On the first part of our interview with Halima Umm Zackariya, founder of UK's 1st Muslim women modeling agency, WWAGS, a creative company established in 2010, we discussed the business aspect of WWAGS--you may read it here. In our second part, it is all about the Muslim woman and how WWAGS defines modeling and balances it with faith. She also answers the question of 'What does it take to be a Muslim woman model?'
WWAGS founder, Halima Umm Zackariya's background experience includes six years in the merchandising and styling industry with recognized stores such as the British multinational retailer Marks and Spencer. WWAGS has two main purposes; specialized assistance with visual merchandising, styling, Point of Sale and photography for businesses and it serves as a modeling agency with an image therapy project option in partnership with the Women’s Consortium, a counseling therapy charity organization based in London. WWAGS offers various types of modeling such as fashion/catwalk, commercial, catalog, petite, plus size and classic.
What inspired you to open the 1st Muslim women Model Agency in the UK?
“It was something I felt was missing in the industry. Over the past few years the modest wear market has evolved and developed rapidly and I felt there was a key relevant component missing; the correct ways or means of advertising for modest wear companies.
I realized from my experiences at organizing fashion shows that the modeling agency was much needed; sisters enjoyed it so much so they wished there was more available. I started doing styling and photo shoots and rather than using non-Muslim woman I decided to use Muslim woman because the ultimately target market are the Muslim women who are going to be wearing these clothes, so why not have them modeling them? I quickly realized that there are many sisters(Muslim woman) available for modeling and are actually very good at it; for them it's an excellent avenue to express their talents too.”
Why do you think there is a need for Muslim women models?
“Absolutely, the Muslim women are focusing on fashion more and the rise of abayas companies, hijab sales and modest wear have increased rapidly. A new generation of hijab-wearers are tapping into current trends and are fusing fashion with faith. So I do firmly believe in women expressing themselves in the garments they choose to wear for the sake of Allah. Who better to represent the modest wear garments than Muslim women themselves?”
Islam has always had friction with the terms ‘fashion’ and ‘models’. Were you nervous on the reaction of people prior to launching?
“No, not at all. I don’t actually think things through thoroughly before doing them. I take things as they come. If I have an idea, I do it. As long as I do not bend the rules of faith I do it. Why should I be nervous of what people think unless I am doing something wrong? Right! There are a lot of people that disagree, however you cannot please everyone and our level of faith as individuals is very different to one another.”
How do you keep the balance between religion, fashion and modeling for WWAGS?
“Alhamdulillah(All Praise Belongs To God), I actually work part time in an Islamic book shop and Shari’ah council in the heart of London. It is my safe haven, my sanctuary, my treasure chest, my life! I find the balance to be quite easy as I feel I do everything centered around my deen(religion). I do not like to keep anything separate. It is my way of life, it’s something I never have to punch out from or relax on rather I focus on what’s important and everything else just miraculously falls into place as, my deen, my religion is what drives me to do all that I do creatively.”
I guess this is the Million Dollar(or Euros) question that some Muslim women are asking themselves right now: What does it take to be a Muslim woman model?
“Confidence. That is all it takes in my opinion. The projects, photo shoots and catwalks I do for WWAGS, I like to use women of all heights, sizes, colors etc. I hate being restricted to using one type of woman. I do however have clients that choose to use the size 8 models who are 5’8 etc, and there is nothing wrong with that. They are still beautiful women MashaAllah(As God has willed), but I believe all women should shine. There are so many models on the data base that are less than 5’5’’ and plus size which is a ‘no-go’ with the western industry, however I personally do not believe in discriminating my sisters and love shooting with all walks of life!”
How does mainstream modeling differ from Muslim modeling?
“We don’t abuse our models for one! We like to keep our girls happy. The main reason for starting the modeling agency was to help women build their confidence more and as I said shine.”
What are the qualifications your agency looks for in a Muslim woman model?
“No qualifications needed. They just have to fill out the application online and await a reply from us for shoots. Main requirement is confidence but that also grows with experience and support from WWAGS.”
What does your Image Therapy Project involve?
“Our image therapy is a service that helps individuals discover themselves through the way they dress. It involves helping choose the right style of dress and helping them gain confidence in the way they look. Through Image Therapy, they are be able to develop the ability to see themselves clearly and learn to use that knowledge to open doors for them etc.,”
What Muslim fashionistas you would like to work with?
“I would love to do a shoot with some of the amazing talented bloggers we have in the UK including Dina Tokia, Amnekin, Nabiila Bee and so many more MashaAllah. I would love to do the same when I visit the US soon Insh aa Allah.”
What advise do you have for Muslim women who are looking to pursue modeling?
“Be confident, careful and read the guidelines for the company you choose to model for. If there is a contract, be sure to read through it and understand it fully as it is bidding. But the main thing to keep in mind, we are not like the West and we should not act immorally towards each other. Muslim models are Muslim first and they have their basic right! Adaab(manners) first, model later!”
Read first part of our interview with Halima here. Visit WWAGS at www.wwags.com