In conversation with Haseeb Azizi, Global Brand Marketing Specialist at Tommy Hilfiger

I was browsing through my LinkedIn as you do, when Haseeb’s (27) profile caught my eye. I was immediately impressed with his career history and reached out to him to inspire more young Muslim audiences to follow his footsteps. Lets find out more about how Haseeb started his career, the challenges he faced and if ethnicity played a big role in finding that perfect career? 

Haseeb, what university did you go to and what did you study? 

Like a lot of my peers, back when I just finished high school, I didn’t really know what I wanted to study. I had spent a year in London a few years prior so I was eager for more international experience. I ended up studying International Business for my bachelor’s degree at AMSIB in Amsterdam and soon discovered that I liked the creative/storytelling aspect of marketing. I decided to do a specialization in International Marketing and after I had done some mandatory courses in economics during my exchange semester at UQAM in Montréal, I knew for sure that I wanted to stay within marketing. Once I graduated, I got some work experience and ended up doing a masters in fashion marketing at London College of Fashion.  

Has your degree helped you throughout your career? 

To a certain extend….  My degrees definitely helped me to open the formal doors at the big corporates and has allowed me to gain a strong theoretical foundation in my specialisation, yet I think the “life competencies” that my studies brought me have helped me far more throughout my career.  

When did you realise fashion was a passion? 

It started out with an interest in sneakers. I’d wake up early in the morning to be the first in line for exclusive sneaker releases at these small sneaker boutiques and I would spend hours on the internet searching through obscure webshops to find sneakers I couldn’t buy locally.  This eventually merged with my interest in street culture and I started getting into streetwear brands who would embody this merger. Brands like Stüssy, The Hundreds, Patta and of course Nike were definitely big for me back then.  I’d spend hours on Highsnobiety and Complex reading up on everything that had to do with streetwear, youth culture, music and sneakers. For me fashion is a carrier of all of these interests. It is a mean of self-expression, an embodiment of culture, and a vehicle through which stories are told.  

How did you start your career?  

My professional career definitely had a rough start. I wasn’t getting hired by any fashion brand, so I started doing an internship with the intent of getting some experience and with the hopes of landing a full-time paid job somewhere. I barely made ends meet at the time and I borrowed my friend’s student transport card as I couldn’t afford public transportation. I’d worry every morning about getting caught by the ticket controller, yet fortunately for me, they’d just see a brown guy in the train and a brown guy on the card.  Meanwhile, I was getting back-to-back rejections and I had at this point lost count on the amount of cover letters I had written. It was a very difficult time in my professional career and at times it would feel that I had lost my perspective on how to move forward.  

Yet, throughout this period, I’d always be having this mindset that I didn’t want to stand still during my efforts of trying to move forward. I’d help out friends with their projects and slowly get myself involved in bigger projects and ultimately got more and more opportunities in front of me. Alhamdullilah things worked out for me as the ball really started rolling at a certain moment. If there is key learning out this start, it is that perseverance is key and life is a marathon, not a sprint.  

What challenges have you faced during your career? 

There is a lot of Eurocentricity in the fashion industry. In general, the fashion industry still has a long way to go to become a truly diverse and multicultural space. I’ve had lots of situation where I would be the only Muslim person of colour in the room and where I’d struggle to convey what the importance and definition of representation is in the context of fashion.  

It is interesting though, because this is not only happening in the professional fashion context. At London College of Fashion, with their campus being located just off of Oxford Circus, the student body would primarily consist of white European people, whereas when you exit the building, you’d walk right into this multicultural immensity called London.  

Have you ever been refused jobs because of your ethnicity, look or experience and how have you overcome that? 

I have definitely had instances where it was very apparent that I didn’t fit a company’s Eurocentric profile. I’ve had an occurrence where a company bluntly told me that they had invited me for an interview as I was the only brown looking guy who applied (instead of inviting me for my qualifications). During another instance, the HR contact person gave me the feedback that they loved everything about my profile but that they would rather go for a European girl in the team as that would fit the team better.  

In the end, I’m grateful I didn’t get these jobs as I would not have been happy being in an environment where an inclusive culture is not the norm. It‘s “kismet” as my parents would say. Yet, as an ambitious Muslim in Europe, it saddens me that the creative industry and particularly the fashion industry is not as accessible as it should be.  

Read the full interview in our Summer 2021 issue here

Tags: career, haseeb azizi, muslim jobs, tommy hilfiger

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