Afrobella of the Month — Najwa Moses, Styleaholic and Icon-in-the-making

Najwa Moses is striking. Najwa Moses is bold. Najwa Moses lives her life full speed ahead. She’s working hard towards making herself a brand, and from the interview we had a week or so ago, I’m convinced she knows what she’s doing.

She’s a podcaster, a videopodcaster, a writer, a fashionista, a marketing maven, a self promoter, a fashion do, and an unabashed fashion don’t all at the same time. And in this era of changing media, she’s one of my new heroines. I caught up with her in a fun phone interview recently, and we chatted about anything and everything.

One of Najwa’s first roles in fashion was doing business development for a not-for-profit organization through the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. “My job was to help promote the work of local designers, helping them get to trade shows, helping them do numbers, PR, whatever whatever. One of the first things I created was called a shopping party. All these shopping parties — Shecky’s, Gen Art, all of them were quote-unquote “inspired” by the concept I came up with,” she declared proudly.

“Wow,” I interjected.

“I know, right! I don’t get credit for that? When you’re 20 years old or 21 years old and you don’t have a big company with lots of money behind you… when you put something out that’s a novelty idea, you’re really leaving it out there for other people to pick up. And that’s unfortunate. But I’ve learned, and you know what, they can’t take creativity away.”

That pick yourself up, dust yourself off attitude has taken her from strength to strength. Najwa’s shopping party was called The Closet, and it involved a lot of indie designers who weren’t aware of their potential. She started the event in 2001, and she learned as she went along. “I understand how things work a little bit better now.”

The last time they held the event was in 2005. At the time, she was also writing for NPR, covering New York Fashion Week, and immersing herself in the culture of style. Still, she found herself yearning to do her own thing. “That’s when I learned about podcasting. It was like — you want your own radio show? Come learn about podcasting. I was like, hell yeah! Jumped into it, did a bunch of great audio interviews, got a brand new website and I was like, oh no, this website must have video. I lost my mind, forgetting how expensive video is,” she laughs. Her website is Styleaholics, and it’s as fabulous as you would expect.

Najwa’s got a lot of personality, and she talks at the speed of traffic in New York City. For example, she had me cracking up when I listened to this Showbuzz podcast, where she recounts visiting Kutztown, Pennsylvania. Pioneering forms of new media doesn’t come cheap, but Najwa’s trying to be savvy about it. Now she has her own YouTube channel, where she features her videopodcast “The In List.” She’s interviewed fashion icons and fabulous celebrities including Diane Von Furstenberg, Kelis, and Marc Ecko (I don’t know what it is, but I find him completely fascinating). She’s starting to make some commercial inroads, too — check her out pimping the Toyota Camry at one of her fashion events. It’s all part of her brand-building master plan.

“I cross many worlds. I don’t just stick with the black fashionista world, or the fashionista world. I am also into the music scene, the food scene, very international high end stuff, or very underground scenes. I think I represent many different types of people and subcultures.” No kidding. In addition to the podcasts, videos, and writing for sites like AOL’s Styleist and Bluefly, Najwa is also the ambassador for Ugly Talent NY, a character model agency started in 1969 that exclusively traffics in “interesting” faces. Multicultural? Old? Tatted up? Obese? Or generally unusual? Ugly NY is looking for you. “The models range from a 300lb Sumo wrestler to a Styleaholic like myself-and I’ve personally have never been happier to be UGLY,” says Najwa.

Which brings me to another defining trait of Najwa’s. Her style. I had to ask her what’s up with that defining look. “My style is just really eclectic. I’m always a little left of fashion, and at the same time, I have to pay attention to that and understand that not everyone will look at me and say oh my God, that’s brilliant. For me, it’s about creating a statement and making sure everyone is noticing me. Because you want to make sure when you walk into an event, all eyes are on you. And in New York City, there’s a lot of people for eyes to be on.”

