Meet Zainab Phillips, The Woman Behind Gender Defying Brand Hot Momma Designz

BY MIA MONTALVO

When Zainab Phillips, the lead designer of Hot Momma Designz walks into a room, it is no surprise that heads turn. I waited to meet with her at a quaint, somewhat underground coffee shop on the Upper East Side — and at first glance I knew she carried a special kind of energy.

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Phillips is the definition of strength, a Muslim woman originally from Nigeria, who is not afraid to go against the grain. Her light brown eyes — usually the only feature seen before her veil — are not only piercing, but tell a story that transcends tradition, confidence, and hard work.

Much like Phillips’ style, her life takes on a very avant-garde form. Phillips originally studied accounting and business management at the University of Minnesota, yet found herself falling into the fashion scene unexpectedly after graduation. She learned how to sew at a young age from her grandmother, and used this skill to acquire extra income working at a train factory making gloves. At the time, she did not foresee this side hustle impacting her the way it would.

“You see different walks of life, architecture, you see how people move and their moods — how they dress with the moods, and it speaks in their clothing,” she explained.

Using these influences as raw inspiration, she began to design pieces for Hot Momma Inc., a love child of tradition and experimental fashion. With little experience other than making her own clothing, Phillips’ collections took off. 

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Phillips looks up to designers like Tom Ford & Balmain, aspiring to create an outlet for men to express their authentic style and have “show-stopping pieces” as women do in the mainstream market. Past collections, “Fit For A King” and “Unforgivable” feature masculine haute couture styles ranging from traditional sherwani’s to modern men’s suits. Since her mainstream debut at NYFW in 2017, Phillips has grown not only as a designer, but as an individual. Struggling to establish her image and be received by the mainstream media and Islamic community, Phillips paved her own way.

“I know I am a raw artist,” she pressed confidently. “You can’t conform me and tell me what I can and cannot do.”

With this mindset Phillips continued to create and channeled this negativity into her passion. Her latest collection “Akobi” pushes past a fixed binary of what those would expect. Her past designs have included remnants of Swarovski crystals and other embellishments allowing her consumers to truly have one of a kind pieces. Incorporating her personal trademark of mehndi, specifically flowers, Phillips introduced designs that defeat the need for labels, mixing masculine styles with feminine elements. She also introduced new handbags and sunglasses with Akobi.

With inclusivity being an important factor of Phillips’ creative process, she creates by the energy one beholds prior to their identity or orientation. Aspiring to give men a broader outlet to find their own personal style and to change the conversation surrounding fashion and gender expression, she plans to begin designing more accessories, specifically male handbags, an underwear line, and exercise apparel in the near future.

Lead Image and All Photos by Dior Davis and Masshuu Vita