Hawwaa Ibrahim Talks Inspiration and Project Runway Junior

The Mankato teen makes a kaleidoscopic splash on Project Runway Junior
Hawwaa Ibrahim. Photo by Bill Phelps.

Mankato teen Hawwaa Ibrahim recently competed on the second season of reality TV show Project Runway Junior, where her distinctive style and color-blocking skills earned her third place. The self-taught designer’s circus-inspired finale collection received a rave review from judge Kelly Osbourne, who called Ibrahim’s designs “unique and special in a whole new way” and referred to Ibrahim herself as someone “the fashion industry is ready for.” Not bad for a high school senior.

“I started watching DIY videos all the time on YouTube and realized: I can do that. I actually didn’t start with fashion—I started by making crafts. Then I got a sewing
machine and decided to pursue fashion. I thought, Why not? We didn’t have sewing machines or anything like that at school, so I learned how to use it by watching YouTube and just guessing.”

“The first thing I ever made was a blue circle skirt. I had no idea what I was doing. When I tried to put the elastic in it, it tore, but I still wore it because I was like, I made this.”

“You just can’t give up. Things may go wrong, but you just have to keep going.”

“I love using color because it’s really eye-catching, and if something’s really colorful, you’re going to pay more attention to it. It matches my personality—I don’t really like fitting in. I think color really helps me stand out, and it’s a way of self expression.”

“I’m really inspired by retro things and vintage. I love thrifting for clothing—especially styles from the ’60s and ’70s—and I like going to antique stores and digging up old photos of old Hollywood celebrities like Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn.”

“The first season I watched was season four because it was on YouTube. I saw the unconventional challenge where they went to the Hershey’s store and they used candy to make clothes. I thought, I can totally do that. It was the season designer Christian Siriano was on, so that’s how I became a fan of his before I knew him as a judge on Project Runway Junior. I was like, Hey, I know that guy!”

“I didn’t expect to be on the bottom so many times on the show. At one point, I thought, I never want to do this again. In the end, it made me more daring and realize I should never doubt myself. You just can’t give up. Things may go wrong, but you just have to keep going. You get 30 minutes to sketch and you have to go with your first thought, because you don’t have time to change it. You have to think on your feet and go with the flow.”

“In the city, you get a lot of inspiration because of all the people around you and the buildings. Coming back to Mankato from New York was kind of heartbreaking, like, Now what do I do? It’s a huge difference—in Mankato, it’s just so small and there’s not much to do. But if you have the internet, you can Google ‘New York City’ and see the buildings, which is something I did all the time before being on the show. I thought, One day I’m going to go there, and I did. I don’t let the small-town aspect get me down—it makes me want to try harder.”

Digital Extra