Believe it or not, being a plus size chick who dresses flamboyantly is working for her. “I’m not a size two. People well say oh my God, is that a detraction? But you know what, it actually helps me. Because it’s like, who is that curvy girl with those big ass boobs and that big ass hair coming in here? You can’t help but notice me. And I’m confident. And I believe in the designers I’m wearing, so it is what it is. Even this year, I’m like, how can I go crazier?”

Her in-your-face style gets her noticed, and the attention can sometimes be negative. Wire Image photos of her get picked up in the blogosphere, and Najwa’s been clowned on some of my favorite sites, like Crunk & Disorderly, A Hot Mess, and Bossip. At first the reader reaction bothered her. “I love the bloggers, because they keep it real. I’ve been SLAMMED by lots of the black blogs. But you know, press is press is press. The first time it happened, I was like oh my God, and I went crying to my mother. The second time, I was like… ok, well, I got some traffic to my site. The third time… my friend sent me an e mail and said to me, you’re a superstar. I’m being featured on the same websites as Will Smith, Britney, Angelina Jolie… if I’m being talked about on the same site as these A listers, I’m doing something right. I got about 300 comments on one of those sites. That means something,” she declares. It means Najwa’s turning heads and making a statement. I applaud that difference. We can’t all be rocking the same cookie cutter hair, clothes, and makeup, right? Someone’s got to march to their own beat.

“I feel like in the black community, if you’re even a little left of center, it is a problem. I’m a hip hop person. If you look back at those old videos, like Afrika Bambaataa, they were wearing SPACE SUITS! People would be questioning their sexuality, today. But at the end of the day, the experience of having people talk junk about me was phenomenal. I live in a world where everybody loves Najwa, and everything I do is cool. Putting myself on front street like that and hearing people talk about my style was a trip.”

This year, Najwa is planning to up the ante and change her hair drastically. I tried to get to the root of the matter, so to speak. But that was the one topic she was careful about divulging more on. “One day, I’m gonna do a YouTube video and I’m gonna show people where I go get my hair done. I’m sure it’ll be the biggest video I’ve ever made. But until then, no one’s gonna know the secret!” Come on, Najwa! Give me more than that. “OK, my own hair is natural, it’s been natural for 13 years. This is the biggest, longest hair I’ve ever worn, and I’ve worn it like this for the longest time — two years. I call this my rasta fro. It’s kinda like Rudy Huxtable when she was little, she wore those big ponytails and brushed it out into a big bush? But it kind of comes down into a dreadlock kind of thing. I’m big into experimenting with color, right now my hair is jet black with hot pink in it. And the men are just loving it! I call it the Diana Ross Dark n’ Lovely era,” she explains.

Someday, Najwa wants to go mainstream. She realizes her fashion choices might work against her in that realm. She rails against what she calls “the vanilla pink movement.” “I’m tired of it. It’s basically these websites that are hot pink and white, with these cookie cutter girls — mostly white brunettes with bobs, and if they’re black, they’ve got bobs too. They all wear the pencil skirt and they talk like this, la-la-la-la…” there’s more in the game than just vanilla pink.”

Being social and knowing how to work it is taking Najwa Moses to the next level. Being fearless helps. “I will just go out there and DO something. Sometimes I need to think about the end results a little bit more. But if I’m immediately inspired, I’ll just go out and do it. That’s just the entrepreneur in me.” The entrepreneur in her has just launched a new earring line, Salte, which is as big and fabulous and crazy as the designer herself. In her own words, “made from 100% leather and cut, sewn and painted by me, each piece is slightly unique. My debut collection is called “The Hollywood Set”; themed after the crazy roles of those in the industry.” I can’t lie — some of those earrings are too big for me. But some of them are just FLY. For example, The Blogger, patent leather earrings dedicated “to the Blogsphere for putting traditional media on its ass.” Hell yeah, Naj!

