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Hey Atima, tell us your origin story!
I am a Sudanese-American, a very proud Black feminist born to an immigrant to America from Sudan and an African-American mother from Detroit raised in Topeka, Kansas. I ended up going to boarding school in Boston then studying business in college in St. Louis. I fell in love with entrepreneurship and started my own business when I was in college. I ran a full service hair and nail salon. I also fell in love with technology and did some internships with Google and Youtube and eventually found myself here in Boston at Harvard Business School studying marketing and working on my own business with my very best friend. Our business is focused on redefining the color nude in fashion so it was a great opportunity to be a part of the Naja campaign - I’m so excited for this movement we’re seeing in the industry and Naja is at the forefront and I’m happy to a part of it.
So how did you feel about our shoot together and the #NUDEFORALL campaign?
I think Naja is so groundbreaking in so many ways from empowering women who produce the products to being eco-conscious and friendly and then also the way that the brand is marketed. That it’s not the ‘traditional marketing to men in hyper-sexualized’ lingerie. When I saw this campaign, it was just another dimension in which Naja is pushing the envelope of what we think of when we think of lingerie and when we think of ads for underwear for women. You see all different body types and of course all different skin tones. I’m so excited to be able to say “I’m a lingerie model” even though I don’t have the typical dimensions of one, and that was so beautiful and what I also loved about it was the realness about it. I feel that you captured each of our true personalities, it was so fun, being on set, getting to know each other, we all connected on social media so I now have this group of friends of different women. You can see our happiness and our growing friendships in the campaigns.
Congratulations on your graduation from Harvard Business School! I saw that this happened just this week. What is a mountain that you’ve moved that you’re especially proud of?
It’s interesting, I think my biggest accomplishment is one that didn’t come with any medals or honors or external gratification but rather one that came internally. When I was in college I really embraced my identity and my particular aesthetic as a very dark skinned Sudanese woman. I cut off my hair and I’ve had my hair short ever since and that really marked the beginning of me not looking to the outside beauty industry, which I really can’t rely on, to tell me that I’m beautiful. That’s why I love this campaign - it’s one of the first times that a product has been made with my complexion in mind. For me I think it’s the mountain that I’ve moved of self-love, self-care, self-confidence, and feeling that even though I wasn’t getting that from the beauty industry and from the fashion industry growing up.
That makes a lot of sense. It does take a lot of bravery to be like, “I’m not going to rely on someone else or mass media to tell me that I’m worthy of the label of being beautiful”. I really appreciate you sharing that. In any of your journeys, was there ever a moment where you felt discouraged but you believed in yourself and said, “I’m going to do this anyway” and found success?
One of my majors in college was marketing and I always really wanted to do that because it’s creative and it adds the fun of the business with the artistic aspect but I was told that you could only have a marketing career if you have an MBA. I have one now, but I really wanted to work in marketing straight out of college and everyone told me that wasn’t possible - that I first had to follow this cookie cutter path. I totally rejected that notion and ventured on my career search on my own. I ended up working for a Walmart in marketing without an MBA and really fell in love with retail at the time. I think if I had to think of a word of advice or a big lesson learned from that experience it would be that there may be paths or a set way of doing things but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right way for you. If you believe in your heart that you want to study something or you want to go do something go figure out a way to do it. There is a door that can be opened, you can make it happen.
Speaking of life lessons, if you could give all women a superpower, what would that be?
It would be to see the positive in everything even the bad things that might be going on. I guess another way of saying it would be to always see the glass half full. I think I found my greatest moments of empowerment when I’m able to speak positively to myself even when I’m feeling down about something. Imagine how powerful we as women could be if we saw ourselves and saw situations that we were in as positively as men do. If you’re rejected by something, not seeing it as “oh my gosh I’m not good enough” they think “if not now, it’ll happen later”. Imagine if whenever you gain a little weight and instead of thinking “oh my gosh now I’m no longer attractive” think “look at these cool new curves that I’ve got I’m gonna rock these” I think that that would help women.
Tell us about an adventure you’ve had recently!
One of the things I loved and was so grateful for in Harvard Business School was the number of International Students that we have. I feel like I went to school at a mini United Nations. One of my classmates was South African and he organized a trek for about 20 of us to all go to South Africa. We all went into one of the world’s largest platinum mines and saw what the working conditions are like. As someone who is African-American who was born in the U.S.,, it’s so valuable to go back to my homeland and have that pan-African experience of getting to know where I come from. It was a good moment of self-discovery. As I go through life I can’t help but think about all the African and African-American people who have not had the same opportunities that I’ve had or who have fought really hard for me to be able to even go to Harvard Business School or work at top companies. To be able to dream and essentially be free. Being in an Apartheid museum was an amazing adventure. It’s a privilege even as a black person to know my history and be able to explore my history so up close and personal in that way given that it’s not easily accessible and not part of our standard system in the United States.
Is there a note to self you would like to be reminded of?
Enjoy the journey. Enjoy the moment. I’m positive that a lot of the wonder women that you’re highlighting are achievement oriented. They might get to some achievement, enjoy it for a day, and start killing themselves and grinding real hard to get to that next achievement level but the journey is so freaking awesome. So putting down your technology and sitting there and feeling the gratefulness as you go through your experiences and knowing that the negative ones are the ones that shape you the most and are going to help you emerge even better in those moments. Those are my notes to self. Enjoy that journey.
Someone told me recently “the way that you spend your days is the way that you spend your life” and I think if you remember that each day is going to be another day of your life then you appreciate each moment.