Azeema is the magazine exploring the resistance and femininity of Middle Eastern women

Editor Jameela Elfaki is bringing much needed representation to the fashion industry.

[J]ameela Elfaki is a Central Saint Martins student and editor of the newly released AZEEMA magazine, which explores resistance and femininity within Middle Eastern and North African women and Women of Colour. AZEEMA challenges and confronts the issues surrounding diversity and representation within the fashion industry head on, by focusing on “women who are often left out of fashion” and creating something “inclusive of Women of Colour and knowledgeable of Islamic faith, African and Arab culture”.

Being Sudanese-English and coming from an Islamic background, the creation of AZEEMA came from a personal place for Jameela, who sought to create the magazine to make something that “challenged current stereotypes and representation, something that embraced and celebrated culture”. AZEEMA magazine also aims to challenge oppressive beauty ideals created by the media, while giving people a voice to share their stories and come together to create empowering work that can make a change.

Check out more work from Jameela here and more from AZEEMA mag here and purchase the magazine here.

What gave you the idea to start AZEEMA magazine? What is the underlying vision of the magazine and was your motivation behind starting it?

The idea for starting AZEEMA came from a personal and passionate place, I felt there weren’t any publications that specifically catered for and celebrated Women from the Middle East/North Africa and Women of Colour. I’m Sudanese/English with Islamic background from my Sudanese side, so making something that was inclusive of Women of Colour and knowledgeable of Islamic faith, African and Arab culture was really important to me.

I had visions of creating something that challenged current stereotypes and representations, something that embraced and celebrated culture. Ethnicity and culture is something that should be intertwined, shared and celebrated together, not feared or avoided. Current news outlets project mostly fearful and negative representations of the Middle East/North Africa and I feel these women and their voices aren’t properly represented in fashion. I wanted AZEEMA to celebrate Women of Colour, heritage, beauty and strength.

At the moment there seems to be a shift in attitudes, girls are triumphing their Colour and coming together with other like-minded women to create, protest, organise and help one another. We live in a society flooded with images of a certain “standard of beauty.” Whether it’s lighter skin or straighter hair, overall the standard sends a clear and persistent message of what is perceived by society to be the most important view of beauty/fashion. I wanted to make something that also challenged those ideals.

AZEEMA magazine is made especially for girls with the courage to rebel, the aim is to empower, not to offend.

"I had visions of creating something that challenged current stereotypes and representations, something that embraced and celebrated culture."

You launched the magazine in May, can you tell us a bit about the first issue? What kind of reactions did you receive?

The Habibi issue is a blend of controversial and compelling features, touching on issues of resistance, empowerment and femininity within Middle Eastern and North African women and Women of Colour. In the first issue, AZEEMA talks feminism with Emirati ‘Banat collective’ leader Sara Safwan, explores femininity in Morocco, protests women’s rights with ‘Sisters Uncut’ and visually explores ideas of strength and sexuality. AZEEMA features some amazing women who are all so brave, strong and inspiring.

The response to the magazine has been incredible, I’ve had so many young women get in touch to tell me how inspired and happy they are that something like this even exists. Other girls are really keen to get involved with the magazine and share their voices, stories and imagery. The magazine launch also had a great turn out. Just hearing and seeing how appreciated and supported AZEEMA is makes everything worthwhile. It makes me even more determined to move forward with the magazine.

How do you come up with the concepts for the editorials? Do you often collaborate with other people?

The visuals in the magazine are so important and coming from a photography background it was important that the images were strong and beautiful and connected well together. The editorials are inspired by empowerment, sexuality and femininity along with different cultural issues, for example the editorial ‘Borders’ is inspired by women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. The majority of the Habibi issue is photographed and styled by myself, however the magazine also has collaborations with great female stylists and writers. This is something I want to have more of in following issues.

"Fashion is slowly changing for the better, with the rise of multicultural casting, raw talent and creative communities beginning to shine through."

AZEEMA focuses on exploring resistance and femininity within women of colour. What do you think about diversity and representation in the industry and how does AZEEMA aim to confront this?

I think diversity and representation has always been a massive issue within the fashion industry. Although there is more awareness about the subject than ever before, there is always room for improvement. The representation of Women of Colour in fashion is necessary and a matter of importance. Fashion is slowly changing for the better, with the rise of multicultural casting, raw talent and creative communities beginning to shine through. Communities for ethnic women are rising up and thriving in London, for example collectives like Gal-Dem, BBZ and POC (People of Colours). AZEEMA confronts issues with diversity and representation head on as it focuses on women who are often left out of fashion!

What can we expect from the next issue?

There is so much more to come from AZEEMA. The team is expanding and I’m really excited to work with them on the next issue. The next issue will continue to feature strong and inspiring Women and their stories, and of course beautiful and compelling visuals from different creatives and collaborations. I don’t want to give too much away just yet, but there are exciting things to come!

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