V139: Supermodel, Superhero Adut Akech

Akech catches up with V to reflect on her beginnings and voyage to the top of the fashion industry

This cover story appears in V139, Supermodel, Superhero issue, now available for purchase. 

How often is it that the careers we dream up in our naive adolescence actually become the path we assume as adults? If you ask South Sudanese-Australian model Adut Akech, her answer might surprise you. Sashaying down her first runway at the tender age of 12, Akech has been on an upward trajectory ever since. And through the power of fortuity, the 22-year-old has manifested a boundary-breaking presence in the industry—one that is rooted in self-empowerment. Wrapping up her day with the addition of another campaign to her already impressive curriculum vitae, Akech catches up with V to reflect on her beginnings and voyage to the top of the fashion industry.

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V MAGAZINE: Hi, how are you?

ADUT AKECH: I am good! I just finished touching up my [makeup].

V: We love a good touch up honey!

AA: Yes we do!

V: So let’s jump right into it. You’ve had quite the trajectory and I don’t know if everyone knows the story of your ascendance. Today, as fashion month or what I like to call the “Fashion Olympics” comes to an end, what sentiments do you have about your journey to this point?

AA: I had my first modeling experience when I was 12. My aunt did a bit of modeling and she would throw these fashion shows in the middle of the city in Adelaide, [Australia] in Rundle Mall Plaza. And one time, she asked me to be in it and I said, “Yeah, talk to my mom about it.” (Laughs) Because I always wanted to get into modeling but hadn’t really talked about it with my mom. I was so young and I didn’t really know anything about modeling and fashion, so I started looking into it. At that time there were a few people I admired and people that I looked up to, like Naomi [Campbell]. So, the more I thought about it, the more it seemed possible.

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V: Were there any other outside sources that encouraged you to pursue modeling?

AA: Yes, it’s so funny. Way before it was a thought in my mind, the idea of modeling actually came from a teacher I had in 7th grade. He would always tell me that I should become a model when I get older. He said that to me so often that I was like, “Okay, cool. I’m going to look into this, because I don’t really know what modeling even is…but I’ll look into it.” (Laughs) And so when I was 12, my aunt coincidentally asked me to do that show and I did it, it was like fate. After the show, I knew this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I was only 12 at the time, so I didn’t really understand the work that comes with being a model. To be honest, I also didn’t know how far I’d get with modeling but I wanted to give it my all. I signed with my first agency when I was 15 in Australia. Then I came overseas, and I did my first major show with Saint Laurent when I was 16. The rest is history!

V: What was that experience like walking for such a storied fashion house at just 16? You went from walking in your aunt’s fashion show to what some would consider the main stage of fashion. What was that transition like for you?

AA: Saint Laurent was an unforgettable experience. It really kicked the door open for me and my career. I wouldn’t be where I am today without that show. I was nervous, I was scared, I was excited, I felt all the emotions that one would feel before a life-changing experience. I went to Paris by myself, it was my first time leaving the country by myself, so this particular experience included a lot of firsts for me. Every time I walk Saint Laurent it feels like the first time—all those emotions just come back. When I first started this journey, I did not know how far I would get, I still don’t know how far I’ll get. But I’m just thankful for the opportunities I’ve gotten along the way, the people I’ve met and the things that I’ve been able to achieve in the last six years.

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V: You talked briefly about your upbringing and how walking this local show was the defining moment that led you to fashion. Can you talk a bit about your background and how that influences your identity as a model?

AA: I grew up not having a lot. I think when you come from somewhere where you don’t have access to a lot of things, you tend to be very grateful for anything that you get along the way. My upbringing has definitely shaped me to be a graceful person, someone who is very appreciative of anything I get, whatever that may be. That [mentality] has helped me with my everyday life, too. My mom would always tell me, “Never lose yourself. No matter what, don’t forget where you came from. Don’t forget who you are.” I live by these rules every day. I think being in this industry, and having a certain level of success, it’s very easy to lose yourself and get lost. I made a promise to myself when I started that I would never lose myself. I’ll always know who I am, where I come from and my background. I’ll never be ashamed of things like being a refugee or growing up in a refugee camp. People used to make me feel bad about it back in the day. But I have used what was weaponized, as a [source] of empowerment.

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This cover story appears in V139, Supermodel, Superhero issue, now available for purchase. 

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