Wednesday night before the casting call
The night before and the next day, all the girls were frazzled because of the casting call. I heard noises from outside my dorm room. I stepped out into the hallway to see what all the stomping and laughter was about. There were girls walking up and down the hallway practicing their walks. The girls were stumbling around in heels. I encouraged them, “You better work!” I enjoyed watching them walk. I went back into my dorm. Aylin was still conflicted on whether or not she should go to the casting call. I encouraged her to go. Girls travel all over the world to get scouted by IMG. What’s the worst that can happen? It’s a chance of a lifetime. We picked out an outfit for her. It was unspoken that we all were supposed to wear all black and heels. I did not know that and no one told me to pack those clothes specifically. They also said we should wear our hair back in a ponytail. Luckily, I packed a black outfit and heels.
A few days prior to the casting call.
Every camper belonged to a group and had a counselor. We were responsible to create a product by the end of the week and pitch it to a panel of judges. My counselor was Derek.
During one of our brand breakouts in the days following up to the casting call, we talk to our counselor about the process. The girls asked many questions. Derek told us that the casting call was really “just for fun” but there was an opportunity to get scouted. One girl asked if we would receive feedback after the call. Derek did not really know how to answer that. Another girl asked the height and weight requirement. Dereck said it was around 5’10”, but he did not know what the scouts were looking for. I also voiced some concerns and Derek assured me that he believed in me. “Sasha, we all know you’re going to be a fashion designer or successful either way,” he added. All the girls agreed with him. They told me that they saw something in me and saw a promising future ahead of me. Sydney also told me that she could tell I was different and could see me doing something fashion related. I felt really warm after hearing that. It was nice to hear people believed in me. The people at fashion camp believe in me more than most people I have met in my entire life. I really appreciated their kind words and it meant so much to me for them to believe in me so much even though they only knew me for a few days. I will always love all the people I met at camp because they really accepted me for who I am and I’ll never forget them.
Back to Wednesday night before the casting call
If you intend on coming to fashion camp, make sure you pack an all black outfit to show your figure and some heels. Black tights, jeans, a tank, or something simple that will show your shape. Do not wear heels you cannot walk in. I wore some short heels.
Some girls asked the counselors if we had to wear all black and they reassured us that we did not. Many girls did not wear all black and they wore flats. So do not worry about it too much, but pack it just in case.
This was the first year IMG had done a formal casting call at the fashion camp. There had been girls years prior who had gotten scouted at the camp without a casting call. So there is a chance to be scouted apparently. I am still in close contact with most of the girls I met at the camp and no one has said anything about getting scouted so I’ll keep you updated.
Aylin and I were sitting in the dorm getting our casting call looks ready. She was still on the fence.
I was not nervous about the casting call. To be frank, I was just going for the experience. A lot of the girls came to the camp specifically for the chance to be a model.
I went to sleep.
Thursday, June 27
The next day, the girls were up again practicing. They were stumbling down the hallway. I put on my casting outfit and Aylin decided not to go. I headed out and I knocked on Keythlin’s door. Her and I got on the cart and rode to the Field House. Before the call, we had a Q & A session with Jenni Rose and David Cunningham. Rose is the lead modeling scout for IMG in Paris and Cunningham is the head of scouting at the New York headquarters. They both sat on stage and answered questions about the call.
One person asked about the height requirement. Rose answered that in order to be an outlier to the height rules, you would have to be an influencer or already famous in some other way. She explained, “Between 5’8” and ½ and you’d really have to be super fantastic at 5’8 and ½. The sweet spot is 5’10”. You can really sort of do everything. We consider girls between 5’8”-6’0”. After 6’0” it’s almost too tall. We do have several models who are over six feet, but when we scouted them, they were 5’10” and then they continued to grow.”
