Yara Shahidi wears many hats: award-winning actress, producer, philanthropist—and now, she’s adding a new accolade to her list: as this year’s recipient of the prestigious WIF Max Mara Face of the Future Award. So what’s next for her? We find out. Here, Shahidi talks about her relationship with fashion, passing on abundance and her proudest achievements through her work.
You have been awarded the WIF Max Mara Face of the Future award 2023. Why do you think Max Mara chose you, and what does this mean to you?
I feel incredibly grateful because it is clear to me how aligned our missions are. Max Mara’s support of Women In Film has been unwavering and there is this shared sense of the importance of telling women’s stories, and how we use our platforms to honour and celebrate the diversity of women. The work that WIF does—to bring directors in and share opportunities with other amazing women so that what we see on screen is reflective of what is actually happening behind the camera—is aligned with the work that both my business partner and mother, Keri Shahidi, and I focus on in our production company, 7th Sun.
You often speak about the ethical meaning of fashion. Does Max Mara align with that mission?
I had the privilege to be in Milan for the Spring/Summer 2024 show, and I loved how the collection was rooted in important moments in history [like] The Women’s Land Army. To think about how women have contributed and to have an entire collection inspired by an overlooked part of our history, to share how women have shaped landscapes and how they have come in to support communities, really does speak to this shared sense of supporting women and figuring out how to use our platforms in large and small ways.
Tell us about your relationship with fashion. How did you build your personal style and what characterises it?
I’ve always used fashion as a form of self-expression. My parents let me wear even the quirkiest of outfits and go through every fashion phase, from only wearing skirts and high-top sneakers in middle school to super preppy knee-high socks and plaid skirts in high school. Now that I have the privilege to have so much fun with great fashion partnerships, I still try to maintain the core theme of self-expression! In my public-facing life, I love to have fun with colour, great references to fashion history, and silhouettes. Privately, I’m still figuring out my style because this has been my year of “getting dressed” and not just wearing tracksuits in my free time (although I will, I have a soft spot for a matching set and tracksuit).
How do you support women in your life?
At the most basic level, I am a part of a support network of women. My day-to-day life normally involves being supported by women and, vice versa, showing up for my friends, their careers, and journeys. On a more technical work level, my work in production and fashion always involves a philanthropic component behind the scenes with a focus on how we can use our partnerships to support BIPOC women. My mother raised me with the saying, “Abundance must flow,” so whenever a collaboration provides me with new opportunities, it feels like my responsibility to figure out how to pass on the opportunity/abundance.
Is there something you have achieved through this work that you are particularly proud of?
This may sound funny, but one moment that has stuck with me regarding the impact of being outspoken would be around eight years ago when a young girl came rushing out of her car to tell me, “I’m taking AP World History because of you.” This was the highest compliment one could receive: to think that my authentic sharing about the value of education and the importance of history in our life had inspired somebody my age. It showed me that people are paying attention. So many of us have platforms, and it’s mindblowing how your presence can be the spark that ignites a fire within someone else.
Where do you see yourself in the future?
On a professional level, I genuinely love the production process and the ability to develop a project from the ground up because oftentimes, the actors are the last part of a process that existed well before we were involved. While the future of the industry seems unstable, I am encouraged because we have never seen this level of solidarity, and, hopefully, this means that we are going to walk into a whole new era where people can prioritise creativity. We have been able to share so many incredible stories, so I can only imagine what is yet to be shared when we create a more equitable experience.
I have never been one with a five-year plan, but I have just tried to check in with myself to see where my curiosities and passions are steering me. With that said, there is still so much I want to do—from empowering my peers to turn their passions into policy through voting to wanting to open a music studio (I have no plans on dropping music, but I love watching the process)! So I think I will continue to see where this journey takes me.