Aiyana Ishmael is passionate about fashion. However, she struggles to find people who look like her—plus-size Black women—in the industry.
The vivacious 22-year-old Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University journalism student is trying to fix that by highlighting the journey of successful minority fashionistas with her podcast, Black Fat Fashion.
The podcast launched on July 5 and has aired five episodes. New shows come out every other Sunday and are about 35 minutes long.
“It’s a place where people can open up and tell their stories,” said Ishmael, who graduated from Kendall Campus in 2018. “I want to sit down with people who are basically making it but give a complete look at their struggles and their journey.”
Ishmael interviews successful members of the Black, plus-size, and fashion communities. Her latest episode featured Kingsley Chukwuocha, a Nigerian fashion designer based in New Jersey.
“Aiyana’s podcast has just really made people feel that they can do whatever they want to do,” said Madeline Smith, Ishmael’s roommate. “All the topics that she discusses—even the name, Black Fat Fashion—creates a really good place to listen to conversations that we wouldn’t normally have.”
Ishmael considered starting a podcast for two years but it wasn’t until quarantine freed up her schedule that she was able to start planning.
She contacted Naomi Elizée, an associate market editor at Vogue who started her own podcast, So…What Do You Do Again? Elizée told Ishmael over Facetime how she started her podcast and brainstormed ideas for BFF.
Recording the show is fairly easy—guests join a Zoom call and Ishmael records the audio with a USB microphone. Interviews are pre-recorded.
After editing the sound with Adobe Premiere or Adobe Audition, she uses Anchor—a platform that allows you to create, distribute, and monetize your podcast through Spotify, Apple Podcast, Overcast, and other streaming platforms.
Ishmael’s interest in fashion started when she was about nine years old. She enjoyed learning about fashion and design and felt intrigued by runway modeling. The thought of becoming a model crossed her mind, but she was unsure if she’d be able to enter the plus-size industry.
Her love for fashion magazines like Cosmopolitan and storytelling soon merged with her passion for journalism. As a journalist, she wants to increase fashion coverage in the plus-size and minority communities.
“I’ve always felt like there was room to do more and to cover more within fashion,” Ishmael said. “There’s a lot of things that need to be called out and that need to be discussed and I want to be that person. I want to dig into this industry and really cover it with a wider lens than what’s kind of been happening the past few years.”
In 2016, Ishmael enrolled at Miami Dade College to study mass communication/media studies.The following year, she started working as a sports writer for The Reporter, the student newspaper at the school, covering softball, women’s basketball and volleyball.
After earning her associate’s degree, Ishmael transferred to FAMU in 2018. She is currently a senior expected to graduate next May.
In Tallahassee, Ishmael joined Journey—FAMU’s award-winning magazine—as managing editor. She became editor-in-chief in April 2019, leading a team of more than 30 staff writers and supervising the production of print and digital issues. Ishmael is currently the magazine’s digital content producer.
“She is a very nice young lady but she’s very motivated,” said Francine Huff, the advisor of Journey. “I think what makes Aiyana successful is that she is a self-starter, so she has set goals for herself and she takes the steps to reach them.”
Ishmael also serves as the student representative for the Online News Association’s Board of Directors, where she figures out ways for students to get more involved with the association and preps for conferences.
Earlier this year, The Dow Jones News Fund selected Ishmael for a fourth-month digital media internship at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg. The institute owns the Tampa Bay Times newspaper and the International Fact-Checking Network.
Interns worked with MediaWise, a part of the Poynter Institute, to sort fact from fiction on social media via Twitter threads. Ishmael recalls fact-checking claims that Wayfair—an e-commerce company that sells furniture and home goods—was involved in child trafficking. It was fiction.
On May 29, she appeared on the premiere of NBC’s Meet The Press: College Roundtable with two other college journalists. The segment provided the students a chance to ask college officials how universities would handle the coronavirus pandemic.
“That was honestly a dream,” Ishmael said. “It was overall so cool, so nerve-wracking but the NBC team was so sweet and helpful. It definitely was an experience I won’t forget.”
Ishmael aspires to become a writer—and eventually an editor—for a magazine or newspaper and cover fashion, news, and politics. Running her own publication is also a possibility.
After BFF’s first season ends at the end of November, Ishmael wants to trademark the podcast’s name and logo. She also wants to start a website to build up the BFF brand.
“I want to continue to allow these amazing Black women and men to tell their stories and to basically help other people on their journeys,” Ishmael said. “I do seriously see myself making this something that I do for the rest of my career, no matter where I’m working.”