She continued,“The reason why you want the same sort of height range is because when the girls are on the runway, if somebody is very small, height wise, all of a sudden everyone in the audience is like, ‘wait a minute that girls 5’3” why is she on the runway?’ So all of a sudden you’re no longer thinking about the clothes. Meaning the buyers and the journalist in the audience. They’re thinking ‘Why is that girl in the lineup?’ The designers want the same sort of unanimity through the whole thing. So that they can really focus on the girls.”
She corrected herself, “On the clothes, rather than actually who’s walking in them.”
Cunningham chimed in, “For guys, it’s really between 6’1”-6’3.”
He said that there are exceptions. Karlie Kloss is taller than 6 feet and Lucky Blue Smith is 6’5”.
He added, “If you’re under that, there’s exceptions too. Halima’s here this afternoon and she’s 5’7” I think.”
Cunningham said Halima Aden was able to be an exception because she is so sweet and genuine. Later that day, we were meeting Halima Aden. He began, “She’s so unique. You’ll see this afternoon if you haven’t… most of you haven’t met her before. You’ll see why that works.” When he said “that” he meant how she got signed without meeting the requirements.
“If you’re not that tall, at this point, for today, definitely go through this,” he advised. Cunningham believed whether or not we wanted to be a model, we should still go through the casting for the “skills”.
Rose began, “For guys… the measurements are even a little more strict than the girls. Because you have suits. And suits come in a 40 regular. How a suit fits on a…male model is really important. So for the guys, I find when we scout, that they’re almost even a little bit more strict with the sizing.”
Cunningham added,“For guys too, shows are almost the only way to break into the business. Whereas for women, it’s a little bit different. There are other ways, through editorial or whatever. For guys it’s really if you can’t do shows you’re really not going to make it as a male model.”
Women have the ability to start off doing photoshoots then do runways, but men have to begin doing runways.
Another girl asked if there is a specific shoe size.
Rose answered, “For years, you didn’t have people who had really huge feet for some reason people start to have very big feet now. It’s sort of the hidden thing that you don’t see cause you’re sitting looking at this gorgeous, ya know, person in front of you who has absolute potential to be a model and then afterwards you find out they have a size 12 shoe. That will mean you can’t do the runway because designers don’t make shoes, in most cases, that big, especially in European sizes. That size to them is like a canal boat, that’s huge. So yes it really does make a difference. We signed a girl once from Lithuania and afterwards we found out she had a 43 shoe which was like huge, was maybe even bigger, like a 45 shoe, it was huge, she really had a size 13 men’s shoe. She used to wear Doc Martens all the time which look really cool but when she tried to go she could not fit in a shoe which was an issue… I’ve never had a problem with a girl who had too small of a foot size.”
“Small’s never been an issue,” Cunningham said sometimes girls with specific shoe sizes are asked for.
The girl who asked the question asked if a size 7 was ok and Rose and Cunningham said, “7 is fine.”
Cunningham said him and Rose learn as they go. He referred back to the time when they signed the girl from Lithuania: “It was heartbreaking to watch her go out and get jobs and they couldn’t find shoes for her so she got cancelled and sent home so many times.”
Rose interrupted,“For shows, especially. [But] for print…”
“They made it work,” Cunningham chimed in.
Rose interrupted, “But then she was very limited.”
Cunningham agreed, “Right. So it’s not like oh these are wild parameters that we made up and we’re just holding [on]to. It’s just you don’t want to set someone on a path where they’re going to waste their time. As scouts, we take our jobs very seriously… If somebody came to me and said, ‘Hey, I know that you love swimming and I think you can be an Olympic swimmer.’ And I set out to do that at 51 years old uh. It’s like sad… You don’t want to set these goals if they’re just not attainable. I think that’s why when sometimes people say, ‘Oh well I really want to do it. I’m never going to give up.’ It’s not that you want to crush somebody’s dreams. It’s just that you want to say, If you were my son or daughter I would say, “Know that this is going to be really really hard and you’re going to face more disappointment than I would ever want someone in my family to face.’ So I think that’s the important thing.”
