Meet Black Orchid: One Designer Redefining Modern Muslim Woman Through Fashion

The brand is all about breaking stereotypes.

Shahad Mahdi, 22, was tired of seeing Muslim women misrepresented and stereotyped in the media. She wanted to shatter those cliches so she created Black Orchid, a line of hoodies, sweatshirts and accessories that bear Mahdi’s signature illustration: An adorable Matryoshka shaped doll in hijab in various poses. Mahdi who was born in Jordan was inspired by her Middle Eastern background to sprinkle quirky icons that look just a little bit like her throughout collection. It’s all about breaking down stereotypes that pertain to Muslim women by presenting them in ways that combine pop culture and faith. On the Black Orchid website, you’ll find everything from oversized jackets to cell phone cases featuring the doll with a flower crowns and sunglasses, as well as #SQUADGOALS phone cases and a range of pastel backpacks. What this blossoming brand is proving, is that the modest fashion movement is still going strong and that faith and fashion can co-exist.

Denim on ?

A post shared by Shahad ? (@_mshahed) on

How did you create Black Orchid?
I’m from a Middle Eastern background and I noticed how women were being represented in the news and the stereotyping and I wanted to change that. I do identify as a business person. I’ve always had a love for aesthetics, fashion, colour and design in general, and I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur.

What’s the significance behind the name Black Orchid?
Black Orchid is a type of flower that you can see around the middle east. It’s playful but it still reminded me of what the brand is all about.

What inspired you to create Black Orchid?
I come from a very entrepreneurial family and seeing everyone follow their dreams and build their own company encouraged me to build my own as well. I also looked over a lot of creative and inspirational brands from the middle east. I was inspired to do something different and incorporate cultural or religious elements with fashion and pop culture, and make it look cute.

Photo courtesy of Black Orchid

What does it mean to empower Muslim women in a time when there’s a lot of stigma against them?
I believe in empowering women in general, Muslim or non-Muslim. If you’re just a woman there’s a lot of stigma around how you perform, especially in the workplace or just how powerful you are. However, Muslim women in specific have been and still are seen as weaker and dominated. They aren’t seen as creative or successful. So I think showing a different side is very very important.

Who’s the Black Orchid woman that you design for?
In my head, I design for women from different ethnicities, different skin tones, people who feel like they’re not being represented properly. Wearing my items would empower them and give them an extra boost of confidence. I can’t say there’s a specific age, demographic, or income. It’s just to represent Muslim women in general. The whole idea is to show that we come in all colours, shapes, forms and religious decrees.

How does pop culture influence your designs?
I pretty much see what girls are into, how they dress, what they like to wear. Flower crowns were a thing a bit back, round glasses, and girls are really into eyelash extensions as well as wearing different colours. I just try to incorporate whatever it is I see. I also add a pop of colour with everything that I do. Being in the fashion industry, you just have to keep up with what people like and what the trends are.

Photo courtesy of black orchid

In a time when there’s a modest fashion movement going on, what makes Black Orchid stand out?
I see that most modest fashion clothing brands sell the typical long cardigans and headscarves. My brand is more about adding a sort of different element. It’s more about people wearing items that have images on them that other people around them are seeing. The whole idea is to get that image in public as much as possible for people to see and not think it’s outlandish. I’m not necessarily trying to sell modest wear; it’s distributing an idea or images that break the stereotype so the visual focus is always on the images.

What’s your vision for Black Orchid in 2018?
I will have more accessories. I’m looking to make little bags, full leather accessories, little dolls with pompoms to add onto your purse. My main goal is to press the images as much as I can. I’m currently working on a couple of projects with different companies. I see that a lot of big companies are getting on the wagon of including Muslim women more and more.

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