Written by Andrew Seale
Amidst rising Islamophobia and misrepresentation in the mainstream, Shahad Mahdi launched Black Orchid, a fashion label that portrays Muslim women in a more modern way.
“Fashion is a reflection of who you are – your identity, what you believe in, your lifestyle,” says Mahdi. Black Orchid’s line of phone cases, sweatshirts and pouches, among other products, offers a more honest depiction of stylish Muslim women with different types of skin colours.
“It was really interesting how people reacted to the graphics… when I first started, I thought it wouldn't be a big thing,” says Mahdi. “They found so much meaning in wearing clothing that represented them.”
The Jordan-born entrepreneur, who moved here in her teenaged years, says she doesn’t wear a hijab but felt compelled to create the line after finding a lack of Muslim-inspired clothing.
“When you go out in the shops you’ll find t-shirts with all sorts of graphics on them but nothing that represents Muslim women in such a fun and cute way,” she says. The name Black Orchid is an ode to the flower that grows in droves in the Middle East including her native Jordan.
She incubated the idea at Ryerson’s Fashion Zone which she joined when it first opened. She recently graduated but during her time as a retail management student ate university, she would often slip into her workspace at the incubator during classes.
“I had a lot of mentors that I could get advice from or help me out with certain things,” she says. Her involvement with the incubator gave her access to workshops on building her brand and marketing and opened her up to the Toronto fashion entrepreneur community as a whole. She recently joined the Toronto Fashion Incubator.
“Everyone I meet inspires me, we’re all trying to help each other out… it’s just a great community,” says Mahdi.
The response to her label has been overwhelming. She’s had many young Muslim women come up to her and tell her how good it feels to be represented. She says she feels the Canadian media has also responded positively.
“In Canada, we're a community that is accepting of pretty much everyone,” she says. “When people don't necessarily know anything about religion or ethnicity (and see the designs) they’re intrigued to learn more.”
It’s the same approach she takes when it comes to inspiring other like-minded young fashion designers.
“It’s important for us to learn from each other.”