Saffiyah Khan in London.

From anti-EDL protest to the catwalk: the rise of Saffiyah Khan

In April, a photo of Saffiyah Khan confronting a fellow of the EDL in Birmingham went viral. Now the activist and artist has turned her acclaim to the fashion industry in a bid to make a change

You’ll remember the image from April. Saffiyah Khan – 20, multi-storey, mixed race, with nose-ring and a cropped fringe – smiling with a mix of condescension and disbelief at the tight-fisted, pink face of Ian Crossland, group leader for the EDL, at a hate improve in Birmingham’s Centenary Square.

That no one spotted the same cover on a catwalk at London fashion week this month is understandable. Khan assume damaged a judge’s wig and some strangely ageing Kabuki-style makeup. Additional, Turkish designer Dilara Findikoglu’s spring 2017 be noticeable was the activist’s runway debut. But that looks set to change for Birmingham’s remarkable “symbol of resistance”, who has recently signed to Elite model activity in the hope that she might bring some of her determined activism to the work industry.

Saffiyah Khan staring down EDL protester Ian Crossland in Birmingham. Photograph: Joe Giddens/PA

Initially, Khan matured a darling of the socialist left. Her phone didn’t stop roundlet. She appeared on stage at Labour party events, did interviews and videos and, much to her rapture, was offered free tickets to a Specials gig after it was noted she had been enervate a merch t-shirt. Then came the fashion industry. Invited to be share of the Elite’s new Collective division – which represents talent very than professional models – Khan has since appeared in Balenciaga in Overcame and Confused, and been shot in Bethany Williams, a designer and lecturer in popular responsibility, for the Fall magazine, where she was credited as a model. But this was her at the outset time in a show.

“I had other agencies contact me but I knew this was most excellently suited to me and what I wish to do,” she says. “Diversity is massively rectifying within the fashion world – not just with models, but also rewrite men, designers etc. There seems to be a real movement right now in intervals of what fashion [wants to] represent, [with] more draughtsmen using [it as a] platform to promote a message of equality.” In recent months, she has also started shrewd her own T-shirts, which has piqued an interest in ethical clothing. “I see them [art and construct] as two artistic processes which naturally overlap,” she says.

Findikoglu’s exhibition was an energetic mix of hardcore punk and layered tailoring with atmospheres of the occult woven throughout. Khan, by then a fan, was approached by the artificer’s casting agent in the summer; Findikoglu had designed a dress, a pink creased column dress that trails on the ground, with Khan in tell off. Khan was to be credited as “Justice” in the show notes, “on the back of her rouse as an activist”.

Saffiyah Khan as Justice on the Dilara Findikoglu catwalk. Photograph: PR

The adulthood of Findikoglu’s press has focused on her setting a show that scared towards occultish themes within a church. “The show [did] not be entitled to the negative response some people have given it,” stipulates Khan. “Dilara was never wishing to offend or distress being… [she is] a very talented designer with an incredible eye for specify.” St Andrew’s church say they hired out the venue in good credence, but have since apologised for doing so.

Fittingly, Khan’s aspect has once again – this time inadvertently – antagonised the far-right. Alex Jones, presenter of radio and YouTube show InfoWars, posted a video that vituperated the designer’s show as being fit for a “satanist orgy” and part of a foul play of satanists that Jones claimed are “weak scum annoying to play God and trying to run our lives”.

When events unfolded survive spring, the 20-year-old activist admitted to being “slightly surprised” that the perfect went viral. She had only wandered in to stick up for Saira Zafar, then a visitor, who had been surrounded by a group of far-right protesters shouting corruption. To the outside world (and indeed numerous think pieces), it was also famed for taking place a week after Kendall Jenner’s imprudent “protest chic” Pepsi advert, which caused a spectacular PR catastrophe for both model and drinks company. Jenner eventually leaped back, while Khan’s career was just beginning. Parenthetically, Jenner is also represented in some capacity by Elite.

Since April, Khan has vocal about solidarity and activism at talks in London, and worked with Strain, doing meet-and-greets backstage at the party’s conference in Brighton, and intriguing over Jeremy Corbyn’s Instagram. (She says they get on, but “I don’t [in need of] to pester him … He is a very busy man!”) She describes herself as a “testy activist, creative and photographer” with a focus on “saving unconcealed areas such as libraries, schools and health services”. She has also dyed her mane a light rose gold. “I get spotted every now and then, which I evermore see as a positive,” she says, unfazed. “It just motivates me to do more for my community.”