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Alek Wek on Her Childhood, Modeling, the Sudan

Alek Wek: 'You don't have to go with the crowd'

Trailblazing supermodel Alek Wek shares her story with The Guardian's Sali Hughes.

Wek was born in South Sudan, arriving in London when she was 14, and was acutely aware of how different she was from the other big models of the day, women such as Kate Moss, Claudia Schiffer and Eva Herzigova; while growing up, she had no knowledge of trailblazers such as Iman and Grace Jones. "There was no concept of fashion and catwalk shows where I came from," Wek says. "There were no magazines. I never saw women in makeup, or with different hairstyles. Absolutely not." Now, she says, there are so many South Sudanese girls working as models it is not a big deal; in the late 1990s, she was one of very few successful African models. "There were Black models, but no one as dark-skinned, and none with Dinka features, that's for sure." Even so, she was regularly mistaken for Naomi Campbell, an entirely different-looking model from Streatham with a Jamaican-born mother. She laughs at the ridiculousness: "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."

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