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The BoF Podcast | Halima Aden on Mapping Her Comeback

The Somali-American model joins Imran Amed to discuss her journey from a refugee camp in Kenya to the US to the top of the fashion industry — and what she’s learned since taking a step back.
BoF Podcast Halima

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Background:

Somali-American model Halima Aden nabbed an IMG contract and quickly shot the centre of the fashion world after she earned first attention as the first hijab-wearing Muslim to compete in Minnesota’s Miss USA pageant. She walked for Yeezy, Fenty, Dolce and Gabbana and Tommy Hilfiger, and posed in Vogue, Elle and Allure. Then, in November, she stepped away from it all, announcing her intention to leave the industry. In retrospect, she thinks the best thing she did for herself in her career was never just see herself as a model.

“I found that some of the most fulfilling campaigns or photoshoots I got to be part of always tended to be when it wasn’t just about me. It wasn’t just Halima,” said Aden. “I was sharing stories that I brought from the refugee camp, sharing stories of other Muslim women in all different fields … I found that my work was more meaningful when it was tied to giving back.”

Key Insights:

  • Aden was born in a refugee camp in Kenya before moving to St. Louis, Mo. Eventually, her family resettled in St. Cloud, Minn, which is home to a large Somali immigrant community.
  • She went on to compete in Minnesota’s Miss USA pageant in search of a scholarship. She didn’t win the pageant, but got something arguably even better: A call from Rihanna’s team to shoot for Fenty Beauty.
  • Aden’s quick ascent meant she came into the industry at a more privileged vantage point. She didn’t have to go to casting calls and received private dressing rooms. However, that no one else received the same treatment started to bother her.
  • The ex-model said her experiences of extreme poverty made her look at the fashion industry’s excess with a bit of disdain, and perhaps, fuelled some of her anger at it.
  • After a journey of self-discovery, she’s realised she needs to turn that pain into power as she maps out her future in the industry.

Additional Resources:

  • Halima Aden Plots Her Return to Fashion: After stepping away from fashion in 2020, Somali-American model Halima Aden is ready to reenter industry — this time, she said, it’ll be on her own terms, and not as a model.
  • VOICES 2021: The Fashion System’s Push to Evolve: In the second session of BoF’s annual gathering, Balenciaga CEO Cedric Charbit, Ellen MacArthur, Tommy Hilfiger and others addressed virtual fashion, circularity and forging authentic collaborations. Elle announced it would stop publishing images of animal fur.
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