Alek Wek is a famous African supermodel originally from South Sudan. During her childhood, a civil war broke out in her country, forcing her parents and eight siblings to flee the country. Her father passed away en route. After several years, the family was able to move to London together. It was here she finished her education and was discovered by a modeling scout at a party. She moved to New York the following year to sign with Ford Models. Her career has inspired many black women, like acclaimed actress Lupita Nyong’o, and forced many to reevaluate their idea of standard, Caucasian beauty. She has always been confident about herself and has been an avid learner. Her high self-esteem reflects in her work and is a source of inspiration for many. She believes the platform the modelling industry has provided her should be utilized for the greater good. She works with several charitable organizations and is the face of the ‘UN Refugee Agency’ in her native Sudan. She wants to bring into preview the harsh realities of the inmates of her country and spread awareness about the refugee crisis. Toknow more about her life and works read on the following biography
Childhood & Early Life
She was born to Akuol, a housewife, and Athian, an education official and was the seventh of nine children in her family. Her family grew up in extreme poverty, but Wek remembers being happy and peaceful.
She suffered from a skin condition known as psoriasis from birth until the age of 14. It cleared up because of the climate change once she moved to London with her family.
In 1985, a civil war broke out in Sudan, which caused the Wek family to flee their now dangerous home. Her father eventually died on the journey after an infection broke out in his hip due to a past surgery.
In 1991, Wek’s family finally arrived in London where Alek had a hard time adjusting to the cold climate. Bullies at school picked on her dark skin and accent. She enrolled in ‘London’s College of Fashion’ and majored in fashion business and technology.
In 1995, Wek was discovered at the age of 19 by a ‘Model 1’ scout named Fiona Ellis while she was attending a party.
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In 1995, she had her first big break when she appeared in Tina Turner’s music video ‘GoldenEye’. The following year, she also made an appearance in ‘Got ‘Til It’s Gone’, a music video by Janet Jackson.
In 1996, she was signed to Ford Models, a very prestigious agency based out of New York City. Within a year of arriving in New York, she was invited to walk in Ralph Lauren’s runway show, a coveted place usually given to famous models not newbies to the business like Wek.
In 1997, she was featured on the cover of “Elle” magazine, the first African woman to have this distinction.
In 1999, she was photographed for a calendar in which the artist Joanne Gair painted her body in bright, beautiful colors.
In 2002, she made her acting debut playing a princess of Sudan in the film ‘The Four Feathers’ and starred in a campaign for the Gap.
She launched ‘wek1993’ in 2005. It is a line of handbags that are for sale in Selfridges department stores. ‘wek1993’ is dedicated to her father, named after his birth year and designed to look like the briefcases he used to carry.
In 2007, she released her book entitled ‘Alek’. In this autobiography, she tells about her history as a refugee and her struggle to be treated fairly in the industry. She admits that some of her modeling gigs have has racist undertones.
She appeared on the cover of ‘Ebony’ magazine with fellow models Tyra Banks and Kimora Lee. The September 2007 cover of the magazine featured the photo-shoot.
In 2011, she served as a guest judge on the acclaimed reality show, ‘America’s Next Top Model’, alongside Tyra Banks.
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In 2014, she signed with ‘Marks & Spencer’ for a campaign, a significant milestone for her professionally as well as personally as she used to shop there as a teenager.
Ralph Lauren chose her to walk in his runway show within the first year of moving to New York, an unprecedented achievement for a new model. This assignment propelled her modelling career and helped her establish a strong foothold in the white-dominated industry.
In 2007, she published an autobiographical book that detailed her journey from refugee to supermodel in order to spread awareness.
Awards & Achievements
In 1997, she was named ‘Model of the Year’ by both ‘MTV’ and ‘i-D Magazine’. She became the first African to appear on the cover of ‘Elle’ magazine in the same year.
Channel 5 ranked her as #14 on their cumulative list of ‘World’s Greatest Supermodels’.
In 1999, she was named one of ‘People’ magazine’s ‘50 Most Beautiful People’.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 2002, she became an advisor to the US Committee for ‘Refugees Advisory Council’ where she helps raise awareness for the issues facing Sudan and refugees around the world.
In 2003, she entered into a relationship with an Italian real estate developer named Riccardo Sala. It was reported that the pair had split up after an affair of eleven years.
In July of 2012, she returned to her home country with the ‘UN Refugee Agency’ in an effort to spread awareness of how much work must be done to rebuild this country.
In 2014, Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o gave a speech in which she spoke about her negative self-esteem regarding her appearance growing up. However, when she saw Wek in the media, she realized she too could be beautiful. Nyong’o has since won several awards for her work, including an Oscar.
She is still working for many charitable organizations, including ‘World Vision’, ‘UNICEF’, and ‘Doctors Without Borders’ in Sudan.
As of November 2013, Wek is estimated to have a net worth of $50 million, nearly all gained from her work as a print, commercial, and runway model.
Her name means ‘Black Spotted Cow’. Ataui Deng, a celebrated runway model, is her niece.
When her mother found out she was going to sign with a modeling agency, she was horrified, thinking her daughter was going to be a ‘Page 3’ girl.
When her career first started, she was sometimes mistaken for Naomi Campbell, an entirely different looking model of Jamaican decent.