Rose agreed, ”People say, ‘Couldn’t you just try?’ It’s like for a model to. Sometimes we’ll have girls that are absolutely not ready to do the shows or for one reason or another we don’t think it’s the right time for them to do it. We always say to the girl and to their parent, ‘It’s the same amount of work for you and for your manager to make 105 appointments for you and for you to go on 105 appointments and get nothing. It’s not like it’s a little bit less work. You can still put in a really huge amount of effort and time and end up with nothing. So if we sort of feel on the outside that it’s not gonna work rather than making you go through the paces, it’s just easier for you and the management to be realistic about it.”
Cunningham added, “And to follow up, not to like beat this to death, I do think that the one great thing that’s happened before is like having an ‘Oh I’m going to give it my all and I’m never going to give up being a model.’ You can get an endorsement… I would say to somebody in my family… ‘If you want to be a model and you want to do endorsements and you want to be famous and you want to be on magazines, by all means, there’s a lot of other ways to do that.’ It’s like, if you’re at all interested in acting, study acting. You can be 5’2” with a size 14 foot and still go into acting and if you’re a great actor or an actress believe me. When you’re in your big starring role, we’re gonna be knocking on your door saying we’d love to represent you for endorsements. And even though you didn’t fit any of the criteria of a model, because you have another core business. And I think people love or hate influencers they’re here they’re here and they’re not going anywhere. And I think now more than ever, everyone in this room has the opportunity to have their own voice, to show what they stand for and bring something to the table. Because as I said, it’s not just about being pretty anymore. Being pretty doesn’t get you there anymore. It’s like, what is your story, what do you stand for.”
Rose interrupted “… I’m sure a lot of you know who wonder woman is. Sorry, superwoman is. That’s somebody who made a YouTube channel.”
“Lily Singh,” Cunningham corrected.
Rose agreed,“Lily singh. And started doing her own thing. And now we represent her as a model. Had she come to us traditionally as a model, I’m not sure we would have started with her. But now we do. And we’re able to do things for her because of what she can do because of her voice, because of her persona. Because of who she is. You know? She’s also super attractive to young girls, [and] young women she’s very empowering. So brands are very interested in her. UNICEF’s interested in her… But that’s something she made. She started from the ground up and then we came on board later because she really had something to offer.”
Cunningham explained, “It used to be you had to wait for… us to sign you and then we would send you out to customers. We’re gonna send you to Vogue magazine and you had to wait for Vogue to maybe, hopefully, book you one day. And then you shoot. And then you waited three months for the pictures to come out. Then you’re like ‘Ok great that’s amazing.’ Now, it’s like every single one of you is a publisher. You have a phone, you have Instagram… you have social media. You can post your own media and your own images everyday. You don’t have to wait for our approval.”
Rose added, “And It’s really nice too… I scouted Diana Silvers. Who I’m sure you guys have seen Booksmart, she’s in that, and she’s in the new movie Ma. It’s like when I found her on Instagram, she was like, ‘Thanks I mean I would like to be a model’. And she was doing stuff for Brandy Melville*… locally, where she lives… but she was like, ‘But i really want to be an actress. I got into the Tisch school. I’m gonna go to NYU I want to be an actress. Will you work with me while I’m working on that?’ We were like, ‘Absolutely.’ And her acting took the front seat of what she wanted to do and now she’s fast becoming a really really big deal in Hollywood. But we were there from the beginning but it was like something she put out there first. It was what she wanted to do and we worked with her to do it.”
*Brandy Melville is an Italian fashion brand.
*The Tisch school of arts is a performing arts school at NYU.
Someone else asked what kind of schooling Rose and Cunningham had to get to become scouts.
Rose answered,“The best experience I had to be a scout was being a camp counselor, strangely enough. It was like I was dealing with kids and people.”
Rose continued, “I mean there really isn’t anything.”
There is no educational qualifications needed to become a modeling scout.
