Alek Wek is an international supermodel of South Sudanese origin who has broken barriers within the modelling industry by being the first African woman to grace the cover of Elle Magazine.
She is also the author of Alek: From Sudanese Refugee to International Supermodel; handbag designer in the making and of course - philanthropist who has spend several years working as an ambassador for the United Nation's refugee agency - the UNHCR. In a recent interview with Sally Hughes of the Guardian, Alek Wek comments on her journey from South Sudan, to supermodel-dom and shares some simple, inspiring and encouraging truths.
On social responsibility, being rich in culture, confidence and success
"I never fully understood the magnitude of what I was doing, because I hadn't grown up in this culture."
"A black woman is not 'a type'. I never had any interest in those jobs that asked for only black girls. What the hell is that? Would you be comfortable saying you wanted only white girls, or Latin? Are you kidding me? It's baffling.
"Our confidence came from my mother. She told us it was about celebrating the beauty of being a woman – that's what made you gorgeous."
"You can feel very strongly that someone doesn't like you. I think any model who didn't have the same sort of upbringing as me would find that very difficult. But I absolutely knew I was entitled. I never thought I was ugly – it never crossed my mind."
"When I started, I'd hear other people saying, 'God, she's so bizarre-looking', because I didn't look like the girl next door. But I was just normal. I was the girl next door."
"We had no idea how poor we were, because we were so rich in our culture, our education. I loved going to school, walking home via the mango trees for a snack."
"It was really, really hard. Children at that age can be such bullies, period. That's before you even factor in that I looked and sounded so different. But after going through everything, where nothing was ever sure, where I might get killed, I was free and so happy to be learning. I focused on that and threw myself into it."
"The day you stop enjoying something is the day you should quit, if you can afford to,"
On using her success to speak of the refugee crisis in South Sudan
"We survived by relying on one another. There would be no Alek without that, so it was my responsibility to support them, too."
"We have such a strong voice in fashion, such a platform. We have to utilise that."
"It wasn't even about black or white, it was about women. I felt that girls growing up needed to see somebody different, who may have been criticised for their nose, or their hair, or anything – that they could be beautiful. It's about telling girls from a young age that it's OK to be quirky, it's fine to be shy. You don't have to go with the crowd."