For the longest time, the runway has been dominated by white female models and very few dark skinned black models. Infact the only dark skinned black female model we ever saw on the runway was probably only Alek Wek, But today, all thanks to spirited campaigns by various quarters in the industry, there is more diversity on the catwalk, and we are seeing a new rise in dark skinned female black models.
Infact there’s a new crop of them making it big and breaking barriers around the world and earning big dollar money. They all have one thing in common- they are former refugees/ grew up in a refugee camps or come from a family that was once refugees. They are talking the industry by storm and making history. These girls have beat the odds to succeed and become worldwide inspiration to young girls, proving that Diversity is beauty.
These girls are stomping down runways, appearing in major campaigns and going viral for just being as fierce as they want to be.
Here are the 8 former refugees making it big on the runway
When Nyakim Gatwetch was growing up, she was often bullied for her dark skin so much that she would cry herself to sleep thinking she wasn’t beautiful enough. Today, nicknamed the “Queen of the Dark” by her fans, the South Sudanese American model has become an icon of beauty and an inspiration to young women everywhere. Her secret? Self-love.
Nyakim has embraced her darkly pigmented skin and challenges representation in modeling through every photo she takes either on Instagram or cover shoots.
Nyakim had a long journey going to the US from South Sudan, immigrating by her bare feet from a refugee camp in Ethiopia to a refugee camp in Kenya, and finally to the US.
She has been the face of Annabelle Cosmetics, she’s featured at the forefront of their EDGE campaign, a makeup line inspired by strong women who dare to boldly embrace their differences.
Raised in Melbourne, Australia with her family as South Sudanese refugees, this dark beauty is breaking barriers. Besides strutting on major runways around the world, and bagging a L’Oréal Paris contract, Duckie Thot is a key member of the Fenty Beauty squad.
In a 2016 interview, Duckie revealed that she takes her own make up to shoots every time, calling out the beauty industry for being woefully unprepared when it came to doing hair and makeup for models of color.
One of L’Oréal Paris’ reasons for signing Thot as a global ambassador is the message of inclusivity that she so fiercely champions. No stranger to the ongoing discussion surrounding the lack of diversity in fashion and beauty, Thot has spoken out about the topic several times.
This very tall South Sudan-born model is a familiar face from the Victoria’s Secret runway and has been on designer runways like Balmain, Burberry, Kenzo, Givenchy, Lanvin, Ralph Lauren or Roberto Cavalli. Today she has been on the pages of Vogue Germany, Vogue Poland, Vogue Australia, Harper’s Bazaar, L’Officiel, V Magazine, WWD, The Wall Street Journal and many others.
She believes what make her and other former refugee turned models, special is their unique dark skin, height and short hair.
Her reaction to being scouted was typically coy as she said in an interview “It took me so long to accept that I am a model. I didn’t think I was made for it. It took time to work on that.”
Born in South Sudan, she’s a former child refugee who spent the first eight years of her life in Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp before migrating to Australia. Today, Akech is one of the most in-demand models working in fashion, regularly walking for brands including Chanel, Valentino and Givenchy and starring on the covers of a number of high-profile magazines.
Early this year, she was named the number one model in the world by Models.com Industry Awards and in Vogue Australia editor-in-chief Edwina McCann’s words, Adut is “the biggest fashion superstar in the world”.
Growing Up, she was bullied by the popular girls about her skin tone, her hair, and especially her gap [teeth], which she admits she has grown to love. “I’m not gonna lie — that made me feel a little insecure, then an ‘I don’t care’ mindset kind of kicked in for me, and I told myself I was beautiful.”
Growing up was no walk in the park for Ajak Deng, who today is one of Australia’s most successful international models. Her family fell victim to the civil war in South Sudan and fled to Kakuma in northern Kenya where they spent three years as refugees before being repatriated to Australia.
She made her runway debut at Melbourne Fashion Week and has since stormed the runway for the likes of Louis Vuitton, Givenchy and Jean Paul Gaultier.
Although given her sculpted physique, stunning skin tone and striking features, you’d think a career in modelling was predestined for her, however her initial dream was to fight in the army.
“I get messages: ‘Oh you inspire me to do this, you inspire me to wake up every day and love my skin color’.
“That to me means a lot because that used to be me. I would wake up and say: ‘Oh, I wish I was a shade lighter’ but now I’ve grown to love myself.”
The South Sudanese model, born in Ethiopia and raised in Kenya, is a big name on the catwalk scene so big she has become an integral part of nearly every big show. In New York, she stole the show at Tom Ford, Jason Wu and Marc Jacobs. In London, she ruled the runway at Burberry, Erdem and Mulberry. On to Milan, and she was holding court at Gucci, Marni and Versace. As for Paris? She finished the season with coveted spots at Rochas, Dries Van Noten and Kenzo, reports Harpers Bazaar.
Word is, she was the most booked model on the runway during the Fall/Winter 2018 season. Speaking to British Vogue, Nyasiase acknowledged the unique challenges she faces as a black woman in the fashion industry.
“I’m learning so much. I’m a model, but I’m also a black woman,” she said. “I have to learn from other people, but I also have to be a strong person, and have people accept me as I am.”
Known in fashion by her first name only, this Bold and Beautiful Australian model and former refugee (born in a Kenyan refugee camp and then moving to Australia) is a big name in the industry. Walking shows for an impressive list of designers at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Australia, including Macgraw and Albus Lumen, Akiima was signed on to appear in the Hermès resort 2018 collection, shown in Paris in July.
Here proudest moment she says, “walking Chanel. It’s something that I never thought I would do in my whole entire life. I met Karl [Lagerfeld] too. I remember he was very quiet, observing everything, and didn’t talk very much at all. But it was amazing.”
A single picture of Yai of her home coming, took her Instagram followership to over 100k and thus began her stardom.
Anoka Yai, whose family had to flee the Sudanese war and found refuge in the US, today is estee’ lauder’s global spokesmodel alongside stars like Kendall Jenner, Karlie Kloss and Joan Smalls. Anok features in makeup and skincare campaigns across digital, TV, in-store and print.
In a history-making moment, Anok was the first black model to open a Prada runway show in 20 years when she walked for their autumn/winter 2019 show. Naomi Campbell was the first.