Yara Shahidi on Red-Carpet Activism, Joining Beyonce's New Ivy Park Squad

Courtesy of Ivy Park
Yara Shahidi for Ivy Park

"There’s never been a better time to be fully myself, because that is a statement in and of itself."

Like all of her projects, Beyonce's spring Ivy Park campaign was about more than just the latest offering of sports bras and branded leotards. 

Queen Bey herself hand-selected actress Yara Shahidi to star in the short film celebrating independence, confidence and finding strength in coming together as women — all causes of which Shahidi, who stars alongside Tracee Ellis Ross on ABC's Black-ish, has long been a champion.

The 17-year-old is among a number of young actresses who are using their platforms to strike up a conversation about women's rights, LGBTQ rights and a few of President Donald Trump's more controversial policies. Most recently, Shahidi joined fellow actress/activist Rowan Blanchard at the Los Angeles Women's March, where she also took the stage with co-star Ross.

On the heels of the Ivy Park campaign, Pret-a-Reporter caught up with Shahidi to chat about Beyonce, the process of selecting brands to endorse and the intersection of fashion and activism.

What does Ivy Park’s message mean to you?

First off, I have to mention that I’m wearing full Ivy Park right now, and my mom is wearing it as well. We’re wearing it head-to-toe.

What I love about the campaign is how supportive it is of women, and being in control of our bodies. It's about how we express ourselves. When I was shooting, it was obvious that it wasn’t the idea of “Oh, we have to sell these clothes,” it was more so about selling the message — this idea of being one with ourselves and being athletic.

A lot of the questions we were asked on set were like, “Where’s your favorite place to be?” or, “What is your favorite book?,” “What is your favorite song?” What I really love about the message is that it’s about that connection between mind and body.

Do you have a go-to work out?

I work 10.5 hours a day, five days a week, and then I go home and do school, so it doesn’t leave much time. But we’ll sometimes do laps around set, and I’m someone who is basically Shakira in my room, so I’m constantly dancing. I’m also a black belt in Karate. Going to classes has been difficult these past couple years because of Black-ish, but I’ve been practicing at home with my brother and just trying to remember the lessons that it’s taught me over the past eight to nine years.

What was it look like working with Beyonce?

She wasn’t on set when we were shooting actually, but the one thing she did do is she sent her creative director and she had a lot of amazing creative people on set — from the photographer to the person that did the interview, the video reel, and then of course the person that was in charge of the overall creative message. So I did get a feel from the mood board and the conversations before the shoot. A lot of it was mentioning the sense of confidence, and so in every shot that we got they said, "We want you to feel as comfortable as possible, but we want to catch you in your zone — however you feel most empowered."

Everything from the music to the clothes were things that I was comfortable with.

What music was on set?

Of course, we did play Beyonce. But there was definitely some James Blake, some Frank Ocean, J. Cole, Solange’s “A Seat at the Table.” I always make playlists for certain emotions, and this one was a nice mix of music that I listen to.

You used your platform as a public figure to speak out against the immigration ban recently. Has the recent political climate influenced the brands/projects you choose? Are you more conscientious of the messages associated with each?

The process of working with brands is just like the process of choosing acting opportunities. So much of it is about what type of message they’re sending out. One is, do I actually like the product? I want to make sure it’s something I actually use on a daily basis and that I’m not just pushing something for profit.

But it definitely is a process of looking back into what the brand stands for, what they plan to do for the campaign. American Eagle, for example — yeah, I definitely wore pieces of the brand, but what really sold me was the idea that their entire campaign was about giving back and feeling empowered. The slogan was “I can.” A lot of the other brand’s that I’ve worked with, it’s all about maintaining their message, whatever that message is.

There are definitely times when I’ve said, “Nope, that’s not what I stand for or represent.”

Do you feel the need to dress more somberly given the political climate? Or feel pressured to make a statement in the way you dress? Or is your look more about the specific event that you’re attending?

It’s definitely about the event itself, that’s a large portion of it. But also I think that given the current political climate — if anything, there’s never been a better time to be fully myself, because that is a statement in and of itself.

It is an interesting time to be out in the public on a daily basis on a show like Black-ish, being an actress as I am. But at the same time, going to those events I’ve been shown a lot of support. A lot of the communities that I’m a part of — the black community, the community of actors and activists — they support what I'm doing.

Dressing on the carpet, it’s really about me feeling most comfortable and being me. So that has guided a lot of the conversations about wardrobe. There’s nothing worse than feeling like you’re trying to fit into a small little box. 

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