[M]eet Saffiyah Khan: the 20-year-old activist who smiled down in defiance at Ian Crossland, the leader of the extreme far-right party, during a demonstration in Birmingham last year. A symbol of solidarity that was shared thousands of times on social media. “I first got into politics and social action at around 15 I think,” she tells Hunger. “Started linking up with local action groups in Birmingham, and been involved at different levels ever since.” Khan is a total role model for Generation Hashtag – using her platform to address social issues and now, thanks to fashion’s recent political awakening, is fast making waves on the catwalk (recently signing to Elite model agency). We caught up with the captivating activist to follow to talk post-beauty and the power of social media for today’s youth…
Hey Saffiyah! After that protest photo went viral in April 2017 you’ve worked on several creative projects. What’s been a career highlight for you so far?
I had an amazing 2017 – so I’m not sure how I could pick one highlight: I had my first solo photography exhibition, I interviewed Henry Rollins and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, worked with Jeremy Corbyn [taking over his Instagram],walked my first catwalk for Dilara Findikoglu…
What’s your relationship like with social media personally? Do you think it can be a powerful tool for social change?
I think it’s a tool, definitely, but any social change can’t really be confined to it. Social media is often a boiling pot of niches and echo chambers and is not an accurate reflection of the current social climate-though it is an aspect.
What would you like to see more of online? And less of?
More of: net neutrality. Less of? The censorship of sex workers on online platforms, leading to them needing to work on the streets, which is less safe. A revisiting of FOSTA/SESTA laws.
You also made your fashion week debut in London with Dilara Findikoglu. What was that experience like for you?
It has been so much fun working for Dilara and the two fashion weeks I walked for her have been ace. The designs are aesthetically very pleasing and marry alot of different themes together. It’s nice to see someone from Turkey too, you don’t see so much fashion coming out of there so the diversity is great.
How would you describe your personal style?
Minimalist Nan who juggles Zumba classes and her part time work as a dominatrix. She is retired.
Would you ever want to turn to design yourself?
Sure, why not! I could have a go at it. Can’t promise anything of credit…
Do you think diversity improving within the fashion world in 2k18?
Yeah, I think so. You still hear stories where casting directors pay compliments based on praising a minority ethnicity model’s ‘white’ features, so I think there’s still improvement to be made.
I’m loving your new buzz cut – was this liberating for you?
My hair was annoying me, too much time and money to upkeep. What do I need hair for anyway?
What does beauty mean to you?
I think we’re dipping into a ‘post-beauty’ stage now, where no one really knows, and that’s the point. For me it’s how things combine. Like you see a face, and the features just work so well together. I can’t explain it.
What’s the book that has shaped you the most and why?
Perfume by Patrick Suskind. The main character, Jean Basptiste Grenouille, is quite complex and I like Suskind’s writing style. I read it quite young, and then renewed it at the library for 2 years (every month) just to keep a copy on me because they didn’t sell it in shops. I think I started to leave notes in it too for other readers and I have the serial code for the exact copy I first read so maybe I’ll take it out again soon.
What’s on your summer reading list?
Not sure yet – maybe I’ll do some writing instead…
Follow Saffiyah on Instagram @saffiyah__khan.