“A leader is someone who demonstrates what’s possible.” Read on as we round up five fashionable female Malaysian trailblazers who are confidently expressing their unique sense of style, all while advocating for causes that are close to their hearts. (P.S. One of these trendsetters also made history as one of the faces of Nike’s first-ever modest swimwear collection.)
Malaysian singer-songwriter Yuna, whose real name is Yunalis Zarai, made waves in the international entertainment scene after collaborating with American R&B singer Usher for the song, Crush. (The music video has amassed over 95 million views as of writing.)
Impressive music accolades aside, Yuna’s vibrant, fashionable outfits — all complete with her signature hijab or headscarf — have captivated the attention of fashion insiders too. She became the first-ever Malaysian to star in Coach’s holiday campaign last year, in which she starred alongside Jennifer Lopez, Michael B Jordan and other leading celebrities. She’s also graced multiple fashion magazine covers such as Vogue and Marie Claire and has recently collaborated with Malaysian demi-fine jewellery brand KIN to launch a limited-edition pair of gold hoops earrings.
How she’s making fashion history: Yuna’s growing international presence reminds fellow or aspiring Muslim female musicians and artists that they are talented, stylish, and more than deserving to shine in the spotlight.
Seri Mizani, sustainable fashion advocate
Seri Mizani truly walks the talk in championing sustainability. While advocating for sustainable fashion is a “full-time” role for her, the 22-year-old is also proud of her full-time job as a social media coordinator for a recycling company. Seri enjoys documenting her outfit photos in front of nature or recycling warehouses to raise awareness about sustainable fashion and the need to combat climate change.
Furthermore, she actively participates in zero waste initiatives and is generous with her advice on reusing and upcycling clothes. “Living sustainably through fashion has taught me creativity and innovation that I otherwise wouldn’t learn elsewhere. It’s the little things that make a huge difference,” shared Seri in an interview with The Sun Daily Malaysia.
How she’s making fashion history: Seri is proof that fashion and sustainability can co-exist. Her support towards combating climate change also demonstrates how fashion lovers — regardless of their background — should bravely own their voice in campaigning for a better future.
Arinna Erin, model
It’s not every day that you get featured in a Nike campaign — let alone one that perfectly aligns with your personal dreams and beliefs. It all came true one day for Malaysian model Arinna Erin, who was chosen by the global sportswear brand to star in its first-ever modest swimwear campaign. She has also appeared in a billboard advertisement for Levi’s Malaysia.
“Being a hijabi never stopped me from doing the things I love. It’s a part of me that I cherish, not something that limits my journey to do greater things,” revealed the model on Instagram. Arinna has since spoken up about her minimalistic approach to fashion too. In an interview with Tatler, the 25-year-old shared that she owns “less than 10 outfits.” She has also developed “conscious consumerism and being ethical in terms of shopping.”
How she’s making fashion history: Following the footsteps of modest fashion models before her, Arinna is well on her way to becoming one of the region’s most recognisable faces. She also encourages us to remain authentic to our beliefs in our pursuit of happiness and success.
Kittie Yiyi, fashion designer
Cool, quirky and creative: Malaysian fashion designer Kittie Yiyi is all that and so much more. The Raffles College of Higher Education graduate made her design debut at Kuala Lumpur Fashion Week back in 2014. Since then, she’s embarked on multiple collaborations with like-minded brands both as a fashion content creator and designer.
Her most recent partnerships include designing a Wappen collection for Sulwhasoo Malaysia to commemorate its eighth anniversary, as well as working with renowned doll brand Barbie to share about creativity in fashion. Kittie is also mentoring six young aspiring fashion designers in Malaysia as part of her involvement in the Barbie You Can Be A Designer Fashion Reinvention Competition that concluded last month.
How she’s making fashion history: Beyond being a beacon of joy and optimism with her colourful outfits, Kittie is also doing her part to guide the new generation of fashion design talents.
Maryam Mutalib, founder of Batik brand MaryamBayam
In an industry that’s constantly hungry for the latest and the greatest, Maryam Mutalib keeps her focus on preserving traditions in her own unique way. In 2018, Maryam decided to establish her own accessories brand, MaryamBayam, to promote traditional Malaysian Batik with a modern twist.
From scrunchies and face masks to headbands and earrings, every piece from Maryam’s brand is made by skilled batik artisans in Malaysia. The batik used for the accessories is made traditionally, which focuses on the technique of using metal blocks dipped in molten wax for printing. “We want to focus on promoting batik, not just internationally but locally too. Additionally, we hope to create an appreciation for the Malaysian Batik culture for generations to come,” shared Maryam in a recent interview with Lifestyle Asia.
How she’s making fashion history: Maryam’s unwavering commitment towards preserving Malaysia’s batik culture inspires us to honour and celebrate our roots. This can manifest through the clothes we wear or the brands that we choose to support.
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