- Aileen Yu |
Being a fashion influencer is a career that many people dream of these days, but is it possible to be one while having a full-time job? A corporate girl by day working in Manhattan, New York’s demanding banking industry, Somali-American influencer Hawa Ali shows that it’s doable to juggle both. Scrolling through her Instagram feed, @hawaalamode, it’s immediately apparent Ali is inspired by New York City herself. FashionUnited recently chatted with Hawa Ali about how she manages to consistently deliver quality content while clocking in the long corporate hours, who she creates with and what she hopes to achieve as a style influencer.
Are you from New York? If not, what made you move here?
I was born in Somalia but have lived in the US the majority of my life. Growing up, my family first lived in New Jersey and later in Ohio, where I consider home. Since spending my formative years in the Midwest, I always wanted to live and work in New York like I saw my dad do when I was a little girl.
Four years ago, I decided I wanted to do just that while still in my 20s and could do crazy things. My husband, a native Ohioan, and I decided to go for it! I landed a job a month before I left, sold our new condo and my brand new car within a matter of days and we embarked on our NYC adventure.
How did you decide to become a fashion influencer and when did you start?
New York has since become my adopted home and has inspired me to not only progress in my banking career but also to be more authentically myself. As part of this journey, I started creating content on my blog and Instagram in 2018 as a way to give voice to my creativity and to reconnect with a part of myself that always used fashion and photography as a form of self-expression-and voilà, @hawaalamode was born!
I don’t think it was a conscious decision to become an influencer. When we were kids, my sister and I would set up different props in our bedroom and take pictures trying on different looks. However, as I got older, practical concerns and my studies led me to a career in finance. At some point, I realized I needed a balance between working to excel in my banking career and nurturing my need to be creative.
How do you juggle working a full-time job in New York City and creating content for @hawaalamode?
It’s definitely not easy! During the week my job in banking consumes my time; which is how it should be as I am intrinsically motivated to give my all to everything that I do. During the weekends I reserve a few hours for shooting. I have been lucky enough to connect, shoot, and attend events with other amazing creatives who manage impressive professional careers of their own. Being in NYC makes it easier for me to create content regularly and do it in the company of fun, interesting, and like-minded people!
Who do you photograph with, where and when?
I have met immensely talented, beautiful, and inclusive bloggers, influencers, and fashion enthusiasts through meetups, events, and Instagram. These girls, like me, have careers in Finance, Marketing, PR, and the medical field; they lead fully multifaceted lives and we’re connected by our passion for the art of fashion, travel, and the need for creativity and self-expression.
We plan ahead on where and when to shoot. Typically, we match our locations around the City based on the time year (e.g., 5th Avenue during Christmas or Central Park during the cherry blossom season). Living in such a gorgeous and dynamic place, we also take advantage of this by choosing iconic NY landmarks as backdrops.
What tips can you share with us on creating unique and beautiful content?
- Lighting: Understand how lighting works and what lighting looks flattering on you.
- Perspective: Play around with different shooting perspectives. Have fun being in front of the camera and experiment with different poses regardless of who is around.
- Early Morning: Shoot early in the morning when you want to shoot in locations with heavy traffic, use props.
- Be Patient: Especially in big cities such as NYC as you’ll have many uncontrollable factors such as people and cars.
Currently, you’re a micro-influencer (between 1000 to 100,000 followers), have any brands reached out to you for collaborations?
Yes, brands have reached out to me via Instagram or email. These brands have asked to partner with me on creating content wearing their pieces or attending various events. It’s something I truly enjoy doing because I get to create while building relationships with brands I truly respect.
What do you hope to achieve as a fashion influencer?
Such a hard question. I started this journey because I was seeking a creative outlet. So, I think that’s a paramount goal for me to this day; to continue to evolve as a person and share that process. However, I think I can do more to share that story, which is what I’m trying to do. My main objective though is to always create things that bring me joy and work with those that share the same passions.
Have you always loved fashion and style?
Yes! Fashion has always been my first passion. Unfortunately, I talked myself out of pursuing it for practicality purposes. Since I can remember I’ve sketched and thought of a million ways to style different pieces, experimented with different designs, patterns, colors, and designers.
What I love about fashion and the creative field is that you don’t necessarily need a degree to be a participant. Style is part of who you are; it’s what makes you comfortable in your own skin, it’s how you express yourself to the world. What’s great is that what you express can also change and evolve with you as you grow.
What is your message?
My message is being authentically myself. I think my audience sees a girl working hard, wearing many different hats, and finding her joy. I am working on getting more and more out of my shell as I continue on this creative journey.
What do you think you offer to your audience that’s different than other influencers?
I think my background sets me apart. Being Somali-American, living in this amazing city, working a job in banking while pursuing my creative interests makes me different. New York is full of interesting and unique people and yet I am often the only one like me in almost every room I enter. Also, I think my story, in general, resonates with my audience in terms of coming to this city and finding my happiness.
Photos: courtesy of @hawaalamode, courtesy of Hawa Ali