Rose added, “What you can do is if you’re interested in scouting is to sort of look at what’s out there. I mean I used to be veracious. I mean I really always wanted to do this, David [Cunningham] never did. So it was like he fell into it and I set out to do it. There was not sort of a good way to do it but I realized when I was young that I could sort of look at someone who was a beginner in like Seventeen Magazine, that was like the big magazine when I was little and then they would end up in Vogue. As they started growing up, and it was really hard to figure out who was who because it wasn’t all out there like it is now… I think looking at faces and I always did that. I remember when I started high school, I got the yearbooks from some person that I knew that was a senior and I went through… like day one I knew who everyone was. Like when this guy walked passed, who was like the quarterback, I was like ‘oo I know who he is.’ And I knew all the cheerleaders. I knew who everyone was because I liked to look at faces. So for me, it was really grounding to understand the lay of the land, in a huge public high school, who everyone was when I got there. So I mean I was always looking at faces. And I think that is something that if you’re interested go through websites. Look what models look like and agencies. Go through the development divisions. I mean sometimes I would see people in magazines and I’d be like, ’Why are they famous? Why is this a model?’ I didn’t understand. But I think the more you look, you start to understand. Then when you scout and you see a face that you really haven’t seen before in a certain way, it makes it very interesting.”
She explained that’s what her and Cunningham are looking for: “People always ask ‘What are you looking for?’ What we’re looking for is something we haven’t seen before. For me, a really classically, boringly, [and] pretty girl that is just like a pretty girl is like a yawn to me. I want something that’s just at first like, ‘No.’ then ‘Maybe.’ and ‘Oooo.’ It’s gotta be inspiring cause it’s the same way with a photographer… it took me a long time to realize this… what we think is what a customers gonna think further along. So when you see a face… when you go shopping in a store, you’re buying what the store curated. So you go into a store and… whatever’s in that store is what you’re buying. And that’s a little what it’s like in a modeling agency. It’s like what customers are booking is what we’re putting out. So we’re sort of the first line. And it has to be compelling. A face has to be compelling, it has to be interesting. There’s gotta be something.”
Someone asked how the scouts develop a girl after they sign her.
Cunningham responded, “Depending on where in the world she comes from has a lot to do with development just because of the Visa* situation. But Assume there’s no Visa situation. What we would do is we would figure out where we think that particular person might get their best picture for start so you might… be from America but we’d be like, ‘She or he would resonate so well in Australia we’re gonna send that person to Sydney to build their book.’ …Even though New York might be a train right away, you might actually start in Sydney, Australia because that would be the best place for your look for this moment, for right now. Or for what’s going on in the fashion industry. Maybe there’s shows that are coming up, ok, we know you can walk, great, let’s do that. So it’s sort of unique to every person, but we would start building a book, building a portfolio. That’s pretty much where we start. We figure out… are you ready for shows. If you’re 18, we would probably say, ‘Ok great let’s start shows now.’ It’s a good time to start, but it’s really unique to everybody.”
*Visas are required to work in and be in different countries. Acquiring a Visa can be a difficult process for Non-U.S. citizens especially.
Rose added, “But it’s also you want to make sure that a model is ready. David always says this, and it’s so true, ‘You only get one chance to be the new girl.’ So we want to make sure that when a model meets the customers, that can make a difference for her, the casting directors and photographers that they’re really ready. Because sometimes people will sign a model and they’ll be 14 or 15 and they’ll already put them on the website. Meanwhile, they’re doing 2 test shots a year because they’re kids and school comes first. Modelings always a hobby until you’re finished with high school. Um, but customers are looking at those pictures on the website for three years and for them you’re not evolving as a model only cause you’re 14, 15, 16 years old…We always say keep the girls off the radar screen until they’re really ready. And then it’s such a pleasure to have a girl that’s really properly prepared or guy that understands the business and has a nice little portfolio and knows how to walk on the runway. Knows how to sit for a photoshoot. Knows how to interview, knows how to dress. Knows how to be far away from home. Knows how to manage their money… We had one girl… She started very young… she was from Poland. She would go every single summer with her mother to one place. For two weeks some place… she’d go to Singapore.. To Japan. And she’d make money and she got experience. And at that point you could work in New York under 16 and she started booking people and boom she walked in and she immediately confirmed Calvin Klein and became a contact model because she was really well prepared beforehand.”
