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November 13, 2019

Moguls of Inspiration | Alek Wek

UPDATED: November 11, 2019

Image from The Evening Standard
Today's Moguls of Inspiration takes us 38 years back in time to a city called Wau in the Southern part of Sudan

Alek Wek was born to a South Sudanese couple from the Dinka ethnic group. On 16 April 1977, Alek Wek was welcomed by mother, Akuol and father, Athian. Being the seventh of nine children, Alek would be on major magazine covers and walk side by side with some of the biggest names on runways across the globe. The famous South Sudanese-British model and designer, began her life in fashion at the age of 18 after she fled to Britain in an effort to escape the Sudanese Civil War in 1991.

As of today, she comfortably resides in Brooklyn, New York. Alek has a very humble story to her life, even to the extent that her name means 'Black Spotted Cow'. She grew up with multiple siblings in a two-bedroom house with no running water and electricity and has admitted to suffering from Psoriasis from infancy to age 14.

Image from The NY Times
When the Civil War began in Wau in 1985, Alek and her family had to flee. During the journey on foot over long periods, her father's hip got infected, he then became paralyzed and endured a hemorrhage which led to his death. Due to the moisture in the climate, Alek's Psoriasis cleared upon arrival in London. She then enrolled in London's College of Fashion, where she did a major in Fashion Business and Technology.

Wek was discovered at an outdoor market in 1995 in Crystal Palace, London by a Models Scout. She appeared in the music video for "GoldenEye" by Tina Turner that year and shortly thereafter began fashion modeling. She was signed to Ford Models in 1996 and appeared in the "Got 'Til It's Gone" music video by Janet Jackson that same year. In 1997, she was named "Model of the Year" by MTV and was the first African model to appear on the cover of Elle that year.

Wek has modeled, either on runways or in print advertisements, for Issey MiyakeMoschinoVictoria's SecretCliniqueShiatzy ChenJohn GallianoChanelDonna KaranCalvin KleinJasper ConranAlexander McQueenGivenchyArmaniFendi, and Christian Dior. She has also been featured in articles in American and British Vogue. And has been on the cover of Elle magazinei-D Magazine, Canadian, German and Japanese VogueCosmopolitan magazineGlamour magazineForbes Magazine Africa, and Ebony magazine.

2002 was the year she made her acting debut in The Four Feathers as the Sudanese princess, Aquol. Herb Ritts photographed her for a 1999 calendar in a Joanne Gair body painting that was a highlight of Gair's first retrospective. Wek has also been a guest on both The Tyra Banks ShowAmerica's Next Top Model and The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency.

Image from Afro Punk
Dark-skinned models were rare, if not unheard of, in the high fashion industry. Wek was "the first black model who didn't conform to a Caucasian aesthetic, the first with uncompromising, sub-Saharan beauty. By then, the industry saw her as a new and exotic beauty. As a result, Wek's mainstream success was celebrated by black women all over the world. Oprah Winfrey commented that “if [Wek] had been on the cover of a magazine when I was growing up, I would have had a different concept of who I was.”

Image from Fashionblogga
While giving a speech on beauty and self-perception, Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong'o mentioned Wek, stating that she had been a self-conscious, insecure teenager before seeing Wek in the spotlight: "When I saw Alek I inadvertently saw a reflection of myself that I could not deny,” she added, “Now, I had a spring in my step because I felt more seen, more appreciated by the far-away gatekeepers of beauty".

Image from
Wek also designs a range of designer handbags called "Wek 1933", which are available throughout selected Selfridges department stores. The name refers to the year her father was born. Her inspiration for the designs came from the brass-clasp briefcase carried by her father. Since 2002, Wek has been an advisor to the U.S. Committee for Refugees Advisory Council, which helps to raise awareness about the situation in Sudan, as well as the plight of refugees worldwide.

She is a missionary for World Vision, an organization that combats AIDS; an ambassador for Doctors Without Borders in Sudan, and devotes time to UNICEF
In 2007, she released an autobiography, entitled Alek: From Sudanese Refugee to International Supermodel, documenting her journey from a childhood of poverty in Sudan to the catwalks of Europe. 

In 2011, she appeared as a guest judge in the sixteenth cycle of America's Next Top Model. 

Image from Designscene
In July 2012, she returned to South Sudan with the UN Refugee Agency to highlight the stories of refugees returning from the north and the massive efforts needed to build and stabilize the country.

In 2012, Alek teamed up with Amarula as the face of their campaign, African Originals. Wek has been in a relationship with Riccardo Sala, an Italian real estate developer, since 2003. 

She is an aunt to the runway model, Ataui Deng.

As of November 2019, Alek Wek is over 40 years old and has since been married to the Italian Real Estate developer, Riccardo Sala.

We think she'd love it if we all follow her glamorous life on Instagram

Image from

Portions of this article were originally published HERE.

1 comment:

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