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"Mariam Ouedraogo Talks ‘Empowering Muslim Women to be Unapologetically Modest' | Boss of NYU Stern’

Women's History Month

March 2023

By: SemegaChange

Written by: Kiara Mehta

In a world where wearing the hijab as a woman is seen as a sign of oppression and target instead of a simple religious practice and symbol of femininity. It is only fitting to feature Mariam for Women’s History Month as the core essence of her business Oued Collections is to implement womanhood in wearing the hijab and being ‘unapologetically’ yourself doing so.

A sophomore at NYU’s Stern School of Business, Mariam studies business, technology, and entrepreneurship. One of her most important accomplishments has been founding her brand, Oued Collection. It is a business that sells clothing for Muslim women, to spread “unapologetic modesty” and be more inclusive.

At the age of 8 or 9, Mariam grew up watching a French News Channel with her family around the world that focused on different cultures. Mariam’s mother wanted her and her siblings to not have a microscopic but a global view of the world. She remembers specifically watching fashion shows that worked on stitching and the intricacies of various designs. Mariam was “intrigued by fashion, creating something and a persona from it.”

Mariam received her first sewing machine from her father. While experimenting with this side of fashion, she realized that this part wasn't for her. But during high school, he encouraged her to start a business. Her dad invested in her first 300 garments, and she notes that she is continuously grateful for parents' support. She became equally inspired when she began to wear a niqab in high school.

The first day she walked in, a student who saw her said she looked like a queen, and more and more people appreciated how she looked. She felt so seen and loved and compassion by her school community. This helped her to inspire other girls Muslim and leverage it to use her business to inspire other girls.

As she grew her business, Mariam felt as though she was going through the motions. She noted that she knew she had a certain purpose, but she didn’t truly feel that at the moment. When she came to NYU however, she was reminded of how amazing her efforts and business are. People all around her told her what she was doing was amazing, and she had to listen to people and hear them say that her impact was good to be reminded of her purpose.

“I think it does go back to being a black woman. It is normal the struggles we go through. It is not really normal though. You should see how impactful you are, you can do more but if you’re comfortable in your reality you can’t grow. I really appreciate those people who remind me of my purpose and show me I can make it.”

Mariam also noted another important accomplishment in her life which is her involvement in the Social Impact Fellowship, which is a program that looks at different organizations and nonprofits and how they leverage their brand to create impact and change. She discussed with me that one of the most impactful moments that came from this program was when she was attending a competition for data design work with another company. During that time, she needed to pray. Out of kindness, her professor offered her to use his office and taped the glassdoor with paper so she could have privacy. She noted that it was crazy what compassion looked like and seeing people implement diversity inclusion in small ways was really meaningful to her.

When asked about the struggles of black women in society presently, Mariam told me that imposter syndrome played a huge role in her career and education thus far. Some days, she told me, it would be hard to work on her business.

“My mind is still young. I am still a kid. I have things to do, a website to edit, thank you cards to write, emails to do. My brain is always in constant confusion. I want to be young and relaxed, and to have a balance. Being a black woman, or a woman in general, I second guess that I can’t do it, but I shouldn’t be thinking like that. I shouldn’t be pushed away from my purpose and shouldn’t let who I am as a woman define me. I can overcome my struggles. Entrepreneurship is full of struggles, and failures are a culmination of a success story.”

Mariam’s greatest lesson she ever learned would be to trust yourself and to advocate for yourself. And, just live with compassion and enthalpy. One thing she loves about being a woman is our charm.

“When a woman smiles, it lights up your day, and when another woman tells you look beautiful, it empowers you to keep being beautiful from the inside. You should always try your best to make someone else’s day better, make someone else confident.”

As someone who struggles with confidence, I asked Mariam about how she deals with building confidence herself. She said the greatest element for lack of confidence is making someone else be confident and having empathy. She loves being able to help people. Being compassionate and kind will help so much with confidence, and makes the feeling of happiness that much more contagious. She told me she makes it a point that if I see a woman and she looks beautiful she will tell them.

“Women are compassionate, beautiful, and powerful. As women, we go through so much, and it's important to just be a light. I always will come back and try to use my power to spread that light and happiness. If you know how to use power, you will live your life very content and be an extraordinary person.”

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