Meet Zubeida Shirwa: The “Face” of African Fashion Week Toronto 2017!

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Zubeida Shirwa is bold, beautiful and confident in her identity as a Black woman making an impact on the Toronto fashion industry.

Illuminessence is honoured to spotlight this fashionable fem-leader and aspiring pilot, as she shares her motivation for success and barriers she has faced along the way!

Why did you want to be a part of African Fashion Week Toronto 2017 as the new “FACE”?

The reason I considered taking part in being the Face of AFWT 2017 is because in today’s society representation is paramount. With the African fashion industry finally in the forefront on runways in Europe and in couture wear, I want to be involved with an organization that would take part in inspiring and showcasing the relevance of cultural diversity throughout the fashion world – because I truly believe a powerful message is one of unity in diversity.

Zubeida Shirwa, The “Face” of African Fashion Week Toronto 2017- Photo courtesy of Zubeida Shirwa

Can you share with our readers your life experiences that drew you to this role?  How do you see yourself making a difference within the Fashion Industry while you are representing AFWT?

Being from a smaller city, I decided to take a leap of faith, leaving everything I knew in the way of family, friends, and particularly my comfort zone, to move to the big city to pursue modeling and go to school to become a pilot. Unfortunately, it was during my first year of living in Toronto, that the dream of modeling began to fade. After attending several casting calls and attempting to conform to the pressures of looking more mainstream, I pushed myself in ways that were counterproductive to my well-being. Instead of living a healthy and balanced lifestyle, I focused too much time and energy on figuring out ways to make my hips look thinner or my body look less shapely. In the end I realized that I wasn’t the problem so I was just content to live my life as best as I saw fit.

We are a culture that breeds vibrancy and individuality – just look at the variety of traditional African dress that bursts with style and colour. I feel that AFWT has provided many people with the platform to bring together African culture and display our natural boldness. Further, I believe that through AFWT the creativity and talent coming from our community is on the verge of finally being realized – if not appreciated – by the general population at large. It is my goal to find the perfect balance of participating in this mass appeal yet still maintaining dedication to my roots.

I am privileged to be part of a movement that will not marginalize a woman who does not fit into a very distinct mold, and I only hope to show the Fashion World that African fashion should not be underestimated, so as a women of color I can feel confident that I will look good in just about any attire, in any color. Now that I have been given the opportunity, I hope to break barriers and be a pioneer for that shy and/or out of town girl who feels she can’t measure up without extreme dieting or compromising herself and her standards.

What advice would you offer anyone who wants to become a fashion model? Tell us what struggles and victories you have had throughout your modeling career within the fashion industry?

Well, to be honest, the main challenge I’ve had in my “modeling career” (I’ve never modeled before AFWT) up until my win as the Face of AFWT 2017 is that I was never given an opportunity to break into the business. As I’ve mentioned before, the pressure to look like what the industry perceives as ideal made it difficult for me to measure up. To everyone around me I looked like the “it girl”, who, with my statuesque height and thin build should be on the runways of the world. So, as much as I was often asked if I was model, when I would tell them that many in the business felt I wasn’t optimally proportioned, their jaws would drop – if I was labeled “to big” what were they?

With respect to my advice to anyone wanting to be a fashion model, before you even consider your feelings about how you look, first and foremost be content with who you are. Once you’ve attained that mindset, through proper diet and exercise, then you can strive to be the best version of you. In the end be satisfied with your body type and skin color knowing that no one is perfect and you can only achieve confidence when you truly know and love yourself fully!

Is there any fun/interesting facts that you would like to share with our readers?

One of these days I hope to be a licensed pilot. I love the freedom and peacefulness I feel when I’m up in the clouds without the clutter and confusion of the day to day grind. To think, even though we’re moving so much faster up there, it’s nice to take a break sometimes and get away from life’s fast pace down here. Which leads me to one of my favourite pursuits, travel. When you finally do make it down from the clouds, there’s nothing like experiencing exciting new destinations and interesting people. I look forward to a modeling career that will only enhance that part of my life.


By Guest Writer: Michelle Moore

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