Anok Yai is handling her business. She just made history by being the first black model since Naomi Campbell in 1997 to open a Prada runway show just three days ago. Though the booking process was simple – all it took was a quick demonstration of her walk a few digital photos, she attributes her newfound success as a monumental moment, not just for her, but for black models worldwide.
She told Vogue UK: “It was an honour and I’m proud that I was the one chosen to open, but this is bigger than me. Me opening for one of the top fashion houses is a statement to the world – especially for black women – that their beauty is something that deserves to be celebrated.”
Steve Hall – a professional photographer and alumnus of Howard University was just indulging in his passion for snapping black culture and fashion when he took an image of 19-year-old Yai. Little did he and Yai know, her world was about to change drastically. Read about how in just four short months, she became a model walking the Prada runway show.
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Yai was born in Egypt and is of South Sudanese descent. She and her family emigrated to the United States when she was two years old. Fast forward, she’s currently studying at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire for a degree in biochemistry. A decision to go to Howard University’s homecoming weekend gave her the opportunity of a lifetime. Ironically she believes that in the now-viral photo of her, she looks like a “deer in headlights” according to The Washington Post. Even the outfit she’s wearing is not one she would usually don. A friend threatened to pretend not to know her if Yai didn’t dress the part and look stunning.
Hall’s plan was to shoot as many images of beauty as he could lay his eyes on. He noticed Yai having her image taken by someone else and asked if he could do the same. He did and asked for Yai’s name and Instagram handle. He also posted her pictures on his IG page – @thesunk. He told The Washington Post: “I told her ‘I don’t know what you’ve been doing, but you should definitely be photographed and you should be modeling.’”
Turns out, Yai’s following on IG grew from 300 to 50,000 in a few short days. The picture of her at Howard received 22,218 likes. Soon she started receiving calls. Yai got an e-mail from a modeling agency; she was sent on various interviews and as they say, the rest is history.
Yai remains adorably modest. “I didn’t even think that anyone would look at me,” she said. “I was looking at the girls and they had nice outfits put together.” After the whirlwind of likes, calls, and interviews “When it got to a couple thousand and it just kept going higher and higher, I was surprised. And I was happy. I always wanted it to happen, but it was something I never expected.”
A bit taken aback from all the newfound attention, she says “There was one day where I had a bunch of classes, and I had done about three to four interviews, and my sister kept saying here’s another one, and here’s another one. And I was nervous because I had just gone from being a random girl living in New Hampshire to an Instagram-famous model. I wasn’t sure if I could handle all the expectations.”
PRADA WORLDWIDE EXCLUSIVE. This is something that I’d only dream of. Thank you Ms Prada, Olivier Rizzo @willyvanderperre @ashleybrokaw @kylehagler and the Next team for giving the little girl from Manch a chance. Can’t believe I’m the first black woman to open for Prada since queen @iamnaomicampbell, forever grateful. And thank you to @patmcgrathreal @cheriejohnson56 and @guidopalau they made me look extra chic – PRADA CHIC ??
Yai also hasn’t abandoned her dream of becoming a doctor after completing her schooling. Her mother would also like to finish her education and pursue modeling. If her career skyrockets, she’ll be obtaining her degree via online classes.
“When I was younger I was extremely insecure about my skin color,” “All I saw was light-skinned and white girls in the media. Now, I can speak my mind on certain topics and have people that will definitely listen. Now, I can use my mind and tell people about colorism and teach girls about self-confidence.” She says.
She also expresses the need for women to delve into careers in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields: “I knew that I’d be able to help people and that’s my overall goal in life,” “I definitely want girls to be looking into those [STEM] programs. Women aren’t always raised to be as great as they can possibly be. They’re told to care about more how they look and be extremely feminine. [As a result,] science, math, and technology are still considered male jobs.”
Beauty, brains, bravery, and power all rolled into one.