Vogue editor Rawdah Mohamed speaks about refugee camp childhood

Vogue editor Rawdah Mohamed speaks about refugee camp childhood

From growing up in a refugee camp to running Vogue Scandinavia: New fashion bible editor Rawdah Mohamed says people ‘assume she is forced to wear a hijab’ as she insists she ‘isn’t a token hire’

  • Rawdah Mohamed, 29, from Somalia, was named new editor for Vogue in May
  • Was working as a behavioural analyst before landing the gig at fashion bible  
  • Grew up in a refugee camp before moving to Norway with her family aged nine  
  • Said she faces ‘constant bullying’ as people ‘assume she is forced to wear a hijab’
  • Insisted she is ‘not a token hire’ for the mag, despite never working as a journalist

Vogue’s newest fashion editor Rawdah Mohamed has revealed people ‘assume she is forced to wear a hijab’.

The 29-year-old model was born in Somalia and grew up in a refugee camp before moving to Norway with her family at the age of nine, where she has said she faced ‘constant bullying’ for wearing a head scarf.

It was announced earlier this year that Rawdah, who is a trained behavioural analyst, has landed the role of fashion editor at Vogue Scandinavia, which is set to launch later this week.

She has now insisted she is ‘not a token hire’ for the magazine, despite having never worked as a journalist, telling The Times: ‘There’s a lot of tokenism in fashion – you’re hired because you tick, say, the Asian box.But one of the things that made me comfortable in this interview process was they knew how I styled and what fashion meant to me and the things that I tried to express through my clothing. 

‘It wasn’t just like, ‘Oh yay, she’s hijabi and black!’ It was one of the first times I felt I wasn’t there just for decoration, but for what I had to say.’

Vogue’s newest fashion editor Rawdah Mohamed, 29, from Somalia, has revealed people ‘assume she is forced to wear a hijab’

The 29-year-old grew up in a refugee camp before moving to Norway with her family at the age of nine, where she has said she faced ‘constant bullying’ for wearing a head scarf

Rawdah was forced to flee the Somali civil war, spending years of her childhood in a refugee camp in Kenya where she and her 11 siblings lived in a one-room tent and cooked over an open fire.   

She was allowed to buy just one new dress a year, for the festival of Eid.  

Rawdah said she ‘couldn’t imagine’ what a ‘free’ life looked like before her family moved to Norway at the age of eight.  

They were then placed in an asylum camp in a town with a population of just 2,000, where many children had never seen a black person before.

It was announced earlier this year that Rawdah, who is a trained behavioural analyst, landed the role of fashion editor at Vogue Scandinavia, which is set to launch later this week

She said: ‘When I washed my hands, everyone gathered to see if my colour was coming off.’

Struggling to adapt to the different culture, Rawdah began suffered from insomnia and post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Having been told that wearing a hijab was ‘oppressive’ at school, she began wearing it daily, despite facing relentless bullying from class-mates and teachers alike. 

She said people tried to rip her hijab from her in class, while teachers confiscated the headscarf from her.

Rawdah, who is a single mother, has said she struggled to adapt to life in Norway after living as a refugee in Kenya during her childhood 

Finally, the family left the small town and  moved in with Rawdah’s grandmother in Oslo where things eased. 

After growing more interested in fashion as a teenager, she began posting her outfits on Instagram in 2016, where she quickly grew a following of 141k fans.  

She was signed to a modelling agency in 2019, working for brands like MaxMara and Cartier while balancing her career as a mental health specialist.        

She was then approached to join Vogue Scandinavia and she landed the job of fashion editor in October 2020. 

After growing more interested in fashion as a teenager, she began posting her outfits on Instagram in 2016, where she quickly grew a following of 141k fans and caught the attention of Conde Nast 

She went viral in April with an Instagram selfie in response to the news the French government announcing it was considering banning the hijab for women under 18. 

She argued: ‘No one’s ever asked if I want to wear the hijab; they always assume that I’m forced to do it. So many other people were speaking for me, but I’ve been silenced for so many years. You feel like you’re screaming at deaf ears.’    

Despite holding devout beliefs, she remains liberal and is vocal about supporting causes like trans-Mulims, arguing that it is ‘disheartening’ they aren’t accepted in the Muslim community.  

Her appointment comes after Conde Nast faced a string of race scandals under Anna Wintour’s leadership.

Radawh’s appointment as fashion editor for Vogue comes after Conde Nast faced a string of race scandals under Anna Wintour’s leadership

The brand has for years been accused of not putting enough black or women of color on the cover of its publications, particularly Vogue.

She has tried to explain it away by saying: ‘Undoubtedly, I have made mistakes along the way, and if any mistakes were made at Vogue under my watch, they are mine to own and remedy and I am committed to doing the work.’

Wintour has been at the helm of the magazine since the late 1980s but the issue has reared its head over the last year amid a cultural shift in attitudes towards racism and diversity.

In June 2020, Wintour did not take part in a company-wide call about how to promote black staffers too. There were enormous calls for her to resign but Conde Nast stood by her.

Wintour’s relationship with Andre Leon Talley, the former editor-at-large, also crumbled under years of what he called a toxic workplace

She released a statement saying: ‘I want to say plainly that I know Vogue has not found enough ways to elevate and give space to Black editors, writers, photographers, designers and other creators. 

‘We have made mistakes too, publishing images or stories that have been hurtful or intolerant.

‘I take full responsibility for those mistakes. It can’t be easy to be a Black employee at Vogue, and there are too few of you.

‘I know that it is not enough to say we will do better, but we will — and please know that I value your voices and responses as we move forward. I am listening and would like to hear your feedback and your advice if you would like to share either.’  

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