She’s asked me to offer a special giveaway to readers who aren’t afraid to be fabulous. So this is an Afrobella first — my Afrobella of the Month is offering an Afrobella giveaway! Would you like to rock a pair of blogger earrings in black, bronze, or ice? Leave me a comment saying which color you’d like, and why you’d be proud to rock Salte. Najwa’s totally going to read these, so let her know what you think about her earrings, her style, and the big moves she’s trying to make.

I chose Najwa as my first Afrobella of the Month for 2008 because I admire her moxie. She kind of embodies that spirit of change I mentioned for 2008 — a sprinkle of that chutzpah could do me good.

Congratulations, Najwa Moses! You’re Afrobella of the Month!

** edited at minutes to midnight — wanna see more Najwa? She’s gonna be on the Rachel Ray show on Friday 18. That’s today!!

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Comments

  1. THIS IS FABO! THANK YOU A 1000% XOXOXOXOXOXO
    naj:)

  2. I would love to have a pair of blogger earrings in black. I would love to rock a pair of those earrings because the design embodies Najwa’s attitude(doing you %100 and not caring what others think), which I adore. When I went natural 4 years ago it was a struggle because everyone kept telling me I made a big mistake, and that I was now ugly. I lost a lot of confidence because the male attention was not coming like it use to. However, one day I just said eff everybody and I’m doing me. It’s amazing how having an attitude that YOU are the STUFF regardless of what others think can do for you. A lot of people, even the ones that don’t really like what you do, will respect you because they themselves probably do not have a lot of confidence, so they must conform to the standard. I feel the more people like Najwa get attention, respect, and the platform to showcase their creativity, then there will be more balance in an industry that doesn’t respect uniqueness.

  3. Great interview bella! I took a peek at Najwa’s site, (I’m not entering the giveaway, I just won something from bella), but chic your earrings are BANGING!! I would so rock them with my big fro & twist out. Kudos Najwa, I love your eclectic style! :)

  4. I so dig this chick! I relate to her keen fashion sensibility and her desire to be creative in every genre. Kudos to Najwa. And hey, you were in Kutztown, Penn….well, that’s where Keith Haring is from, one of my favorite artists!
    Do your thang girl…and from one flamboyant and unconventional sista to another, EAT CAKE!

  5. Aww!! My buddy Afrobella featuring my buddy Najwa! I am verklempt!

  6. All the earrings are hot but I’m really into bronze right now…don’t know why. I love Najwa’s attitude! I think so many of us Afrobella’s feel pressure to conform so it’s nice to hear from someone with the confidence to do what some of us are afraid to do.

  7. i think ive just found a new she-ro, thanks Afrobella!!! id love to rock a pair of the blogger earrings in black because, like Nawja, i like to go and create my own style outside of what might be conventionally trendy. its taken me a long time to become comfortable in my skin and in my hair and now im at the point where i can kick back and enjoy my fabulous natural curvy self. Nawja’s got it goin on and i can only hope more afrobella’s can reach the self confidence and exuberance she seems to have.

  8. First of all, i love your blog…just found it via Nicole’s, and i would rock those earrings! Love what this lady stands for, unique is wonderful and refreshing…reading this just made me smile all over!

  9. How fabulous is Najwa? Do it girl.

    Bella,great post!

  10. Najwa is fabulous! I love that she’s swimming in so many artistic oceans. No more vanilla pink – I can dig it. Afrobella, I’m completely in love with your site. I’m on here even more than Facebook now… scary.

  11. I have black earrings, I have bronze earrings, I don’t know anyone with ICE earrings…If you are going to rock a bold pair of earring you might as well go the whole nine, and rock them in a non-traditional color.
    I am so glad their are women like Najwa putting themselves out there. I work with middle schoolers and too many of them hold a close minded view of what it means to be black and what black ppl can do. I would wear the SALTE The Blogger (Ice) to work and watch the kids mouths drop open.

