Alek Wek: From The Sudanese Civil War to The Runway

Alek Wek: From The Sudanese Civil War to The Runway

Sophia Li, Staff Writer

She is known for being one of the first mainstream dark-skinned African models in the industry. She fled from Sudan at 14-years-old with eight siblings to Britain to escape the Sudanese Civil War. She is hailed as one of the world’s top supermodels, being a brand ambassador for Vogue and the United Nations. 

She is Alek Wek, a South Sudanese-British model, who is from the Dinka ethnic group in South Sudan. She began her fashion career at 18-years-old, and since then, has had a massive impact on perception of beauty in the fashion industry. 

“Alek Wek is one of the world’s foremost supermodels, widely regarded for breaking countless stereotypes and boundaries, not only for women of color, but women in general,” IMG Models said. 

Alek Wek was born on Apr. 16, 1977 to Akuol Wek and Athian Wek in Wau, South Sudan. After fleeing to London, she was scouted one day after school, and gave out her number. Shortly after, she booked her first job, featuring in a Tina Turner video “Golden Eye”. In 1996, she made another cameo in Janet Jackson’s “Got Til It’s Gone” music video. She then went to New York and had about seventeen appointments in one day, for around six weeks. The result? An editorial shoot with Steven Meisel for Vogue Italia.

Though this fairy tale story may not happen with most models, it was ideal for Wek, due to her natural beauty and talent. Designers and makeup artists are known to keep it light and simple, as they let Wek’s natural beauty and melanated skin shine. 

Wek has always been confident in herself and loves to learn about fashion and the way the industry works. She has opened and closed Ralph Lauren shows, walked head to toe in Chanel shows, appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, and was named Model of the Year by MTV and Model of the Decade by iD Magazine. Alek Wek also made her Victoria Secret debut in 2001 wearing oversized wings in one of the brand’s first publicized shows. 

“I had some huge wings on genre!” Wek commented, when looking back on the Victoria Secret show. “For me, it’s important to show girls that we’re all beautiful, to show many versions of what it means to be sexy, and to own their bodies and their sexuality. It’s empowering!” 

Now, Wek is a humanitarian activist who currently serves as a Goodwill Ambassador to The United Nations High Commission for Refugees. In 2012, she traveled back to South Sudan to commemorate the South Sudan Independence Referendum and the first anniversary of her nation’s freedom. Not only that, she also holds a seat on the advisory board for the U.S. Committee for Refugees. She enjoys speaking at schools near the New York City area to raise awareness of malnourishment. Lastly, she also spoke at the Congressional Black Caucus for International and Foreign Affairs and was part of the same panel as Hilary Clinton. 

Alek Wek’s story is impactful because it shows that it matters how you finish, instead of how you start. Her story from her humble beginnings from fleeing her home country to becoming one of the top supermodels in the world shows that it’s important to take opportunities given to one, and to make the best out of life. 

“I think that Alek Wek’s story is really inspiring,” Arcadia High School sophomore Audrey Lim stated. “It’s nice to see how someone can make the most of their life and become one of the best in their fields through hard work.” 

Now, Wek has become an icon and supermodel, and continues to inspire people around the world. 


Photograph courtesy of WIKIMEDIA COMMONS