In Conversation With Mona Ali, Founder of FIIRI, Scandinavia’s First Diverse Agency Representing POC

Tell us a bit about what you do and who you are. (talk about your childhood etc)

My name is Mona and I am the founder of FIIRI Agency – a diverse modelling and creative agency representing POC in front and behind the camera. I was born in Somalia in 1989. When the war broke off, my family moved to Sweden to build a brighter future for us. It wasn’t always easy as we were faced with a lot of racism. I remember growing up, we moved to a new house in a nicer neighbourhood, and people made it clear to us that we were not welcome by putting explosives in our mailbox. I think this happened at least five or six times. I remember a family that lived on our street would cross the road whenever they would see us coming. Coming from a war-torn country, foreign children are usually expected to do so much, to make their country proud, that “we’re given an opportunity”. This adds a lot of pressure for a young child. For me, I wanted to become someone great, and to do something great. I moved to London to study fashion and work in the industry. I also knew that I was good at it, so there wasn’t much to convince my family that this was what I should be doing. However, I never thought I would be a Black female business owner making changes, but here I am!

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How do you feel things have evolved in terms of race representation?

Poorly. I’ve pretty much always been the only Black girl at my jobs. The only representation I saw growing up as a model was Iman. It was never a girl with a hijab, never a woman with a leadership role working in a fashion magazine, and definitely never someone like me portrayed in the movies. You hear this a lot, but I’m also one of the many girls who wasn’t able to buy makeup until I was an adult. For me, it wasn’t until I moved to London at the age of 20. Even now, after 10 years, I’m not able to buy foundation that they have at the biggest department store in Stockholm; they don’t even have samples. This is a problem. Brands don’t realize that they are losing out on money by not being diverse; they are not catering to everyone. Just sit with that a little.

What does that mean for the models themselves?

I mean, overall, it’s become better, but we still have a long way to go. Not until we get to the time where a model gets booked by not ticking off a box!

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Fashion has become more inclusive when it comes to size representation, but where do you think boundaries still need to be broken?

Perhaps people will not agree with me, but I think height is a major thing, as well as the obvious, which is race. We talk so much about race, but the numbers are still so low. Think about how many brands there are and how many POC that are being booked. I would also really like to see Indian girls represented more across the world.

Have you encountered push-back or resistance from any segment of the industry?

Absolutely. When I moved back to Sweden six months ago, I was told to do my own hair for two shoots simply because they couldn’t find a hairstylist who knew how to do afro hair. I was told the reason why they didn’t have products for me in a big department store was because they lacked the space. So when you live in a country where you are not considered an equal because “there just aren’t enough people who look like you”, it is a major problem. Sweden has a major segregation issue, and we will never win this fight as long as there is segregation.

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How have models responded to your agency?

There have been major positive responses. I’ve had a few girls who were so grateful that there was a safe space for them simply because it was run by someone who knows their struggle. This is the key. We don’t see many Black-owned businesses, especially in fashion, so for them, I think, it gives hope for change.

Can you tell us how you feel right now seeing all the protesting across the global for Black Lives Matter?

It’s very emotional, to be honest. Every time I see or hear the words “Black Lives Matter”, I tear up. The fact that people have to protest that my life and every other Black person’s life should matter is just beyond me. I know this is going to be a long long fight against racism.

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Lastly, who is your Mother Muse?

Other than my beautiful and strong mothers (my mom and aunt), I love Tylynn Nguyen and Chrissy Teigen.

Explore FIIRI Agency Here

Models photographed by Kunta

Muse. Mona Ali photographed by Mio Sallanto

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