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Hi Maks! What is your origin story?
I was born in Bangladesh and came to LA with my family when I was four. My parents moved here for better opportunities. I grew up and have always lived on the West side of LA, either in Westchester or by Marina del Rey. My childhood was really traditional, like most foreign parents would raise their children. But on top of that, my parents are also strict Muslims. I guess everyone goes through an identity crisis as they’re growing up. Most people go through that in their teens when they don’t know who they are. But when I was younger, it was apparent from day 1 that I wasn’t like the rest of the kids at school. I was not American nor white so I had to go through that discovery much earlier. I wasn’t sure which side to pick or rather I had to ask myself “What am I? Am I more Bengali or am I American now?”
In LA, there’s a significant Bengali society, my parents have a lot of Bengali friends. When I’m around them, I dress traditionally, I speak in Bengali and I have to put on, not an act, but I have to play that role. When I was at school I wanted to be cool and I wanted to fit in. I wanted to wear shorts or dress like an American. Life had always been like that - not balancing - but having these two separate lives.
I was 18 when I started working at American Apparel. I was just in love with the clothes. At that time, it was a cool, hipster company that came out of LA which represented a sense of freedom. With American Apparel, they really valued individuality. It was all about being natural and being yourself so I connected with that a lot. My co-workers all came from very diverse backgrounds. I started at the 3rd St. Promenade store in Santa Monica some of the friends I met there I’m still friends with today. It was a great experience.
Since I left, I took 6 months off to really figure out what I liked doing. I decided to get my yoga license to help others and spread the healing powers of yoga because I was so passionate about it. It made me feel good about myself and it helps me gain a sense of balance. Everything you learn in the yoga room mirrors and reflects outwards in your normal everyday life. I think everyone should try it. It’s a good feeling.
So speaking of trying out things, you were a part of our #NUDEFORALL campaign - how do you feel about it?
I love it. It came out so amazing. I already thought the idea was great. Promoting diversity and natural beauty, supporting strong women and women that come from different dynamics is everything that I believe in.
I think it sends a really good message especially in this day and age where the media tells us there’s only a certain type of look that’s accepted and your body is supposed to be a certain way. By doing this this campaign, I felt really empowered and proud. Not everyone has great boobs or a great butt and not everyone looks like a Kardashian. Using real women instead of models in this shoot showed their strength - there was something unique about everyone in the shoot. I’m really happy with how it came out.
How was it for you personally speaking to be a part of a lingerie campaign wearing just a bra and underwear? I know this isn’t the first time you’ve modelled somewhat nude.
Growing up, my parents suppressed me from many activities because of their religious and cultural beliefs. I wasn't allowed to wear shorts or show my full arms and bathing suits were out of the question. I couldn't ever spend the night at a friend's. We weren't allowed to celebrate any American holidays (even the non-religious ones) and much more. All I wanted was just to be a "normal" American girl.
My parents’ marriage was arranged and almost everyone else's in my family, so my parents have always hoped that for me. But growing up in America, I know I have my rights and don't have to settle for a husband to provide for me.
Finally, I was able to embrace and exercise my freedom and beliefs through an American Apparel ad that ran after the Rana Plaza collapse which killed over a thousand garment workers. Although the ad had much criticism and nearly banned me from many Bengali societies, I am proud of standing up for my beliefs.
I think all girls should grow up feeling empowered and not fearful in this world because of religion or their cultural background.
That seems like it was a break out moment for for you but are there any other mountains you’ve moved that you’re especially proud of?
I’m proud of myself everyday that I’m able to live the life I live. Just this morning, there was an article about a girl in Pakistan that was burned to death. Her family killed her. She was only 18 years old and burned to death because she ran away with a man that she loved. That happens all the time in Middle Eastern and third world countries. I’m grateful and happy that I’m not in that environment.
I’m proud of being able to represent the message that just because you’re Muslim and have a really strict, conventional background, you can still do what you want to do and be yourself.
Was there ever a moment you felt that you were discouraged from doing something but because of that belief you went ahead anyway?
Since I was a kid, I was discouraged to not be too American. My parents wanted me to respect our culture and to respect the fact that I was Muslim when the majority of the country is Christian.
He would say remind me that we’re not like that so I was always discouraged from fully being able to express myself. With the American Apparel ad, my parents almost disowned me but I’m so glad they’ve taken me back. My parents they love me of course but I was discouraged by them and all the negative attention by everyone from Bangledesh. I read a lot of blogs and articles written about it. The whole country was very upset with me for representing the nation in a bad way. They thought that I was exploited or that it breaks all of their values because we’re supposed to be covered up. They assumed that I was dissing the culture and talking negatively about being Muslim. There was a lot of discouragement.
My parents aren’t huge supporters of my pursuit of yoga teaching. They want something more safe. They don’t think yoga is going to give me a future or that I’m not going to be able to support myself. They’re just thinking about my financial security. If it were up to them they would want me to finish school, because I dropped out of college, and they’d want me to have a desk job. That would mean adulthood to them.
But it’s all good, I’m going to do what I’m going to do to make me happy. This belief has to come from inside. From your soul. From your truest of true hearts. You could lie to yourself and say ‘Okay fine, I’m going to listen to my parents, I’ll just do what they want me to do.’ or ‘Okay fine, I’ll just listen to society’ but that wouldn’t have made me happy.
I’m American but really, I’m Californian. I just want to be myself. I don’t want to listen to anyone else’s conventions or the rules that they have for their lives, I want to follow my own.
If you were to give other women a superpower, what would it be and why?
Having the inner strength and self awareness. Having the strength to go on, fight and not give up. Do what you believe in. I’m not saying never listen to other people or that you shouldn’t listen to your parents. Listen to if it also makes you happy or if you’re still following your dreams.
Tell us about an adventure you’ve had?
My parents did not want me to go to my senior prom but of course I still did. I told them I was working on something else, a project that I had to do. I went behind their backs got a dress and shoes and made it to prom. I was so happy that I had that experience because I would have been really bummed out if I didn’t.
I travelled a lot through Europe when I was working at American Apparel. There’s this train that goes from Amsterdam to Paris called the ‘Red Train’. I loved it. It passes through so many countries, I really enjoyed seeing all the diversity and everyone while riding it. It's really beautiful.
What is something like a note to self that you like to remind yourself of?
That everything is okay. I’d like to remind myself that I should be thankful even if I’m having a bad day or if I want something and it doesn’t go my way. We’re given so many opportunities so be thankful and grateful for what we have.
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