Model of the year ‘won’t back down from the truth’
Having found her voice on the world stage, Adut Akech is determined to keep sharing it.
The Australian supermodel, who was named Model of the Year at the British Fashion Awards this month, speaks up for fear or favour on issues important to her - equality, refugees, diversity, freedom of speech and others.
"That is all I can really do, speak my truth and what I believe in," Akech tells The Saturday Daily Telegraph. "Not everybody's going to agree with it, but it is my truth. And as long as I know that I've said it, it makes me feel better. I feel like I'm finding my voice more and more and it is just great."
The 19-year-old was born in South Sudan before her family escaped to Kenya and then on to emigrate to Adelaide.
"I'm happy with the path that I'm going down and being able to have that confidence and ability to deliver what I feel and what I want to say … and not care about what others think or what others are going to say about it."
Adut spoke to the Telegraph on the phone from Sydney airport after a whirlwind few days of shooting for British Vogue and attending the Vogue Australia 60th birthday party.
Her two younger sisters - Yar, 10, and Akuol, two - are with her as her mother is in Africa visiting family and friends. Spending any time she has in Australia with her family is all important to Akech.
"I don't party and I don't drink … I don't do those things. And I want to teach my siblings that that's just the way to go about things, focus on what you want to do and not worrying about everything else happening around you."
Akech appears on the cover of the January issue of Vogue Australia, her fourth in total for the title here.
In September alone, she made history when she graced the cover of five Vogues internationally - Australia, Italy, Germany, Britain and Japan. She is undoubtedly our most in demand model and is a favourite of luxury fashion houses including Valentino, Chanel and Givenchy
With the January Australian issue in stores on December 30, it is particularly powerful in that every Vogue title globally declare on the cover the 'Vogue Values' of "sustainability, inclusivity, diversity, innovation and creativity".
Akech has a lot to reflect on. Being named model of the year means so much more than just the title itself.
It represents years of hard work, fighting for the underdog and success for the model who spent the first seven years of her life living in the Kukuma refugee camp in Kenya.
She wrote her Model of the Year speech in just a few minutes and had the likes of Rihanna in tears with her emotional words.
"I really just spoke from my heart," said Akech, who is represented by Chadwicks agency locally. "The award is bigger than a title in this industry. It is for refugees all around the world who are in a tough position and feel like there is no way out. It's for little girls and boys who are unheard, for women and men all around the world who have found representation and validation in the work that I do. So, it is definitely bigger than me. I just spoke my truth and who can tell me no, what I was saying was wrong? Nobody. That is the beauty of having an opportunity to be able to stand in front of a group of people and say what you really want to say."
Akech speaks with wisdom and courage far beyond her years.
She is nothing like the stereotypical partying model portrayed on TV dramas or on reality television. She is smart, thoughtful and considered.
"That's all I have really, just being able to stand my ground and speak my truth and having that freedom to do so. It's something that I'm fortunate enough to have and I know that there's no human being that can take that away from me."
In August, Who magazine was widely criticised when it ran a feature story on Akech but printed an image of another model.
Akech spoke up at the time, declaring the error "unacceptable and inexcusable".
"When you learn to not care about what others say, then being able to say what you want to say becomes a whole lot easier," she said. "It is scary, it's not easy. I know that sometimes me saying something has consequences, but I'm not going to let fear of consequences or words or people's judgments or opinions stop me from saying things. I fight strongly for refugees because I am a voice for refugees. I feel like the way the world views us, it's not right. And that's what makes me feel so strongly about it. I've been down that road and I know exactly how it feels. I'm telling my story. I'm telling yours, I'm telling hundreds and hundreds of peoples stories through just my story. I feel that is my role and my duty."
Akech is one of seven children and while based in New York, where she has an apartment, she spends any time she can with her family either here or by flying them to her.
It is this connection that keeps her grounded.
"Knowing that my family is good and they're healthy and they've got a roof over their head and food to eat, that makes me feel complete," she said. "And because of them, I thrive every day and I push harder. My family is definitely my inspiration and my motivation and everything I do, ultimately, is for them. The fact that I'm fortunate enough to be able to do what I love and make money out of that, then I can support my family and do the things that I want to do for my family."