As she prepares for the Autumn/Winter 2023 Dior Show, the boxer and model talks about her favourite Dior looks, gaining confidence, and the importance of representation
Born in Somalia and raised in London, Ramla Ali lives on the fringes of two worlds: sport and fashion. Since starting her career almost ten years ago, Ali has become the blueprint for professional female boxing as the first Muslim woman to win the English title. Most recently, she won competing in Saudi Arabia’s first-ever female boxing match. While her career in sports came first, the last few years have seen Ali go on to make a name for herself in fashion with her role as global ambassador for Dior.
Her book Not Without a Fight, published in 2021, detailed ten of her most important fights and provided a refreshingly honest guide to navigating success, defeat and vulnerability. “If you don’t believe you can win 100 per cent going into the ring, you shouldn’t be in the ring because that’s when you get hurt. So you need to go into it thinking I’m going to win. Confidence is always key. That’s how you should do it,” Ali explained.
Yet despite her extensive list of professional accolades, Ali’s fight does not end in the ring. Fiercely dedicated to advocating for others, her work as a humanitarian has remained a passion throughout her career. Alongside her work as a Unicef ambassador, she has also founded a non-profit sports organisation called Sisters Club. With five locations across London and one in Los Angeles, the women-only club aims to provide free weekly boxing classes. In a safe environment, it offers Muslim women a space free of discrimination should they choose to train with or without their hijab. In the five years since opening, the club has become a safe haven for victims of domestic abuse, equipping them with support and self-defence classes.
Here, ahead of attending the Dior Autumn/Winter 2023 show, we spoke to Ali about her journey, finding the balance between physical and mental wellness, and being one of Maria Grazia Chiuri’s muses.
Habi Diallo: What motivated you to begin boxing?
Ramla Ali: You know how a lot of people have siblings or parents that do boxing, and then they get inspired? That wasn’t the case for me. I just was an overweight teenager, who was getting bullied in school, and I just wanted to do something that would improve my health, give me a bit of self-confidence and help me love my body and love the skin I’m in, which is what it did for me.
HD: Once you got involved in sport, were there any athletes that you looked to for inspiration?
RA: When I started boxing, female boxing wasn’t really a thing. We didn’t even have changing rooms in the gym, because it was such a male-dominated sport and female boxing wasn’t really getting televised at the time. So my biggest inspirations, just as athletes, were the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena. They actually inspired me to continue doing sports. It was just so amazing to see two Black women coming from where they came from dominating such a white sport, excelling and doing so well. I just loved that they were doing so much for young Black girls all over the world and giving us the opportunity to dream big.
HD: You’ve broken many records in your lifetime. What has been your career highlight thus far?
RA: I think I have two: one in sport and one in fashion. My career highlight in sports has obviously been getting to the Olympics. At the time, I didn’t think it was such a big deal but then someone broke it down to me that only 0.000 whatever per cent of the world can call themselves Olympians. They were like, “You were one of them, so kudos to that.” It was such a big achievement representing Somalia. There were no athletes ever in its history to have qualified for the Olympics in any sport other than running, so it’s quite big.
Another career highlight was probably presenting Maria Grazia with her Woman of the Year Award at the Harper’s Bazaar Women of the Year Awards last year. That was amazing. To have been asked specifically by Dior to give the creative director an award was just very humbling and just lovely. And I wrote a killer speech, not gonna lie, it was really good. I was dressed head to toe in Dior, with a full face of Dior make-up. It was just the dream.
HD: Can you talk to us a bit about The Sisters Club? Having grown up in a Black and Muslim family, I imagine that many people in London would benefit from a space like that.
RA: Well, that’s exactly it. The reason why I began Sisters Club is because a lot of people from ethnic minorities and religious communities are the groups of people that find it hard to gain access to sports. I wanted to create something that allowed it to be easy for them to gain access to sports. Over time we were finding that more women who were suffering from domestic violence were gravitating towards Sisters Club as well. So for me, it was just about creating this safe space where women from all walks of life can train in an environment that was safe and free of men, and creating this bond of sisterhood that they love and enjoy, and have the confidence to learn to box.
HD: What does your preparation for a fight look like, both mentally and physically?
RA: Obviously it is a sport that’s very physical, but more than anything it’s a very, very mental sport. I’m not sure if you’re aware, but quite recently I competed and I was really sick. After the fight, I went into the hospital and got checked out, and it transpired that I had competed with a collapsed lung caused by pneumonia. During the fight, I didn’t feel 100% but I had to sort of push myself mentally to continue and made sure I finished the fight. Boxing is a very mental sport. For me, a lot of the preparation comes from speaking to a sports psychologist and making sure that my mind is 100% right going into the ring.
But outside of the mental aspect, it’s very physically challenging and demanding. I have to train six days a week, twice a day. It’s like you’re loads of different athletes meshed into one. You need to be able to run like a sprinter on the track or do long-distance running like a marathon runner, sometimes up hills and boxing. Then you’ve got to do strength work like a weightlifter. It’s all these different sports meshed into one, and it’s very physically demanding as well.
“You need to be able to be open so that someone else can look at you and feel inspired by you. I always say that representation is so important because you can’t be what you can’t see” – Ramla Ali
HD: How important is it for you to be transparent about your journey?
RA: I think it’s really important because it’s always about inspiring others to be open as well. It’s obviously scary to be the first, but if you don’t take that leap of faith and be brave enough, then other people might be quite scared to do the same. You need to be the voice for others. You need to be able to be open so that someone else can look at you and feel inspired by you. I always say that representation is so important because you can’t be what you can’t see. If you’re out there being that voice for refugees or for whatever, you’re not inspiring other young girls to dream big. I think for me it is very important to show that you’re not alone. I’ve come from the same background as you and if I can do it, you can do it too.
HD: You’ve been a Dior Ambassador for several years now, what is it about Dior as a brand that continues to appeal to you?
RA: I love how Maria Grazia always draws inspiration from other powerful women around the world, both past and present. The collections are always inspired by powerful female forces all around the world. There’s really something for everyone. There’s dressy stuff, chic stuff, casual stuff and there’s couture stuff.
HD: What has been your favourite Dior look you’ve worn so far?
RA: It was back in 2021 – I think it was from the cruise collection shown in Greece at the old Olympic Stadium. It was this amazing white floral gown, which I paired with this incredible double gold waist belt. I just had the nicest hair, the nicest makeup, gold shoes, and honestly, I just felt like a princess on a cloud. I don’t often get the opportunity to do proper dressy stuff because I’m just in training. That’s another thing I love about Dior, all these amazing gowns can make even the most tomboyish of people feel like a princess.
HD: Could you talk us through your show look for today?
RA: It’s really badass, just like me. It’s a print of the map of Paris in black and white. I want to say it’s a skort, so a skirt with shorts. If you’re doing that powerful vogue walk, the skirt flares out when you’re like, bam, bam, bam … the skirt goes up then the shorts appear. It’s paired with a cute little bomber jacket and a vest. I opted for the flat boots as opposed to the heels. Same again, there’s something for everyone. I can’t walk in heels for shit, so I wanted to be really comfortable.
HD: What is next for you? Is there anything else you’re looking to tick off your list?
RA: Maria Grazia designed a fire outfit for me back in November 2021, just after I wore that epic white gown. When I compete for the world title, I’m going to ask her to do it again – that’s something I really hope happens in the future.