Born to Trinidadian parents Hakim and Ayana Muhammad, Ayana Ife Muhammed, who is named after her mom, is causing a buzz on the American reality television series, Project Runway Season 16 (PR16), as a fashion designer.
Muhammad’s clothing label is called Ayana Ife, and that’s the name she uses on PR16.
Ife, 27, who resides in Salt Lake City, Utah, was born in Brooklyn, New York and grew up with her parents and siblings in upstate New York.
Her parents raised six of their 11 children in TT before migrating. The other five siblings were born in the US.
“Because I have such a huge family it was very eventful. Never a dull moment. We all grew up together then moved once we became adults, for work or school. My siblings are all spread out over the US, in Alaska, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, LA, Utah,” Ife revealed in an online interview.
Ife was home-schooled by her mother. She then attained a Bachelor of Science degree in Apparel Design from Middle Tennessee State University. To date, she has been awarded the Outstanding Senior award for her designs and work ethic in the university’s Fashion Design Department.
Ife first set her eyes on designing long before her teenage years and began by jazzing-up her siblings’ clothes which she inherited.
“I learned to sew at age six. When I turned ten I knew it was what I wanted to do. Designing was always something I felt very strongly about. It started as a necessity....I have three brothers and seven sisters. I am the eighth child, so I would up-cycle and redesign my hand-me-downs …”
And indeed, by fifth grade Ife sold her first freelance garment to a classmate. She soon discovered that her designing ability and fashion perspective could grow into a livelihood both fulfilling and lucrative. She plunged herself into the fashion world, doing research, attending workshops, summer courses, volunteering, sewing for neighbours, giving styling advice, shadowing professionals, outfitting men, women, children and building a clientele of loyal customers.
Was there another profession she would have considered instead of designing? “I was originally expected to attend nursing school, (but) when I was taking prerequisites, I felt very unfulfilled. Like I was leaving a special part of myself behind. In that moment, I knew it was time to follow my calling. So I decided to put my all into designing,” and that was in the summer of 2013. Ife said by fall she was enrolled in a fashion programme at Middle Tennessee State University, where she was living at that time, and subsequently transferred credits from the college she attended in upstate NY, as well as a couple prerequisite courses for nursing, and graduated in two years. She said triumphantly: “I continued moving forward with my dreams and here I am today.”
On being a Muslim designer she said: “The experience has been incredible!” Her feelings as a contestant on PR16? “The Project Runway experience is the most surreal experience of my existence.”
Ife applied to Project Runway four times and auditioned twice before she was selected. Her family and friends are extremely supportive and encouraging, and she has made so many friends on the show.
“I design trendy, modest fashion. I am inspired by the ‘need’…because I am my target market. I start with pieces I know are tricky to find. I put my own modest design spin on classic pieces like blazers and button ups.
“I hope the exposure from Project Runway will help me get picked up by an acclaimed designer working heavily in the fashion world who wants to mentor me and essentially show me the ropes,” she said. Her ultimate goal is to create a very successful clothing label which caters to the modest market. Trendy, easily accessible looks.
“I want to be such a force, that I am internationally acclaimed and respected for my inventive approach to modest fashion. I want my modest fashion lovers, my sisters to feel influential, fearless, and elegant! I want to create a fashion empire.”
PR16 can be seen on Lifetime every Thursday at 8.30 pm.