Get into Ibrahim Kamara's boundary-breaking rise
With barely 30 years of life under his belt, Ibrahim Kamara has boasted an impressively explosive career in the fashion industry ― but success didn't come as easy as the creative makes it look.
Born in Sierra Leone, Kamara grew up immersed in African culture, which often presented strict views on gender and black masculinity that Kamara would later challenge both in his career path and through his notably politically-charged work. His upbringing came with narrow expectations for career choice as well, and at 16 he arrived in London to study science per his parents' desire for Kamara to pursue a career as a physician. Unhappy with his studies, he approached his parents with a request: the opportunity for creativity.
“Breaking that to my family was one of the hardest things,” Kamara told BoF magazine. “It was harder than coming out to my parents, because African parents put so much pressure on careers and degrees.”
However difficult the decision, Kamara's family agreed to a gap year of self-exploration, during which time the teen experienced his first fashion shoot while working for a youth magazine in South London ― paving the road for the young creative's rich career. Prior to taking on his current role as Editor-in-Chief for Dazed magazine, Kamara's short-yet-explosive career is filled with impressive milestones ― serving at Senior Editor-at-Large for iD, organizing rehearsals for Vogue UK, signing the cover of Vogue Italia, and joining The Business of Fashion list of the most influential people are among the many.
No matter the medium, Kamara's work makes powerful statements about culture, gender, and race, fulfilling his desire to "create images with substance" ― with the overall intention of addressing a severe lack of authentic African representation in Western media. He criticizes the global perspective of Africa as a whole, and attributes the outdated misconceptions to pop culture: "This is a problem, because the continent has made so much progress and what continues to spread in the media is not an accurate reflection of what is happening today," he told The Fader magazine.
Frequently depicting portraits of his own childhood and youth, Kamara explores the duality of rich cultural and tribal traditions with "impossible to beat" style contrasted by violence and lack of resources, both intrinsic to his home country of Gambia where average life expectancy is only 60 years. Juxtaposed by the contemporary western culture Kamara grew up with after moving to London at age 11, his inspirations draw from an entirely unique worldview with the ability to speak on global issues of gender, diversity, and freedom from a perspective of those who live through the challenges firsthand.
Ultimately, the boundaries that initially excluded Kamara from his career of choice were transformed into crucial elements of success that set his work apart. Never losing sight of the roots that spawned his journey, they appear front and center in his creative endeavors. "My background has to be reflected in my work. Where you come from and what you are, is what differentiates you from others."
Today, his themes of freedom and acceptance transcend his once restricted lifestyle and call for lasting industry attention to the issues he addresses ― with his obvious ambition, it's clear Kamara's impact will only grow with time.
Catch more disruptive fashion here.