Born in a refugee camp in South Sudan amid ongoing conflict with the north, Adut Akech, who grew up in Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp, never envisioned one day she will be on top of the world making history on the runway.
The eighteen-year-old model is now one of the world’s most sought-after young models and earlier this month, during New York Fashion Week, she was listed as one of people shaping the fashion industry in the acclaimed Business of Fashion (BoF) annual 500 list.
“I was freaking out when I found out about it, I never thought I’d be chosen,” she said.
Adut’s journey to the top wasn’t a walk in the park, from a young age she was bullied for the way she looked – her dark skin, her lithe physique, and particularly her full lips and her trademark tooth gap saw her become the butt of all the jokes.
At age six she moved to Adelaide, Australia with her mother and five siblings where life wasn’t easy either.
“When I first moved to Australia at age six, I promised my mother I would finish school, buy her a car and make something out of myself.”
One early cover shoot for an Australian magazine was even tainted by an employee’s complaints that her look wouldn’t appeal to their audience.
Adut’s modeling career would however take off after graduating from high school in Adelaide, when she made her runway debut, walking as an exclusive in the Saint Laurent Spring-Summer 2017 show.
Since then, she’s walked for the likes of Christian Dior, Burberry, Alexander McQueen and Prada, and this past July became only the second black model to close the Chanel haute couture show.
She has also appeared on numerous magazine covers including the covers for Italian, Korean and British editions of Vogue; the editorials with Tim Walker, Mario Sorrenti, Juergen Teller and Inez and Vinoodh; and the major advertising campaigns for Saint Laurent, Valentino, Versace and Moschino.
“Not only is she extraordinarily beautiful, she also has a sweetness that comes through in her pictures. If Naomi Campbell and Alek Wek had a love child, it would be Adut.” The editor of British Vogue, Edward Enninful, said after seeing her walk for Saint Laurent.
Adut continues to remain humble despite her global success and hopes her own success can inspire others, showing young girls that “black is beautiful,” much in the same way that Naomi Campbell, Alek Wek and Lupita Nyong’o did for her.
“I want to tell the girls who look like me and girls who have insecurities that, instead of hating (their appearance) and trying to cover it up, they should just embrace it and be proud of it,” she said. “Don’t let others define who you are,”
Before she calls it all quits the eighteen-year-old model would like to accomplish three things first, One: Earn a business degree and open schools in her native South Sudan. Two: Become a journalist and inspire other women to lead. Three: Build her own empire by the age of 30, so she never has to work for anyone else ever again.
As Lupita Nyong’o once said, her dreams are valid.