talent she possesses, which is most evident when observing her portfolio.


What does it feel like be a Hijabi model featured in a Pretty Little Thing Campaign? 

I am not the first modest model for pretty little thing but to be one of the first modest models for certain brands is amazing. although I don’t wear a hijab day to day now but growing up wearing a hijab every day and not seeing that representation it can really affect, your perception of beauty, especially when all you’re seeing is western standard of beauty. Hence highlighting modest beauty within fashion is essential not only for the culture but for anyone growing up within these communities to see themselves on websites and in magazines. And for me to be that person it’s overwhelming. 

Where do you see yourself in terms of modelling in 5 years’ time?

My biggest dream would be to be on the cover of a magazine and walk into a shop and see my lil ole face on the cover. Also, would love to do more work with brands like Stussy or Carhartt even Fred Perry. But In terms of behind the scenes I will hopefully by the next five years have directed my own projects creatively which focus on highlighting beauty in different cultures starting with my own as a Somali. 


 Growing up as a Black girl in Britain, many of us quickly came to realise that our love relationship with the fashion and modelling industry was unrequited. There have been many discussions about the impacts of white beauty standards pushed by the industry. However, this conversation is often very one dimensional and rarely goes into the psychological impacts on young Black British girls and Black British Womxn. This is a topic I visited once before in University. I used my research methodology assignment to explore the psychological harm that the modelling industry has had on Black women over history, and how it influences how we are treated in society today. It Is important when addressing the underrepresentation of Black women in the fashion industry, that we also recognise the sexualisation, caricatures and animalisation portrayals of Black women in the media. Which has undoubtedly played a part in developing dangerous stereotypes and inaccurate perceptions of Black women. 


What do you think the industry needs to do differently to create more space for women like yourself?

There’s a lot that the industry can do to make space not only for people and women like me but for all types of individuals and just to diversify in general. In basic terms this is how I see it if you’re going to be a company who produces clothes or accessories to sell to a variety of consumers, you now have an obligation to showcase those items on people who are a microcosm of the current society. To name a few that includes curve females and male, the physically impaired and modest individuals. 

Like Chidera Eggerue once said, when you have to quote the work of women with the lived experiences you are trying to emulate, you should just pass the mic. And this can be applied the same for the fashion industry. When you have to create mood boards and study the Black aesthetic, in order to repackage it into what you believe, is palatable for mainstream media then you lose its authenticity…

When you consistently see one type of beauty standard it can cause you to question whether you are beautiful. A culture of undervaluing the work of Black women and cloaking black aesthetics onto others who were never apart of the culture to begin with negatively impacts how we see ourselves. So, seeing models who are apart of marginalised groups being represented within media, creates a sense of comfort in knowing that the little girls who come after us will grow up in a world where they no longer have to wish to look like barbie. Instead, they will grow up to look at posters and be proud of their skin, proud of their hair, their features, their Hijab, their religion because they see people like themselves. 


What kind of shoots do you want to do in the future, and what brands are you hoping to work with one day?

I would love to work with Fenty Rihanna is an absolute icon and I adore all the products and the message of the brand. Also, would love to do streetwear brands because I feel like when it comes to female hijabi girls that’s a section of the fashion industry that lacks representation.


As a marketer I understand how important it is to find the right agencies to represent you, being a part of the boardrooms and sitting in on meetings I understand how these companies discuss people and the modelling industry can be quite comparable to the influencer industry in this sense. When companies are very transactionally orientated, it can create unfair and unethical instances for those in the creative industry. When people are seen merely as an opportunity, managers and agents can often forget the personal requirements and beliefs of their clients. We hear way too often, cases of creatives waiting months in order to be paid for their freelance work. Which creates a culture of underpaying creatives for their talent and time. It very easy for people to request the work from others but when it comes to paying these same people, they are very quiet. 

Social media companies like Instagram can be a big help in finding models and people who are now the faces of major campaigns, and Sarah can say the same. Her Talent was recognised and embraced by platforms like instagram. With Instagram’s infrastructure hosting a team of talent spotters and talent embracers, many agencies recognise the power of the digital space. Traditionally casting calls were sent out and models would arrive in person, but the utilisation of the digital yellow pages, which is social media platforms like instagram, YouTube and twitter, it is now much easier to identify who has the spark. The modelling industry has now expanded and no longer has room for brands like Victoria secret who refuse to represent the everyday womxn. 

Social media has also given content creators the ability to create and share their work with the world, with small town individuals delivering content that competes with the big brands. Small content creators can no longer be suffocated out of the industry by the larger companies; instead, the internet has created an arena for so many people to shine and its great (besides the shitty and ever changing instagram algorithms). 


When and how did you get into modelling?

I got into modelling during my third year of uni. I kind of fell into it and really it all started with me getting a message from my now Agent on Instagram. I never thought I could be a model in any way shape or form, just from looking at the requirements that were kind of needed to be a model at the Time i.e., height. But I do believe everything happens for a reason and although I never thought I’d be in the position I am right now I wouldn’t change it for the world, and I enjoy every second of it.  


London is full of diversity and talent as the buzzing creative hub of the UK, there is huge competition when it comes to snapping up the best agency but it’s important to look beyond an agencies portfolio and identify whether they are beneficial for you as an individual. The biggest career benefactor anybody needs to have is a supportive foundation, an agency that is going to recognise the unique talents and capabilities you have, understand your ambitions and find the right jobs that fit you like a glove. 

Many institutionally racist, ableist, transphobic and homophobic agencies still holding their prestigious crowd, but it isn’t long before they become the next Victoria’s Secret as consumer consciousness continues to increase. Now newer agencies are removing the lids of structural boundaries, workplace micro-aggressions and pay gaps that marginalised creatives have faced in comparison to their white counterparts, and are not only demanding for more, but proving that it is attainable.  


A lot of people struggle with finding the right agency; how was your experience and what is the most important factors to consider when selecting the right modelling agency?

Firstly, before you’re signed to an agency You always have a meeting, and this is the time where you state what you are comfortable with and what you’re not. If it doesn’t feel right don’t do it. With me I was signed to another agency before and it wasn’t working both ways which is why I left. I wouldn’t recommend modelling to anyone who doesn’t know who they are. But my current agency Nevs are so transparent with me and always check before booking anything If I’m comfortable with it, so in that sense I always know what I’ve signed up for.  But before you apply or sign a contract you should deffo do research and even look at their current model boards and chat to either ex models or current ones who they work with. 

However, whilst growing, the modelling industry is still an unregulated place, some models are left to negotiate with brands behind the scenes, or sometimes assisted by agencies but sometimes there is little transparency in the common wage for models working on the same projects or campaigns. The pay gap is a big issue in the creative industry, with models and influencers only realising when they are on set that they are being underpaid in comparison to their counterparts. There have been efforts made by people like Adesuwa Ajayi, who created the influencer Pay Gap page in order to overcome the lack of transparency. 

Who and what inspires you in your work?

Sounds cliche but my mum, because there were a lot of times where I got lost in the sauce and she patterned me really quick with some tough love. She wasn’t really a fan of the modelling at the beginning so Her constant reminder to not let other people lead me astray always rings in my ear when I do shoots. Although at the beginning it did fall on deaf ears. I started very rocky, but I feel like now more than ever specially with the modest modelling I feel at peace and coming back to my culture and religion.


Nicole Lloyd
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