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From a refugee camp to the top of the world: The story of Adut Akech Bior

Saturday April 27 2019

Adut Akech

Australia-based South Sudanese supermodel Adut Akech. PHOTO | COURTESY 

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Adut Akech Bior was born in a family of five siblings in war-torn Sudan in 1999. They would move to the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Turkana, Kenya, almost immediately, where she was raised until she was seven.

Life at the camp involved packing up and moving to a safer place whenever violence occurred, according to Adut, and this was the norm until they got approved for a visa.


The family left Kenya with nothing more than a few clothes and emigrated to Adelaide, Australia. It was both an exciting and a nerve-wrecking time for her. Here, she would begin her modelling career at the age of 12.

It all started when she made her runway debut at a local fashion show which was put together by her aunt, who owned a boutique. She explained to Vogue how she felt at home once she was on the runway. She immediately knew that modelling was what she wanted to do. Adut was sought after for the years after, and was finally signed to Chadwick Model Agency in Sydney when she turned 16.

Her first gig was the Melbourne Fashion Week, after which she walked a whopping 16 shows on her first year.


The model owes a lot to Saint Laurent, who booked her for Anthony Vaccarello's Saint Laurent Spring/Summer show in 2017 on the strength of a series of digitals. Here, she made her European catwalk debut wearing a gold lamé disco dress, super-sized tassel earrings and patent black boots just a day after finishing high school. This got her signed to the prestigious Elite Model Management.

She has since walked for JW Anderson, Burberry, Simone Rocha, Versace, Alexander McQueen, Givenchy, Prada, Loewe, Miu Miu, Tom Ford and Calvin Klein, and has landed campaigns with Saint Laurent, Valentino, Moschino and Zara.


But doing this interview on the day of celebrated fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld’s passing, Adut paid special homage to his legacy at Chanel. She was the second black model ever to close out the French fashion house's fall 2018 haute couture show in Paris.

She said: “Walking as the bride for his couture show and opening his ready-to-wear show were both such unbelievable moments for me. Very surreal.”

2018 was a big year for her. She featured in the 2018 Pirelli Calendar, where she starred alongside supermodel Naomi Campbell, rapper P-Diddy, Whoopi Goldberg and Lupita Nyong’o. Adut also landed her first ever Vogue cover for the British magazine's 'New Frontiers' issue in May, spoke at the Business of Fashion VOICES conference and was Valentino's Pierpaolo Piccioli’s muse at the 2018 famed Met Gala.

In December, she beat models including Ashley Graham and Gigi Hadid to be named Model of the Year by the fashion news site which involved more than 250 people from the fashion industry, including casting directors, photographers and stylists.

The savvy teenager with a sharp focus and a serious work ethic, however, sees this win as a call for her to work harder for her other goals.

“Being crowned Model of the Year is of course an honour but I definitely also feel some pressure. I have reached a lot of goals and dreams already, but I still have to work hard towards others,” she voiced.


Despite all these breakthroughs in the past year, her hard work cost her mental health. She explained this in a lengthy Instagram post, revealing how she would cry every morning and night. Being in a foreign land all by herself, the unpredictability of her job and the fact that it requires a lot of travel took an extra toll on her mental health.

“I have to find ways to self-care, and thankfully, there are many around me who understand my struggles and do their best to give support. Everyone backstage, on set, at my agencies, etc. all make sure I'm taken care of and that they're not overwhelming me,” she says.

Her biggest influence, who she calls her second mother, is Naomi Campbell, who she says has broken so many barriers and set a standard for the industry.

Outside of her career in fashion, Adut has recently begun working with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, UNHCR, in order to promote causes that support refugees around the world. She hopes that her own story can serve as inspiration for many to become more invested in alleviating the plight of refugees, and that one day, she will start her own modelling agency in Sudan.

For now, however, Adut is more focused on her influence to the world.