When South Sudanese model and #VogueChallenge participant Dosha Deng was 16, she wrote to the brand Unif to ask why there were no young women who looked like her modelling its clothes. “Can I represent you?” the keen fashion fan asked. The family-run company responded positively and her modelling career was born.
Now 19, Deng’s DIY approach to building her portfolio and calling out industry prejudices speaks volumes. “I’ve always been damned for having dark skin,” she says over the phone from Dallas, her home since her family moved from South Sudan to Texas when she was three. “Modelling taught me that dark skin can be beautiful. When I understood that – in the 11th grade – I knew I wanted to pursue it. I shaved my head to give me confidence.”
Deng’s drive has introduced her to a host of other self-taught creatives, with whom she frequently collaborate on makeshift fashion shoots, such as the one by photographer Brandon Lu that she submitted for the #VogueChallenge. “We shoot for fun – there’s not much to do around here,” says Deng of her suburban lifestyle. “If someone has a camera and an empty house, I’m like, ‘Say no more!’” Deng has thrived in the small town, “everyone knows everyone” culture she describes, but she longs to go back to Sudan to visit her parents and extended family. “They moved to America to give us a better life, but now they have retired back home.” Now, Deng and her siblings look out for one another.
Seeing her #VogueChallenge submission gain traction is meaningful because, Deng says, “Normal people are beginning to get the recognition they deserve. In modelling, the same people are picked for shoots over and over again. Even if magazines acknowledge different cultures, they cast the same Sudanese girls.” Deng hopes that this viral social-media moment will give her “a stairwell I can step on and keep on climbing”.
“I always have something in my back pocket,” says Deng, an eternal optimist bubbling over with ambition. At the moment she has school to finish once the Covid-19 restrictions have been lifted, but, “I can always learn something new,” she muses. “My eyes and my heart get so big when I see fashion, but there’s acting too…”
(Vogue Magazine UK)