Growing up in Dallas, Rida Mandavia would watch her mother come home from work and change out of a pantsuit into a colorful shalwar kameez—a pair of trousers and a tunic traditionally worn by South Asian women. And, like her mother, she often found herself trying to compartmentalize the different sides of her identity in an effort to fit in. But as an adult, the 28-year-old has built a significant Instagram following (@ridaislam) doing just the opposite.
“My style philosophy is really about being experimental and being comfortable with the uncomfortable,” Mandavia says. “Not being afraid to blend my American and Indian identities has led to some of the most interesting fashion outcomes.”
She has worn an Indian skirt with a sweatshirt and a fanny pack; paired a Gucci shirt with a dhoti (a piece of cloth tied around the waist and extending to cover most of the legs, typically worn by men); and accented a mint green pantsuit with a traditional Indian pearl and emerald choker and headpiece.
With Texas being among the five U.S. states with the largest South Asian populations, there is definitely a market for fusion fashion. So much so that Fashion X Dallas featured some of the biggest Pakistani and Indian designers alongside highly prominent North Texas ones at its fifth annual show last year. Mandavia believes these kinds of collaborations highlight how Dallas has a “great curiosity and open-mindedness” when it comes to clothing.
“More and more people recognize that those of us who look different deserve a seat at the fashion show, so to speak,” she says.
In 2015, Mandavia launched Rida’s Pop-Up Shop (ridaspopupshop.storenvy.com), an online boutique that sells new and gently used South Asian clothes. The idea came after Mandavia cleaned her closet and decided to sell a few pieces that she had worn only once or twice. With overwhelming interest from her followers, she created a curated online thrift experience for South Asian clothes, and she now sells pieces on consignment as well.
For Mandavia, though, fashion is about more than just clothes. With a master’s in clinical psychology, she is also using her platform to raise awareness about mental health in the South Asian community, talking openly about topics such as domestic violence, depression, and anxiety. “It’s easy to preach online, but sharing my own story is what really allows me to connect with people,” she says. Being a survivor of an abusive relationship as a teenager and someone who suffers from anxiety, Mandavia encourages her followers to reach out to her if they are struggling.
“At the end of the day, fashion is about being vulnerable and putting yourself out there,” she says. “For me, that goes beyond my clothes and includes what I talk about.”