By Odia Melissa Nyembo Shahad Mahdi, a Ryerson Retail Management alumni has been busy since graduation with the rise of her new apparel and accessories company, Black Orchid. CanCulture had the opportunity to catch-up with girl boss, Mahdi, to talk more about her brand and future goals.
CanCulture: What is Black Orchid and what is the message behind it?
Shahad Mahdi: Black Orchid is a pop culture, Middle Eastern-inspired brand aimed towards positive Muslim and ethnic representation. I pretty much try to create products that empower ethnic and Muslim women and break stereotypes in terms of what is perceived about Middle Eastern, Muslim and ethnic women. We can be cute, we can be strong, and we can be smart and successful.
C.C.: Was that your inspiration on why you wanted to start the brand?
S.M.: I’ve been really into fashion growing up and I feel fashion can be used as a way to express your views and personal beliefs. So, I wanted to create a brand that also reflects [a] part of my religion and my culture and that’s why I started the brand. Going forward, I found the need for positive representation. So I just went ahead and did that.
C.C.: Where did the name come from? Why Black Orchid?
S.M.: Black orchids are actually flowers that are found in the Middle East, so that’s how I came up with the name. There’s no big story behind it.
C.C.: When you started the brand and told your friends, family and the people in the Fashion Zone, what was their initial reaction and response to your idea?
S.M.: I created a set of graphics and the idea was really different. I would say a lot of people towards the beginning did not really believe in it, but then going forward, the reaction I got from my audience was great. As I got bigger, people started to believe in it more. I think that when you see a need and you cater towards it and you’re persistent, then you would get there for sure. You just have to make sure you’re on it.
C.C.: Can you give me a brief run-down of your day-to-day?
S.M.: I recently graduated from Ryerson, so I actually work somewhere else as a marketing manager for a construction company. I do that and run my business. Every day is just speed-juggling both [jobs] at the same time. I’m the kind of person who likes to do two things or more at the same time; it’s how I stay motivated.
C.C.: How big is the team you’re working with at Black Orchid? Who are some key players?
S.M.: It’s funny because people ask me this question all the time, but it’s all me. I collaborate with artists, other brands, graphic designers and illustrators and I get them to do work for me but it’s always contract work. I’m the only one who has full control over the brand.
C.C.: When I was browsing around your site, the clothing pieces don’t look like traditional Middle-Eastern clothes. Was that intentional?
S.M.: I didn't want to create traditional clothing that you only wear for cultural or religious occasions. I wanted to create streetwear so people could wear it every day. My vision was to see people wear it on the street and other people seeing it too, thinking it’s cool. That’s the whole point.
C.C.: What are some of the things you are working on right now?
S.M.: I’m working on collaborations with other brands, designing new products and looking into new ways to make young women feel more empowered and more represented. Anything that I can think of falls into that.
C.C.: Where do you see the brand progressing?
S.M.: I really hope to get as much exposure as possible. Out of everything, I would say seeing my products down the street gives me the most joy. When I see someone wearing [my] piece down the street, I just feel like going up and talking to them. I actually see Ryerson students wearing sweaters and going into exams or lectures and it makes me so happy.
Support local brands! You can now purchase Black Orchid's merchandise on their website https://blackorchidshop.com/.