“You only get one chance to be the new girl.”
Another person asked, How long are the days and what are they like.
For photoshoots, it is 8 hours on set and it varies at a fashion show. Rose explained that when Galliano had shows there was a “3 hour call time before because the hair and make up was so intricate.” Rose continued, “The younger models, the newer models, start first. Because the famous models come in later because they’ve earned that. Sometimes for a show that takes ten minutes.. you can be there four or five hours in advance.”
Several girls stood up and left. Most of the girls that left were short. I guess they thought they didn’t have a chance. I’m 5’1”, but I stayed, because, “What the hell, I’m here.” But the talk was super discouraging for sure. If it were up to me, all that height and weight stuff wouldn’t matter. Who cares.
Rose and Cunningham actually DM girls on Instagram so if you want to be a model make sure your Instagram reflects you.
A note to Jeni Rose and David Cunningham,
I enjoyed the casting call it was fun! I enjoyed listening and learning about you both all week. Continue the great work that you do!
Sasha C. Yates
We were all given note cards and we had to fill our our name, age, and where we were from.
They dismissed us by rows and made us stand in a line. Some girls were pulling their hair back in a ponytail. After we got to a certain point, there was measuring tape on the wall where they measured our heights. We had to take our heels off and stand up against the wall. Derek measured me, my height was 5’0”. I stood in another line and then we were let back into the room where we had the Q & A. I walked across the room in my heels and handed Rose and Cunningham my card. They smiled at me. They asked me about myself and I told them about the films I was working on and then I left.
I stood in another line where Patrick took several photos of me. I also had to walk again on camera. Lastly, he recorded me doing something funny for a silly video he was making for all of the campers.
I left the room and grabbed some snacks. I waited on Keythlin and some other girls so we could head to lunch. There was one girl who was freaking out. She claimed she did really bad and she was having an anxiety attack. Everyone tried to give her comfort. “I’ll just try again next year,” she assured. Finally, Keythlin came out, we walked to the dorm to get Aylin and then we went to lunch.
We told Aylin how it went and ate lunch.
We headed back to the dorms and changed out of our casting call clothes. Then, we headed back to the Field house. We stood in a line waiting for them to open the doors to the room. They let us in, and as usual, everyone scrambled for seats close to the stage. This time the chairs were arranged like an amphitheatre and the tables were all in the back of the room. We sat down and then Halima Aden walked in. Aden is a Muslim model. Aden was the first model to wear a hijab. I have been following her for many years on Instagram so it was unreal to see her in real life. She came in with music playing and she made us stand up and dance to Lizzo*. Then she sat directly on the stage with her legs dangling off it. She was not interviewed by anyone, she just told us her life story.
*Lizzo is a musician
Aden explained that she “grew up in a world away from fashion.” She began, “I was born in a refugee camp in Kenya and I spent the first few years of my life in Kakuma.” Aden believes we are all connected to refugees if it is a relative or classmate, we all know someone who is a refugee. The formative years in the refugee camp shaped Aden into the woman she is today. Aden explained, “It taught me community.. How we could all be different but at the end of the day, we have shared interests, we have shared values.” Her family is from Somalia. Her parents came to the refugee camp in 1994 and that is where she was born. She had friends there from Ethiopia, Uganda, and many other places. Many different holidays were celebrated because there were so many different beliefs and religions. Everyone celebrated all the holidays, even Christmas. The parents and older people had a harder time with accepting one another because they came to the camp with different prejudices, but the children accepted one another. “Early on it taught me, communication is everything,” Aden claims. She would see adults getting into fights over the well. They had to collect their water from a well because there was no plumbing. They did not have shelter either, they had to build their homes. Aden had recently went camping with friends and she realized that the way we camp in the U.S. is luxurious. “Girl I think my camp days are behind me,” she joked. She shared that the adults got into arguments on simple things. In one culture, petting on the head could be seen as an apology while in another country, it could be seen as disrespect. “Body language is night in day in other countries and also, our parents didn’t speak Swahili.” All the children spoke Swahili because they grew up in the camp. The parents did not speak a common language. The parents all spoke their native languages. Therefore, the parents were not able to communicate with one another causing another barrier. The kids all got along with one another. There was no school and no toys so they “had to be there for each other.” “We had to create our own toys. We had to create our own games,” Aden added.
