As part of their ‘Love the Progress’ campaign, Converse approached ACCLAIM to share the stories of Australian women we admired. Rahma Soliman immediately sprung to mind, as did a few other talents we’ll be profiling in coming weeks. For now, read on and get to know the jack-of-all trades teenager doing some pretty fresh things with fashion.
Rahma Soliman is one of the coolest teenagers we know. Confident, creative, and super motivated, the 15 year old balances all the usual High School stuff with some pretty impressive extracurriculars. An avid boxer, Rahma trains every week and still makes times for Soliela, a streetwear label she runs with her older brother Adam (and wears throughout this shoot), inspired by their Egyptian heritage. She explains that clothing offers her a political platform, and an opportunity to share another side of Egypt. Boxing is a more personal pursuit that allows Rahma to challenge herself physically. We met Rahma in Brunswick after her school swimming carnival to hear about how Soliela got started, boxing with the boys, and her Mum.
Hey Rahma, I’m excited to chat with you. Can you tell me a little bit about growing up in Brunswick?
Growing up in Brunswick was good. It’s a very progressive area, the people there are very accepting of multiculturalism. Having said that, a lot of other Muslim people I know—Somali and Yemeni people and so on—live much further out of the inner city than me. So in some ways I was culturally quite different to the people I grew up around, I think being in such a progressive neighbourhood shaped my worldview.
What does being a young woman mean for you?
I just want to make sure that I have the power to do the things that I want, to not conform and to view my gender to as an advantage rather than see it as a disadvantage. I know there’s still some imbalance with things like the pay gap but I try not to focus on the negative and try to use my energy for good.
I really like what you’re doing with Soliela at the moment. I have no idea how you can juggle school, boxing, and this project. What would you like to do with the label, do you and Adam have a mission?
In my eyes, we want to capture the beauty in what you could call ‘fallen countries’—places the media portrays as fallen. I feel like the Middle East is disregarded by Western society. Our focus with Soliela is Egypt, but we want to represent all the Middle East in a different light, to show the real side of it, you know? We’re trying to re-contextualise the way young people in the West perceive Egypt and the Middle East, to celebrate the culture rather than focus on the politics.
What sort of women do you imagine wearing your clothes?
We actually make our clothing unisex. For me, that’s just how clothes should be, never intended for one type of person or just one gender. I have to dress modestly, so all the clothes I wear are generally oversized and that plays into how I approach the label. Soliela isn’t typically ‘feminine’, but it’s also not just made with men in mind. It’s for everybody.
To change track quickly, when did you first start boxing?
I first started in September 2017. I was always interested in martial arts, I wanted to do Krav Maga originally. I used to watch the Karate Kid and just think “Yes! I wanna kick something!” My brother Adam wanted to try boxing, and the gym my mum took us to had a deal that made it cheaper for two people to sign up than one, so I gave it a go [laughs]. My brother actually stopped, and I was the one who loved it so much that I kept it up.
Can you tell me about your gym?
It’s very inviting, there’s no ego there. It’s welcoming to young people and young women as well. There’s an all women’s class which is really good. Being Muslim, I felt more safe and comfortable taking those initially but I also take the mixed classes now. Even the men are really encouraging of a young Muslim woman getting involved. I honestly feel supported by the people who train at my gym.
To circle back to Soliela, how does the label allow you to express yourself in a different way to boxing?
Boxing is a physical expression. It’s about my body and how it reacts; my mental state; and learning how I can physically adapt to challenges. Boxing is all about what you can do with your body, Soleila is where I get to express myself creatively and even politically. It’s a platform that allows me get my ideas out into the world. I could put out a shirt that said “Fuck Donald Trump”, and that’s can be impactful. The label is a great way to format those kind of ideas.
Do you have any advice for any young women who are trying to find their way into male-dominated spaces like streetwear, or even the boxing gym, like you have?
I think it’s important to a have support network, to have people that you can talk to. My brother and I are very close and he’s always been a big support to me. If you don’t have access to that, which some people might not, just know that if ‘Person A’ can do it, then ‘Person B’ can too. If you believe you can do something then you can do it. If you’re intimidated by a male dominated gym, trust me I feel you, ‘cause I’ve been there. But honestly, those big gym guys aren’t even that cool—what do you call them? Steroids? I think 2019 is a good time for women to be challenging things.
Do your friends at school know about your boxing or the brand? What do they think?
They’re aware, supportive and check in from time to time, but it’s mostly something I do on my own or with my brother. Actually, funny story about how Adam and I started the label. Our mum had gone away for a while and we’d spent all the money she had left us like two weeks before she would be back! We came up with the idea to design a t-shirt and offer pre-orders to all the kids at our school. Everyone at school bought one, it was very cool! We made a lot of money that week, and the week after everybody got their shirts. When Mum got home she was like “Wow, you survived!”
Given we’re writing this a couple weeks away from International Women’s Day, I wanted to hear about the women that you look up to.
100% my mum, she’s very strong and she’s been through a lot in her life. She’s done so much for my brother and me. She has a strong sense of identity, not just in being a Muslim, but also in being a woman—despite growing up in Egypt, which a very different environment to Australia. She never disregard her own morals, but she’s very supportive of my boxing and my creative endeavours. She wants me to be happy, whatever I decide to do next.
Converse’s Love The Progress collection is available now at www.converse.com.au. Go behind the scenes of our shoot in the clip below.