At 29, Zahirah Macwilson has made a name for herself as an actress, gained a full-time role as a mother of one (soon to be two), and is now looking forward to a new venture. What's her formula to take on them all? Simplicity.
Top: Massimo Dutti. Earrings: H&M Studio. Bracelet: Swarovski.
Zahirah Macwilson walks into the studio for our cover shoot along with her husband and their son on a particularly sunny Monday morning. With a gentle, composed smile accompanying her gracious introduction to the production crew, she wastes no time getting ready in the makeup chair—anyone can tell it's far from her first rodeo.

While she may be a year shy of the big 30, Zahirah is already a name to be reckoned with in Malaysian households. She has graced numerous magazine covers, TV screens, brand campaigns, and the hottest events in the country. In fact, the multi-hyphenate has just announced her partnership with Clarks for the brand's Spring/Summer 2024 collection. Embodying her effortless off-duty style, the collaboration features a selection of understated mules, leather heels, and the signature Torhill ankle boot—all of which are designed to step seamlessly and comfortably from one occasion to another.

"Never would I have imagined working with a brand I grew up with in England. Clarks was a household name for me when I was a child and now my family and I get to partner with the brand!" Zahirah beams. Indeed, the Clarks X Zahirah campaign represents the feeling of homecoming in more ways than one, as it debuts just in time for Hari Raya get-togethers with loved ones. And like the versatile woman she is, Zahirah chose a neutral palette for the collection to pair easily with any outfit for the festive season and beyond.

Evidently, Zahirah's star power renders her influence as a role model for young women—or even fellow 29-year-olds like yours truly—who are striving to achieve their career and family aspirations. Yet there's a quiet confidence about her that feels down-to-earth, even if she appears to have things all figured out on the surface.

"I'm the oldest daughter, so naturally, I had a lot of responsibilities growing up. My siblings looked up to me," the eldest of four opens up, providing insight into her inherent leadership traits. But truth be told, she had to learn most of what she does today on the fly. Having spent most of her childhood in the UK before migrating to Perth, Australia in her teens, Zahirah had to constantly adapt to new environments and the challenges that come with them.

Even her career trajectory has been a case of rolling with the punches. Zahirah had initially pursued a course in Human Resources and Management in university but soon realised it wasn't her calling. At the time, she was also working for Virgin Australia Airlines as a ground crew before her father—famed veteran actor Zainol Macwilson—connected her to a director in Malaysia. At only 20 years of age, she flew to Kuala Lumpur alone to take up an opportunity for her first on-screen appearance. Thus began her journey in showbiz.
Top: Massimo Dutti. Vest, jacket and pants: H&M Studio. Shoes: Clarks Siara65 Band Tan Leather. Cap: Stylist's own.
"I remember getting my first paycheck which was about RM400, I think, for two days of shoot," Zahirah candidly recalls of her debut gig. It was a small role in a classic Malay drama titled Tanah Kubur, but that was enough to put her name out there. Two weeks later, she received a call to star in another telemovie in which she had more scenes. Within five months of being in the Malaysian TV industry, she landed her first leading role.

"Honestly, the paycheck wasn't important at the time. I just loved being on set and around the creativity, seeing how they make things happen and bring things to life on screen," she says, with an enthusiasm that tells me this still rings true today. "I feel like the first week when everyone's getting into their character and exploring the role is the most exciting part because, obviously, it's all just on paper at the start."
Zahirah credits her father for her natural acting chops, although being a third-culture kid objectively came with communication barriers. "At first, I did feel a little bit mocked or looked down upon because I wasn't really fluent in Bahasa Melayu. I had a bit of a slang. But it didn't really affect me directly; I knew I sounded a bit weird, so I just took it as a challenge to work on," she shares.

Meanwhile, her mother was her biggest emotional support and, ultimately, the reason she stayed in Malaysia despite the struggles of being away from her tight-knit family. "I believe that if your parents are blessing you in what you do then you will succeed in life no matter what," she deduces with a grateful smile. Thanks in no small part to their unwavering support, she went on to carve a name for herself as an actress.

In 2020, Zahirah earned her first big-screen break in the critically acclaimed action film, Bulan dan Pria Terhebat. She fondly looks back on her portrayal of the character Bulan as her most memorable project yet, as she had to pick up physical training, action choreography and the Indonesian language to play the heroine. More recently, she starred in the Prime Video Malaysia drama-thriller series, Entitled, which details a family feud entangled in past secrets.

"I think the entertainment industry in Malaysia has a lot of potential and we have really creative minds and people in it," she comments on her experience in the local entertainment landscape. "Obviously, Malaysia is a very conservative country so we do have to follow the guidelines that are in place. But I think times are changing and we can keep up with trends and the demands of the public while still respecting the community and the country's laws and regulations."
Top: Boss.
In light of International Women's Day this March, I prod further on her experience as a woman in the industry. Zahirah pauses for thought before replying: "We have a range of female producers, directors and stars, so I think on the subject of gender equality, we're doing fine. But the women against women narrative is still pretty much around."

