At just 19, Adut Akech is experiencing the kind of stratospheric success that has seen the likes of Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss and, more recently, Gigi Hadid become some of the most recognisable faces in the world. Even if you don’t follow fashion or recognise her name, it’s likely you will have seen Akech: on a billboard, perhaps, or looking at you from the cover of a variety of magazines on the shelves of your local newsagent. Now, Models.com has named her the industry’s choice to win the Model Of The Year title for 2018. After war broke out in South Sudan in the late 90s, Akech’s family fled, and Akech was born on the way to Kenya, where she then spent her first few years in a refugee camp. After a few years, the family moved to Australia to join other relatives already living there. She made her international catwalk debut just over two years ago (for Saint Laurent) and, since then, she has worked for the world’s most powerful fashion brands.
"Even if I become the richest model in the world I will still be a refugee. I am a refugee," she has said of her success. As well as representing a shift towards greater inclusion in the fashion industry ("It's going to take a while to see this change take over," she said in an interview with CNN. "But it makes me very proud to be a model at this moment where I can be part of that change"), Akech has recently shared her experiences with depression on social media. “I’ve suffered from really bad depression and anxiety for a while now,” she wrote on Instagram. “I don’t know how I’m still here today but I’m so grateful I am… you’re not alone in this battle, I’m with you and so are many people in the world.”
If anything, Akech’s success helps to highlight how much work the fashion and beauty industries still need to do to ensure they are actually representative. For example, in July 2018, Akech was only the second black model to ever close a Chanel haute couture show. The fact that the industry has chosen her as its Model Of The Year is reassuring – hopefully, a more diverse cast of models will soon just be the norm, rather than a headline. "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," Akech told CNN. "Don't let others define who you are."