  12. Love her energy!!! I felt like I needed to lie down for about 15 minutes after I read about all the stuff she’s got going on, but I love it! And I agree, I love how she is doing her thing, and loving herself, despite knowing that not everyone likes how she rolls. I really appreciated her honesty in how at first it did bother her deeply, but she has moved beyond that, and talk about making lemonade from lemons! She’s so positive. How can you not admire all that positive energy and passion? Great choice, bella!

  13. Great pick for a Bella, Naj is funny, a trensetter and a real down to earth sis. She is always on her grind.

  14. I had a chance to work with Najwa at AOL last year and she’s definitely all that you’ve said about her and more. I’m so glad she’s doing well!

  15. CurlyHair says:

    “I’m always a little left of fashion”, I love,love THAT!!!! Najwa Moses is my style icon. I recently got hipped to Nawja after visiting “Harriets Alter Ego” the bomb clothing spot in Brooklyn. Since then I have been a huge fan. I visited the styleaholic website and saw all the wonderful earrings that are designed by Nawja and I’ve been craving one ever since. I’m living on a tight budget, but I will own a pair of those fab earrings. Believe me! I am a fashionista myself and I love creating and doing my own thing. I dislike looking like the next person and always have to take my style up a notch. Owning a pair of SALTZ would be absolutely fanastic! I can rock any color, but I would love to rock the ICE! The color ICE just sounds funky and I know I can throw together crazy outfits that would compliment the look perfectly. Please don’t get me started, I can go on and on. MY STYLE is ECLECTIC, FLY, DRAMATIC and DIFFERENT. I would love to own one of these earrings.
    Thanks Afrobella for featuring Nawja Moses! I was very thrilled to see Nawja spotlighted this month. Ms. Nawja much love and respect to you. Give me a chance to rock your piece and I will Truly R-E-P-R-E-S-E-N-T!

  16. I loooove that headshot of her above. I have it on my closet door at home. She’s fabulous!

  17. Big up to Nawja. I love when a curvy sistah is comfortable in her own skin and don’t take any mess for nobody!! Being an original is so much better than being a pale copy of someone else. Looking forward to the collection.

  18. I loved this pick. Nawja is so right. If you don’t fit in a little box folks will question your “blackness”.

    I am a recent winner so I won’t enter the contest. I will check out this fierce sista’s site!

  19. bellakarenna says:

    how refreshing! i just saw her in duane reade this past monday and i was floored by her fabulosity. i was dying to know who she was! ha! personally, love to see black women get out of box challenging these debatable beauty ideals AND notions of so called ‘blackness’ . it’s so apropos that she is this month’s afrobella. keep it up. she has true personal style. so original. keep it up bella!

  20. Najwa embodies what I’m about right now, being fearless. Do it girl! I’d love to try the earrings in black. I’m on a patent leather kick right now and would love some huge earrings to make a statement with.

  21. http://tinyurl.com/2zzyok

    Yaya DaCosta would make a great Afrobella of the week, her hair is so pretty and she’s been doing well modeling and acting.

  22. aaawyeah. i neeeeeed a token of nawja moxie in my life in bronze. which is to say please put me in the running for the bronze earrings — or i’d try ice too. she makes me think of josephine baker. just hot, hot, hot. her outloudness makes you wanna dance!! and you know what else is cool is that reading about her doesn’t make me feel like i need to go buy a bunch of stuff to make myself over. she makes me want to make things myself or make myself myself on terms i choose, mostly – art, stories, outfits. she makes me want to do my thing. i love that she’s way beyond depending on other people to make her style for her. i love this site. finally a little archive of women i dig — Betty Davis was another favorite post. i’m excited!

