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Ryerson student defies stereotypes one fashion design at a time

Shahad Mahdi launches a fashion line depicting modern Muslim women in an effort to change perception.

Shahad Mahdi has launched a brand of clothing and accessories that feature modern Muslim women, as a way to change perceptions about Muslims.

Eduardo Lima / Metro Order this photo

Shahad Mahdi has launched a brand of clothing and accessories that feature modern Muslim women, as a way to change perceptions about Muslims.

Long before megabrands like Nike and Uniqlo launched hijab and abaya lines, Shahad Mahdi knew it was cool to rock Muslim apparel.

But the fourth-year business management student at Ryerson University was always troubled by negative representation of Muslim people, especially with ever-growing Islamophobic views from some politicians and extremist groups.

“When you watch the news that has to do with Muslims and the Middle East, all you see is yelling and violence, and I don’t think that’s who we really are,” she said, noting some people just associate any Muslim with terrorism.

She’s out to change that perception, one fashion design at a time.

Black Orchid, a pop culture brand she launched a year ago with the help of Ryerson Fashion Zone, makes and sells clothing and accessories combining modern design and Islamic culture.

Through an online portal, people can purchase different tops and sweaters as well as pouches, chains and phone cases, all featuring stylish and colourful illustrations of modern Muslim women. She named her brand after a black orchid flower found in the Middle East.

With her images of progressive Muslim women, Mahdi hopes to create a new narrative showing them as strong, creative and capable of being “fashionable and cool.” She’s received a lot of positive feedback, and is thinking of adding more products and expanding to reach other parts of the country and internationally.

“All I wanted to do was focus on the positive and show our true colours, show that we can do cute stuff too,” she said.  “People are scared of our religion because of all the politics, but I think that’s a wrong representation of who we are as a community.”

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