Arinna Erin Wira and Deqa Musa are working with some of the biggest brands in the game. Here, we chat to them about their biggest modelling career highlights to date.
Arinna Erin Wira, 25, and Deqa Musa, 24, are of Malaysian and Somalian descent respectively. And, while you might not know them by name, we’re pretty sure you’ll know them on sight: the London-based models have been busy working with some of the biggest fashion and beauty brands in the game.
Rihanna – aka BadGal Riri herself – featured Fenty model Deqa on her own Instagram account. Nike’s first modest swimwear campaign, a celebration of diversity and inclusivity, had Arinna front and centre.
Both Arinna and Deqa are rising stars in the modelling world (they have had an amazing response from brands and the industry itself). Both are respectful to their religion. And both stand by their beliefs wholeheartedly.
Here, we catch up with the models to find out more about them and the pinnacle points of their careers so far.
Meet Deqa Musa
Tell us about your background and upbringing?
I was born and raised in London. My background is Somali and my parents came here before the civil war began to provide our family with a better life. I grew up in south Acton, west London, youngest of five. Our area had a high crime rate and became a bit of an unsafe area to live in for us. However, it is a multicultural area where I felt such a sense of belonging.
I loved that there was a huge Somali community living in my area so it felt like I was home even though I wasn’t in Somalia. Everyone knew each other growing up, and sports was my life. I did football sessions with the boys, and I went to youth centres, although all of this was very male dominated.
Did you ever feel hesitant going into the modelling industry as a Hijabi?
It was new, and quite a daunting experience – modelling is quite a taboo topic in the Muslim community. I did also fear rejection or not being accepted because I don’t fit the ‘norm’. I represent Somalis, I represent Hijabis, I represent black women, I represent women of all body types. I fit into so many categories. Representing all these people in one person? I looked at it as ticking all the boxes. I am a diverse girl.
Social media gave me the confidence: there are so many Hijabi models, influencers and fashionistas that are using this platform to show that, yes, we are Muslim, but who says we can’t be fashionable at the same time as well?
When you got the Fenty shoot, what was going through your mind?
When I found out I got the job, I was at my sister’s house watching TV with her kids. I got that email and I was literally jumping and screaming. The kids were looking at me and started screaming with me, not knowing what they were screaming for. Then, I nearly had a panic attack.
It was a moment of shock to know I would be working with one of the biggest brands. I mean, BadGalRiri? It was such an honour to have this as my first modelling job. I could not have asked for a better brand to work with at the start of my career.
When you were shooting for Fenty, did you feel they were understanding of your needs as a Hijabi model?
They were so understanding of my morals, of my needs, and of things I can or can’t wear. They continuously reassured me that if I didn’t feel comfortable wearing something, I didn’t have to. And everyone on set was so respectful. They were treating me not just a model, but as a person. They wanted to know what I stood for. I was so comfortable and didn’t expect it.
When Rihanna posted your Fenty photos shot on her Instagram, where it was seen by approximately 78 million people, how did you feel?
It was so surreal. Rihanna has always been in support of inclusivity and diversity, though. Fenty had already used a hijab model, Halima Aden, who is now so popular, so to post me felt like a further celebration of that. I didn’t see it as just an achievement for myself, but for everyone who could relate to me on some level.
How have you dealt with your rise to fame?
Within western society, Muslim women aren’t just underrepresented: I think we are also very misunderstood at the same time. People associate wearing hijab as a form of oppression or that it is forced upon women, yet I feel most beautiful when I’m wearing my hijab. What has kept me grounded is knowing I’m representing something bigger than myself.
If you could go back and give your younger self some advice, what would you say?
I would tell my younger self to dream big, and never ever let fear stop you from doing something you set your mind to. Growing up, I was a pessimistic person, but now I can clearly see that having a positive mindset can go a long way. Sometimes you have to step out your comfort zone in order to grow.
Never think you have to conform to social norms, remain your whole self: you are beautiful. No one should make you feel or tell you differently.
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Meet Arinna Erin Wira
When did you join your modelling agency?
I’m with BAME models, and I’ve been with them since October 2018. I knew when I moved to the UK that the industry here is way different, so I found them. They are really diverse, with plus sized models and people of every race. I approached them and they signed me on the same day. They’ve been really good to me.
What has been the best moment in your career so far?
My Nike modest swimwear shoot. It was the first time I have travelled for work and it was to Barcelona for four days. We had a rehearsal day, which was like a pre-shoot to plan the main day. They interviewed us, they did our nails, but it felt like a shoot! Then, on the actual shoot day, it was insane: we were in the pool from 9am until 6pm. The team really took care of us: we were dipping in and out, and then straight into a tent with a heater. They also fed us so well, too. The crew was amazing.
What does Nike represent to you and why was this such a big deal for you?
I’m not going to give some cliché story, this is Nike! Who doesn’t want to work with this huge global brand? There are loads of other sports brands but none have the same reputation that Nike does. They’re already known to be inclusive and the brand is indirectly quite close to me. A run club I am part of (BENI run club) has just started a sponsorship with Nike, which means I own so much Nike clothing. Working with a brand I love and use is so surreal.
Do you think the Nike team did their homework in terms of what the Hijab and what modesty means to Muslims?
They did! I was really surprised, as even the designers were at the shoot and asking us lots of questions about what should be visible on our bodies and what shouldn’t. I first tried on some of their tighter leggings and without me even having to say anything they knew this was not modest enough for me. They made sure everything was the right length and sat at the right place on our bodies.
What would you tell other brands that are considering using modest models?
I would say do your homework, what does being a modest model mean? What can we do, what can’t we do? Sometimes we can be quite shy because we just want the job, so we won’t say anything. We’re all different, some of us won’t show our baby hairs, some won’t show their neck, but some will. We all have a different criteria. Brands should be flexible and ask the models their boundaries. It even comes down to dietary requirements: if you have a Muslim model, you should consider what they might not be able to eat on set.
What words of advice would you give to visibly Muslim women who are trying to navigate the modeling world?
You have to work for it. I was blessed to be given these opportunities, but I did work my arse off. Don’t give up easily. Regular models get kicked back and give up, do research, find an agency that suits you best, if they say no, it’s not the end of the world.
Everything starts form your first step, set your goals, that’s the beginning. Do collaborations, ask your friends to take your pictures, be active on social media, and reach out to real people through networking.
Believe in yourself.
philosophy is the wellbeing beauty brand inspiring you to look, live and feel your best, and is the official partner of Stylist’s Remarkable Women Awards 2020.
Photography: Noor & Zee