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Meet Akiima: South Sudan Refugee and Australia’s next top model

August 25, 2019

(ADELAIDE) – Three years ago Akiima Yong was just a face in the crowd. Now, she’s the face of fashion, modelling for labels Valentino and Prada. South Sudan NEWS PORTAL brings you her story, as told to Adelaide based Australian Vogue Magazine.

I’m from South Sudan, but I now live in Australia. Most people know me as Akiima, but my mother gave me two names, because she could. Akiima was my childhood name that has carried on with me, the other one is Achol Ajak Yong. I was born while my family was on its way to Kakuma from Sudan, because of the war that broke out. My mother had three children at the time and I was born in a small village called Loki, before we continued our journey to Kakuma. After 10 years of going back and forth between Kakuma and Nairobi in Kenya, we moved to Australia to start a new life that involved us getting an education and being able to live a life that was the opposite to what we had experienced.

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Akiima Young. Photo: Vogue Magazine Australia
Akiima Young. Photo: Vogue Magazine Australia

I started modelling a year ago, after a friend of mine introduced me to an agency in Adelaide. They signed me to IMG in Sydney, and after a couple of days I went to Sydney and the rest is history.

I remember going to Paris for haute couture in July 2017. It was my first overseas trip since I’d arrived in Australia and I ended up meeting Naomi Campbell, the late Azzedine Alaïa and many other incredible people, and walked for Schiaparelli, Hermès and Azzedine Alaïa.

Words cannot explain how super-excited I am about everything that I have done and everything that is to come. I just want to move ahead and advance in the modelling world, because I have a lot to give and this is just my beginning.

Australia is a multicultural country, but unfortunately we don’t get to see the diversity of Australian beauty. We have come a long way, but we still need to discuss diversity in the modelling industry. Beauty comes in all colours – embrace them all. I would like to see more change in Australia so my friends and family can see more of me! When I open a magazine or watch a runway show, I want to imagine myself there. Let’s continue to do what we’re doing, but better, because we don’t want to keep asking for a spotlight.

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As a black woman I’ve used my platform to speak about subjects that are important, because I’ve become a role model to other younger girls. They start to imagine themselves in my shoes. Some of them want to be models or in the entertainment business and I would love to knock down the door for them. I never feel pressure to talk about our issues; I just hope someone hears me out.

Modelling allows you to travel the world, have life experiences, meet new people and, most importantly, discover yourself. In the modelling world it’s not all about how you look: you have to work hard and be patient about your big break. It’s important to enjoy life, travel, enjoy the most of being young, stay fit and maintain a healthy lifestyle. But it’s also important to be kind to one another, because you never know what people are going through in life, and to always show appreciation to your managers, because you’re the face, but they are doing most of the work for you.

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Walking shows such as Prada, Hermès and Valentino were amazing moments in my life, and it feels amazing to be on the cover of Vogue Australia. I remember, when I started modelling, thinking that this could never happen to me.

Coming to Australia as a refugee and now rising to become a top fashion model was not a trajectory that I ever imagined. Not in a million years. They say that life is what happens to you while you are making other plans. It’s amazing how fate works: just have faith and peace within your heart and you might end up there sooner than later.

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