  23. I would love to have Nawja’s earrings in black. I love people like Nawja who are open, free and don’t care about what people think about them. People like Nawja live life to the fullest without a care in the world. I envy people like Nawja who possess such a free spirit because unlike her I’m a excessively self-conscious person who care about what people think of me. I’m in the process of working on myself in hopes of being “Great in 08″ slowly but surely. Having a pair of Nawja’s earring will by no means solve my issues but it will give me a dose of confidence and for change and make me feel good about myself in hopes of one day possessing such a creatively fun spirit such as Nawja’s

  24. I would love a pair of Nawja’s earrings in Ice. I went through some changes last year and decided that I want to be freckin fabulous in 2008 and since I’m on constant display–I live in Midcoast Maine and in my village there are 3 black people including me–I might as well be a showstopper while I’m doing it. I’m a native NYer and I must say Nawja is the epitome of what I miss about New York. She has that almost indescribable shit that I used to have when I was younger and that dammit I want back.

  25. OMG Danielle! I am a New Yorker, and I go to school in Waterville, Maine. I’m s sophomore at Colby College, so I know what you mean. Diversity here is really lacking; any sign of any sort of individuality is looked at like, what? My school is full of rich, white, preppy people, so my fashion is a little out there for them. I would love to own a pair of Nawja’s earrings in ICE. Thanks afrobella!

  26. I am so amazed that I never heard of or ran into Najwa until now, what a phenom she is! I am subscribing to her blog right away and will be keeping a close eye as her brand grows, she is blowing up!

  27. I would love to wear anything of Nawja’s, but the bronze earrings would really make me stand out. When it comes to fashion I’m always trying to look different than everyone else.Going natural hair has helped me see my uniqueness. It’s ok to look different! You go girl!

  28. Liz you’re in Waterville. I live in Woolwich,it’s right outside of Bath, close to Brunswick. Don’t get me wrong I have kids now so I love living here. Girl they actually talk about high school basketball on the 6 o’clock news! lol But it took me a while get used to the stares. Now I don’t eve notice it. As long as you keep it yourself, I’m cool.

  29. “ugly is the new pretty!” just saw nawja moses on rachel ray. loved her green eye shadow. i wish she had stood up so we could have a look at what she was wearing.

    she looks like a work of art and i think the other models RR showed look at art works to me. they are interesting instead of smoothed over.

    i disagreed with the models being characterized as “real.” because they are far too fascinating – the tatoos, fat, hairstyles, missing teeth and all that. it’s outside the normal where as glamour is ultra normal. it’s closer to freak than to real. like diane arbus–who could make Heidi Klum look odd–because we are all odd looking, you just have to find the moment and angle. so yeah, they are characters – that person that pops into a movie for a second but that is unforgettable because of a walk, an eye or a voice. but this might be even less acceptable that ‘ugly. whatever, the guy has to say what he has to say to get his business accepted. all the models he showed were great and the idea of just doing what you want with your style and really paying atttention to yourself in an artistic way is great. nawja moses frees the people! — now back to work.

  30. She’s an original and I like that. She embraces herself fiercely and wants the world to know!

    Outstanding!

  31. I would be proud to rock Salte earings in ice. – I am amazed and inspired at the progress you have made Najwa by being brave, stepping out and showing the world who you are. As a growing entrepreneur, aged 29 I have worked hard to break threw and I am just in the first stages of doing this – now realising it does not have to be hard or a struggle and every door opened and or closed leads to another and another and another……………………rocking the Salte earnings (and I WILL rock them!!!) will remind me to be and stay inspired, creative and expressive continuously. Much Luv to ya all the way from the UK!!

