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Sudanese Supermodel, Alek Wek, Broke Ground And Stereotypes

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ALEK WEKBy Andrew Scot Bolsinger

The first African model to appear on the cover of “Elle” magazine, Alek Wek said her mother was horrified at the idea.

Wek was just 19 and had emigrated from Sudan just five years earlier when a model scout from a London agency approached her. Wek’s mother feared the worse that she’d be exploited.

“I had to point out that I wasn’t really built for that,” Wek said of her tall, thin frame with “little booty and big smile,” she said.

The agent persisted, finally convincing Wek’s mother that theirs was a reputable agency, and her daughter’s career began. Wek has since become one of the most successful models over the past two decades, according to the Atlanta Black Star.

A week after arriving in New York, Ralph Lauren booked her to open and close his catwalk show, a glamour position usually not afforded to rookies like Wek. Calvin Klein, Isaac Mizrahi, Todd Oldham and Anna Sui all soon booked her as well. It was all new to Wek.

“There was no concept of fashion and catwalk shows where I came from,” Wek says. “There were no magazines. I never saw women in makeup, or with different hairstyles. Absolutely not.”

Wek knows she led the way for many African women to become models. When she started she was virtually alone in the field.

“There were black models, but no one as dark-skinned, and none with Dinka features, that’s for sure,” she said.

She said she is amazed that she is still regularly mistaken for Naomi Campbell, an entirely different-looking model.

“A black woman is not ‘a type’. I never had any interest in those jobs that asked for only black girls. What the hell is that? Would you be comfortable saying you wanted only white girls, or Latin? Are you kidding me? It’s baffling.”

Andrew Scot Bolsinger won more than two dozen press awards during his journalism career. He is a freelance writer, author and operates, which is focused on prison reform. He can reached at