I’ve never been the girl who let things go. When I want something, I’m going to get it.
Mariama nurtured her love for fashion on the floor of her uncle’s tailoring business in Guinea, West Africa. There she collected strips of fabric to make dresses for her dolls, and watched in wonder as her family made beautiful tie-dyed prints.
Arriving in New York to work as a model, Mariama came face to face with the world of fashion on a grand scale. As she modelled other people’s clothes, she dreamed of making her own – a fresh, bold take on handmade African textiles, and a continuation of her family’s fashion legacy.
Today, Mariama Fashion Productions does just that – her designs grace the runways of the world, and the bodies of such icons as Michelle Obama. Many of the designs and fabrics that she brings to the New York fashion scene are the work of female artisan tie-dyers from West Africa. Mariama has opened the door for these women to become entrepreneurs in their own right.
She also sends some of the profits back to fund humanitarian projects. Her There Is No Limit Foundation promotes entrepreneurship, education and health, and works to give other African women the chance to realize their own big dreams.
But Mariama’s story might have been very different. The fashion industry is a complex universe to navigate. In August of 2018, the leading fashion magazine VOGUE led a push to end the use of underage models. The problems began in the 1990s:
The desperate poverty throughout the Eastern Bloc, as the fashion industry would soon delight in discovering, meant there was a seemingly endless supply of tall, high-cheekboned, often undernourished girls who saw modeling as their ticket out of chaos.
The situation has changed little today, but instead the models are coming from all over the developing world. These young girls are vulnerable to many kinds of exploitation, from walking the runway in their early teens, to ending up in brothels.
But having a proof of identity – a clear record that verifies a girl’s age – acts like a shield to vulnerable young women. As the industry seeks to enforce age limits, a resilient, non-forgeable proof of identity prevents unscrupulous agents from passing underage girls off as adults.
Knowing firsthand how vulnerable young girls can be, Mariama wants to give them every chance to control their destinies.
The future is female – we need to continue to inspire and help young girls to do better.