  32. Najwa, I’m so proud of you. Do your thang gir1. Miss you!

  33. “I feel like in the black community, if you’re even a little left of center, it is a problem.” I totally agree with that. Why do some black people love to criticize and tear eachother down, sometimes for petty things? I was having a conversation like this with one of my friends the other day, how she would rather go to a more diverse school rather than an HBCU because all of the criticism and probing. How if she tripped and fell in front of a group of young black people she’d feel so embarrassed because they’d probably never let her live it down, but probably wouldn’t care if she tripped in front of “non-black” people, lol. Why would I want to just follow the “standards”, getting swallowed by the sea of sameness? I love creativity and passion; rock on Najwa! Keep doing you! I keep seeing you everywhere; soon the people talking bad about you are going to try copping your creativity…

  34. So excited to see Najwa featured on one of my fave blogs. Najwa and I attended F.I.T. (Fashion Institute of Technology) together almost a decade ago and she hasn’t changed. She’s the same down-to-earth sis as she was back then. That is rare in the fashion/media game. I’m so proud of you Najwa. The best is truly yet to come!

  35. I would be absolutely proud to rock Najwa’s ice earrings! Her style and her approach to life are inspiring. Sometimes I feel constrained and limited in my fashion as a high school teacher. I’ve been so careful not to accentuate too much or be too flashy. Unfortunately, I’ve allowed this to carry over into my weekend wear. Thank you, Najwa, for waking me up and reminding me that my creativity doesn’t have to be limited to the lessons I teach. Your earrings can give me a much needed boost in the right direction to spicing up my after hours wardrobe!

  36. I love Najwa’s individuality! I love the fact that she’s confident and not afraid to rock her own style and what she thinks is hot!!! I think she’ll be HUGE one day and people who knocked her before will be emulating HER style! You go Naaaaaaajwa Moses! I’m IN!

  37. I am loving Najwa’s style! and I would love the Salte in Black or Brown. I am a full figured/plus size sista With a plus sized Afro. I work in a field where I am the minority all the time, sometimes I am the only woman in the room, and usually I am the only black. I have been in towns so small I am the only black person in the town at that time, And nothing makes you feel more confident than knowing when you Rock! and with those Earrings I would ROCK!

  38. Prada3721 says:

    I love love love Najwa attitude and style!!! She is an excellent pick and as a NY’er I’m looking out for my Najwa sighting in Duane Reade as well so I can go up to her and tell her how awesome she is in person!!! GO SISTA GO!!! I love to see us doing it in the ’08 the right way.

  39. that girl is fabulous! love her style. me and my girls love fashion and love making such a statement with what we wear. check us out at http://www.lovejd.tv premiere soon coming.

    mai lee

  40. mellowyel says:

    THOSE EARRINGS ARE FABULOUS!!! I would love to rock the bronze blogger earrings. I am obsessed with earrings. I buy them all the time, I “permanently borrow” them from my sisters, I shop for them online! The great thing about them for me is that I hardly ever dress to the nines or put on crazy makeup, and a good pair of earrings gives any outfit I’m wearing that extra oomph. Please pick me for you Afrobella giveaway! You rock, and I love this blog. My (black, female) African-American Film Studies professor told me abut Afrobella, And I’ve been hooked ever since. :D

  41. I met Najwa at Fashion week and I had to give her props on her style. It’s hard to stand out in a place like NYC and she certainly does so! I would love to rock a pair of those fabulous earrings! Keep up the good work Najwa!

  42. I AM THE PROUDEST MOTHER IN THE WHOLE USA. TO HAVE A DAUGHTER SO BELOVED AND RESPECTED FOR WHO SHE IS, AND WHAT SHE BRINGS TO THE UNIVERSE. I ALWAYS NEW SHE WOULD TAKE THIS WORLD AND EMBRACE ITS EVERY, ROCK, STONE, MOUNTAIN, ROAD, SEA, TREE AND CURVE AND CREATE THE TALENTED, CREATIVE, BOLD AND BEAUTIFUL YOU TO THE UNIVERSE.

    KEEP ON KEEPIN’ ON!! YOU ARE WHO YOU ARE! A SELF- MADE GOD BLESSED STAR! I LOVE YOU MY DAUGHTER!!! YOU CONTINUE TO BRING TEARS OF JOY AND LAUGHTER, AND SMILES THAT SPAN THE UNIVERSE.

    ALWAYS
    MOMMI~MUA!

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