Ali Abdulrahim, founder and creative director of Mai-Gidah, is optimistic. But far from foreseeing a future without any problems and challenges for fashion and designers, his predictions are linked to the reality of all those creators who struggle to keep their businesses in operation and see how an extremely fast-paced industry does not allow them to develop their talent at their own pace. His new collection, “Tafiya”, which he refers to as “a journey to an unknown but utopian destination”, is the result of a commitment to himself to make a proposal that represents him absolutely and with which he feels fully identified. “I really wanted this collection to be 100% what I intended, so the process took a little longer,” he adds.

The pandemic has shown him a much more relaxed and friendly side of Amsterdam, where he lives, while he became aware of the vulnerability and adaptability of human beings. And the impossibility of physically travelling as a result of mobility restrictions and the global crisis led him to escape from reality in the form of imaginary adventures, loaded with symbolism and meaning. From Caravaggio and his oversized sleeves that seem taken from a painting to the feeling of belonging and the ability, we have to turn a space into a safe place we call home.

Defender of the identity of each brand and the individuality of each garment, Ali is convinced that the pandemic will mean an obvious change in the fashion sector. “Although big corporate brands will always have to generate a lot of output to sustain their business and they can still dictate the calendar”, he comments on the influence that these huge companies exert on the gears of the industry, showing that his vision is not unrelated to the reality though he dreams through his new collection. We speak with him to find out all the details of his new proposal and his plans for the future.



Ali, before we dive into your new collection, could you tell me where you have spent the last months, defined by the pandemic and the global health crisis? Where do you answer us from?

I’m in Amsterdam now, I moved here just before the pandemic so I’ve been getting to know a more quiet Amsterdam than you would usually have.


We are still going through one of the most turbulent moments in recent history. A fatal phenomenon on a global scale that has affected all of us, without exception, forcing us to rethink many things, questioning premises that we took for granted. What conclusions have you drawn?

It’s reminded me of how delicate and vulnerable everyone and everything is. We really should appreciate good health and not take it for granted. It’s also made clear human behaviour is changeable, we can all make changes that really impact the world.


What about fashion? Have you considered the system that governs the sector during confinement?

I think it’s given brands and designers a chance to step away from the rat-race and forced us to take more time to think about why we design, which is a good thing. That’s why I’ve presented the collection now, when I finished. I felt like there was less of an obligation to finish just because everyone is. I’m always proud of the collections I make but I really wanted this collection to be 100% what I intended, so the process took a little longer.



Now you present your new proposal, “Tafiya”. Your collection for the Autumn/Winter 2021 season, whose name means “journey” in Hausa. And I guess that this work is the result of the reflections and existential questions that have arisen in recent months, isn’t it?

Yes, because everyone was and still is quite restricted in terms of travelling, I started thinking and dreaming about journeys without actually travelling. So the journey of how you develop as a person, or how you go through life and go from one thing to another.


Rules, inequality or the feeling of belonging are some of the issues you address in “Tafiya”. Topics that, although they were already present in our lives before the pandemic, have become more popular in the last year. How have you reflected these concepts through the garments?

The belonging and being part of something is symbolised by the anchor-closure and the doughnut-shaped pull-systems I designed. The anchor represents somewhere that you can call home or a place where you feel like you belong. The doughnut-shaped closures remind me of a life-buoy. The garments in this collection are individualistic, just like the people that would wear them.


And racism is another fundamental pillar of this new collection, which you fight through colour, surprising patterns and a powerful discourse that vindicates identity and origins. Is fashion sufficiently committed to social issues?

Fashion at the end of the day is still business, so I don’t believe it can ever truly be committed to social issues. But I think it does respond to the society it exists in. It has to in order to be relevant. So the more people that work in fashion are aware and empathise with social issues, the more engaged fashion can be. It can make a real difference at that stage when it represents the people it borrows from stylistically and supports or draws attention to the problems that need addressing.



We also notice a historical component in this new work. You have been inspired by Caravaggio or Bernini, but also by the maritime wild world. How have you merged all these sources of creativity and what are the similarities between all of them?

The colours are the most obvious to me, but also the anchor-shaped closures and doughnut-shaped loops. I think the drama of the different layers in the hoodies and coats play with the exuberance of the Baroque era. The sleeves are oversized and bellowing, just like they would in a painted saint by Caravaggio. The little ghouls from Bernini and the humour that runs through Barok art is reflected in the effect of the hoodies that can be converted with the envelope flaps.


There is no doubt that, as its name suggests, “Tafiya” is a journey through culture, society and artistic legacy. How would you define this adventure in one sentence?

That’s a difficult one! I’d have to say it really is a journey to an unknown yet utopian destination.


The patterns on which you build the garments once again become the main protagonists of the proposal, as is usual in your work. But also colour, pictorial inspiration or the blurring of gender boundaries. What are the main differences from your previous collections?

The colours are really really vibrant this time, especially the purple and the lime, and the way they’re combined is something I haven’t done this way before. But in general, I don’t see my collections as separate, they’re all part of one big work, or journey if you like.



Your social networks show absolute respect for your own work rhythms, without depending on rigid calendars and imposed seasons. In fact, you’ve been months without posting anything on your profiles. Are we facing a new era in Mai-Gidah?

Haha, I do hope there is enough patience to wait for when a collection is finished. I’m just hoping that designers and artists will get an opportunity to work more to their own rhythm. It’s commerce that forces us to put out so many collections a year, but maybe people are getting bored of the consumer cycle and they’re looking for something more special and meaningful. I don’t want to sound blase, but I think if you are going to buy one of my coats or pieces, you will probably have the patience to wait for something extraordinary. If you’re just looking for something to consume, you will have plenty of other choices out there and that’s ok. Instagram and social media are tools to communicate with prospective clients but they will also change, and maybe in a year or two we might be using other platforms or communicate in different ways. Who knows!


Do you think the fashion industry will change forever in the wake of the pandemic? Will new formats and formulas emerge when bringing fashion closer to the final consumer?

Yes, I’d like to believe change is happening. Although big corporate brands will always have to generate a lot of output to sustain their business and they can still dictate the calendar. Smaller brands and designers will get an opportunity to make less regular output and work at their own pace. Clients now want something more special, and they don’t want to feel guilty when they’ve bought something. That will really impact how fashion keeps on designing and producing.


And what can you tell us about your next projects? Will you present your work on any catwalk soon?

I’m working on some homeware ideas, I really enjoyed that so far. I’ve been working on the website and shop. And of course, the development of the next collection has started already.

I don’t think a catwalk show is on the cards. I want to present the new work, but maybe rather a video or recorded presentation, it feels more right for me. Or perhaps a walk through the clouds!

Editorial photography: Jesse Claus assisted by Simone Frank
Styling: Ciara Choi
Models: Alpha, Jiggy and Ben at the Movement Models Agency
Grooming: Wout Philippo