Meet the African Supers

5 top models from our continent taking the fashion world by storm.

African Supers

Words: Daniël Geldenhuys | Images: Getty Images

The Valentino Spring 2019 Haute Couture show in January was an important moment for inclusivity in fashion, but what caught our eye was the number of emerging African models that graced Pierpaolo Piccioli’s runway. We’ve highlighted the 5 models that we think are on their way to superstardom, so it’s time for you to get to know them, too.

ugbad abdi

Ugbad Abdi

It’s been a whirlwind year for Ugbad, the Somali model who follows in the footsteps of Halima Aden by wearing her hijab on and off the runway. Valentino Couture was her first ever runway show, and her exit was right before one of her long-time icons, Naomi Campbell. She’d see Naomi again in April at Arise Fashion Week in Lagos where she walked for our very own Rich Mnisi. In the interim, she’d also walked for Fendi, Burberry, Simone Rocha and Miu Miu, shot a VOGUE Haute Couture story with Tyler Mitchell and an i-D cover with Zoe Ghertner.

Ugbad, now 18 years old, calls Des Moines, the capital city of Iowa, home. Her family fled the Somali civil war, living in a Kenyan refugee camp until she was 9 before relocating to settle in the United States. A quick @iamugbud Insta stalk proves her to be an eager traveller, posting enthusiastic reviews of everywhere from New York City to Paris, Lagos and Tanzania. As she savours her travels and flourishing career trajectory, one can’t help but wonder what else she’ll contribute to society as her tastes evolve. Technically, 2019 is her post-high school gap year. “I’d like to work with Unicef, who helped us come to the US as refugees; maybe go back to Africa and visit the refugee camp,” she told i-D’s Jess Cole. Watch this space.
Shanelle Nyasiase

Shanelle Nyasiase

The Ethiopian-born South Sudanese model, now based in Kenya, walked 43 shows in the Fall 2018 runway season – a number comparable to Cara Delevingne in her heyday. She’s particularly loved at Alexander McQueen, starring solo in their Spring 2018 campaign. Her brand new Balenciaga campaign has just started doing the rounds, and it makes complete sense that she was featured in the recent Chanel Matte Match campaign given that her cheekbones deserve their own website.

Based in Kenya, Shanelle has used her influence to spotlight bureaucratic biases against African models when it comes to obtaining work visas in a documentary short for VOGUE. “The problem is not me. It’s not the other kids,” she says. “It’s coming from the leaders.”
Adut Akech

Adut Akech

Adut is the name on this list you’re most likely to know from her two 2018 British VOGUE covers and from being on the runways and in the campaigns of brands like Dior, Givenchy, Versace and Chanel amongst others. Adut was born in South Sudan, moving to Kenya and then Australia by the age of 6 with her mother and five siblings as refugees.

Her modelling career kicked off down under, where she was scouted for the Saint Laurent Spring 2017 show – her big break. Name a modern fashion icon and Adut has likely interacted with them: she’s been styled by Grace Coddington, walked the runway with Karl Lagerfeld as the second-ever black model to wear the closing bridal look at Chanel Haute Couture (Fall 2018), and refers to Naomi Campbell as her ‘other mum.’ Outside of the fashion bubble, Adut works with the United Nations to promote causes that support refugees. She listed her life goals to Shirine Saad: get a business degree, inspire other women to lead through journalism and build an empire that’s financially independent.

Mayowa Nicholas

Mayowa Nicholas

Scouted on her way to the salon in Lagos, Nigeria, Mayowa won a contract with Elite for placing top ten in the 2014 Global Elite Model Look World finals in China. She’s the first Nigerian model to be featured in a Dolce & Gabbana campaign, also serving face for Calvin Klein, Michael Kors, and most recently Hermès.

A scroll through her feeds proves a genuine love of the fashion industry and aptitude for style beyond the shoots she stars in. “My mom asked me ‘so what’s your goal for 2018?’ I said ‘to get my first VOGUE cover’,” she posted alongside her July German VOGUE cover last year. She ends off her post with a toast to what’s to come. Onwards and upwards.



Though born en route to Kenya as her family was fleeing the war in Sudan, Akiima has lived in Australia since the age of 10. She refers to the industry as a tight-knit family, and utilises her status as an Australian VOGUE cover girl to educate readers and fans about her journey as a refugee and the importance of representation. Since signing with an agency in her hometown, she quickly outgrew the local industry, today walking for Chanel, Marc Jacobs, Loewe and Miu Miu.

Of course, when you have over twelve thousand Instagram followers, your influence reaches beyond the fashion industry – something Akiima recognises and embraces. “Social media showcases diversity from all over the world,” she tells i-D’s Rosie Dalton. “It shows everyone from different walks of life in the palm of your hand. Diversity is so important and it’s vital [that we] continue pushing that conversation.” In a FaceTime interview with AnOther magazine, when asked to choose her favourite word, she answered ‘visionary.’

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