"People should stop comparing women to other women because I feel like everyone has their own journey. We need to embrace our uniqueness and stop trying to compete with each other," she asserts. "It's really not healthy and doesn't help at all. I've experienced that myself—the feeling of jealousy, insecurity—and it's just not worth it. At the end of the day, there's space for all of us."

Now armed with close to a decade of acting experience, Zahirah admits to being pickier about her projects. "I feel like I just need a new challenge. Although acting is something that I've always loved, I'm putting it to the side for now and focusing on something else," she says. This brings us to her venture into the cosmetics world with the launch of Mixy.
Top and skirt: Boss. Shoes: Siara65 Band Tan Leather, Sensa15 Shine Light Pink Leather, Torhill Bee Dusty Rose Suede, all Clarks. Necklace: Swarovski.
"It's a cosmetic brand for all women. I wanted to create products that can be used on the daily and at a reasonable price point. It was important for me to not only deliver quality, but also something that everyone can afford," she explains. Although Mixy was first launched in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic drove Zahirah to make the difficult decision to sell off her products. However, she still believed in the brand and had been waiting for the right time to get back into business. That moment has now arrived and Mixy will be relaunching this month.

What led her to dabble in cosmetics? "I think it just gives you that slight bit more confidence," she remarks, before elaborating, "I don't think makeup should ever change someone's features completely or that anyone should hide behind makeup, but I think women are allowed to feel beautiful and doll up. It's not about putting on seven different types of products, it's about using that one good product."

Confident, independent, and simple are the three words she uses to describe the Mixy woman. I ask if those same words portray her own personality, to which she replies with a hearty laugh: "I think so, without putting myself in a basket, you know? I embrace simplicity and being your natural self. I've never been the type to put too much into anything, whether it's on my face or in my life. You just need the basic things in life and the rest is just a bonus."
Career and business aside, Zahirah is also looking forward to welcoming her second child this year. Her firstborn, Isaac Raees, had just turned three last January, and she believes he's just as excited about becoming an older brother as she is to become a mother of two.

"Motherhood has basically given me a second life. I feel like I was so focused on myself before, but when you have a child and become a mother, everything changes, especially in terms of your priorities," she reflects. "It's taught me to appreciate the simple things and let go of matters that aren't really important. It's about coming home to see your child and him embracing you after a long day—that's what truly counts."
Of course, looking after a newborn was demanding at the start, but she's a lot more at ease with her second pregnancy. Nevertheless, she's not exempt from 'mum guilt' whenever her schedule calls for long hours or even days away from home. When asked about the hardest aspect of being a "working mum", she maintains that having that title in itself is incredibly challenging.

"You can watch as many YouTube videos as you want or ask as many mums out there what it's like, but I don't think you can ever really be prepared," she says with a chuckle. "The only way for you to really learn is to become one. I feel like I'm still learning a lot, even today."

With that being said, Zahirah couldn't be happier to have a bigger family to call her own. And just like the first time, she will be eagerly anticipating the arrival of her second child in the company of her loved ones back in Perth. As for her advice to other women who want to cultivate a successful career and grow a family at the same time? Just do it.

"I don't believe in waiting until you're at a certain level in your career because you'll always be wanting more. It's good to want that, but I think it will only delay building a family and you may regret that as you grow older. Each to their own, of course, but there's going to be another challenge ahead regardless whether you're a mum or not. As pressuring as it might sound, it will come to you naturally if you put your whole heart into it," she resolves.
Shirt dress and pants: Fendi. Shoes: Clarks Lunat35 Dazz Black Leather.
They say behind every successful man is a woman. For Zahirah, she stands neither before nor behind but beside the man with whom she shares a family, business and home—her husband, Aiman Hakim Ridza. From meeting on set to getting married and starting a family to now building Mixy together, it's no wonder why they are one of the most prominent power couples in the spotlight.

Coincidentally, our interview happens to fall on the day they celebrate four years of marriage. "You know, I woke up this morning and I forgot it was my anniversary today!" she confesses. "I've been really busy but I'm blessed that Aiman is very understanding and he knows what our schedules are like. There's no one that I'd rather be around twenty-four-seven than him." True to the theme of her life, they're keeping celebrations simple—just a quiet night in together. After all, it's the company that matters.

Looking ahead, Zahirah shares the biggest takeaways she'll carry into the final year of her 20s: "I realised that you don't have to pretend to be something you're not. As you grow, you learn and discover things about yourself. But what's more important is accepting yourself, and I think by doing this, you'll naturally just be happier and more confident."
Top: Massimo Dutti. Pants: Boss. Shoes: Clarks Kimmei Bay Tan Leather. Necklace: Swarovski.
Editor-in-chief & COORDINATION / Sarah Hani Jamil
CREATIVE DIRECTION & layout design / Sarah Tai
Videography / Dennis Kho