“It taught me community.. How we could all be different but at the end of the day, we have shared interests, we have shared values.”
There was a large board outside of the refugee camp. Every couple of months, a letter would be stamped relocating refugees.
Aden’s hijab came tumbling down mid sentence. She laughed and wrapped it back up. “Walah,” she rejoiced. “Ok, she’s gonna stay,” Aden referred to her hijab as she.
She then continued telling the story. “Our parents would be like, ‘Please let it be me and my kids we want to leave.’… Then all of us youngins were like, ‘Please don’t let it be me,’” she recalled.
“The idea of leaving… the only world that you know, the only environment that you’ve ever been exposed to and going to the unknown was frightening.”
Aden explained,“The idea of leaving… the only world that you know, the only environment that you’ve ever been exposed to and going to the unknown was frightening.” Aden continued, “If you’ve never seen anything better you almost feel like, ‘I’ve made it in life and I’m good where I’m at.’ Aden’s parents were happy to leave because they knew there were so many better places, but Aden was too young and inexperienced to understand that. “One day my family’s name was on that list and I remember breaking down and crying,” she reminisced. Then she realized that America was wealthier than the camp. “I made this little promise to all my friends. I was like, ‘I’ll send you $5, I’ll send you $500. I’ll send you, how are you going to give me for that gum? I’ll send you that much. Thinking like oh my gosh we made it, money’s growing on trees in America. Like oo oo oo! I might come back and adopt you guys,” she laughed. Aden’s mom sat her down and told her that there were more opportunities in America and Aden asked, “Ok, well what do you mean?” and she was like, “I don’t know.” They “took that leap of faith as a family.” Aden came to Saint Louis when she was seven. Aden continued, “Ya’ll I stepped off that plane and I was like, ‘Child, [is] this refugee camp? I don’t want to be here. Cause it was ghetto first of all. I’ve never heard gunshots before we moved to St. Louis.” Aden went through culture shock. She started attending school everyday and she could not speak English. “I thought I was a bright kid when I was at the camp because I spoke fluent Swahili. I spoke fluent Somali… I would go to school everyday and sit in my desk and never learn anything… because it was such an impoverished elementary school that they didn’t even have an ESL program.” ESL stands for English as a Second Language and it is a class for students to learn English. Aden continued,“I also had this crazy African mama who literally the second week of school was like, ‘Read this book to me.’”
“If you’ve never seen anything better you almost feel like, ‘I’ve made it in life and I’m good where I’m at.
Aden explained, “Ya’ll we had one radio in that camp and it was lit lit lit! But they played Kelly Rowland Dilemma on replay… I didn’t speak the language, I didn’t know the meanings, but I remember memorizing what she was singing.” Aden’s mother would make her read books to her aloud in English. She sang the lyrics to the song,Dilemma, to make her mother think she could read. “I don’t speak is English, but get this, you don’t speak English either, so who’s gonna correct who?” Eventually, after Aden read the song over and over, her mom figured out she was not learning anything. They moved to Saint Cloud, Minnesota. Aden asked who in the room was from Minnesota. Now she lives St. Paul. “I rep my home state so much,” she laughed. She bragged,“We have 4 seasons, we have 13,000 lakes, we have the biggest mall in America.” She added,“ We have the largest monk community, the largest Somali diaspora community, the largest Ethiopian community.”
At her new school, Aden received ESL classes and teachers who “went above and beyond” to help her learn English. They stayed after school to help her and taught her during their breaks too. They knew that if they sent her home with homework, her parents could not help her. Her mother came to the school everyday to show the school and the teachers that she cared about her daughter’s success in school. The teachers saw the mother’s concern about her daughter and treated Aden like their own child.
“We didn’t have a car for the first 8 years,” Aden explained. The winters were rough and it was an adjustment from the warm climate in Kakuma. Every time they would walk to the store in the cold, someone would stop and offer them a ride. Aden tried to explain to her mom that hitchhiking is illegal, but her mom referred to the people as a “new friend.”
Refugees are assigned a case worker who helps them get resettled. Aden’s case worker bought them gloves and clothes. “Out of his own paycheck,” Aden explained. He was always helpful to the Aden family and her and her little brother. “Those experiences I hold dear to my heart… Even today, I chose to live in Minnesota,” Aden shared. Aden never desired to move to a fashion capital. She continued, “I feel like I have to stay loyal to my state.”
Aden talked about the misconception that refugees come to the United States just to steal jobs and participate in criminal activities.”There’s people who chose not to make the most out of their opportunities in every single group yes,” Aden agreed that like any group of people, some are bad. Aden explained, “You have the refugees like myself who is a proud taxpayer. Who does love to give back to her community.” Aden reflected, “All those experiences make up who I am.”
“All those experiences make up who I am.”
Aden shared her experience in school. “Middle school was like the toughest time for me,” Aden described. “Middle school was tough for me because I did not know how to be me,” she explained. Aden’s middle school had few people that looked like her. She described, “Especially not seeing people wear a hijab, celebrated, had a huge hit on my self esteem and how I viewed myself.” Aden advised, “You should never look elsewhere for your own self worth, that is in you.” “You are 100% in control of how you see yourself,” Aden argued. Aden dealt with bullying. “I got teased and picked on for wearing a hijab,” she shared. Now, Aden believes she dealt with bullying because people did not understand the hijab. Aden believes, “The fear of the unknown is a real thing.” “If you want to know just ask,”she encouraged. “I would much prefer you asking me, ‘Why do you wear that thing on your head?’ then making assumptions, ‘Oh she doesn’t have hair.’… ‘She’s an alien head,’”Aden continued. At the time, those words hurt Aden. “What seemed like such a blow [then], now I laugh,” Aden reminisced. Aden struggled with accepting herself at the time. She shared, “At that age you feel like, ‘My world is crumbling down, how will I go on?” Aden would retreat to her friends that were Muslim and wore hijabs when she faced criticism from her peers. “It felt like, they know me and I know them and they’re not gonna hurt me, but that’s not how you grow,” Aden explained retreating to her Muslim community was not the solution. “In today’s world, if you don’t have a group of friends, especially girlfriends, that come from all different walks of life, you’re missing out,” she advised. “Your friends should be from all different walks of life, they add so much enrichment to you as a person,” she continued.
“I did not know how to be me.”
“You should never look elsewhere for your own self worth, that is in you.”
“You are 100% in control of how you see yourself.”
“Your friends should be from all different walks of life, they add so much enrichment to you as a person.”
Aden went to high school. She became her high school’s first Muslim homecoming queen. When the homecoming queens were nominated, boys would come and throw confetti on the girls at 3:00 A.M. while they were asleep. Aden’s mother was not happy about the homecoming situation. “My African Mama was like, ‘What? No!’ She slammed the door. Boys? In her room? To throw confettis? No no no! She was like, ‘I don’t send her to school for this nonsense,” Aden described. “I was so mortified ya’ll. To a point, I honestly wanted to drop out of the whole thing,” Aden reminisced.
The teacher who was in charge of homecoming requested that all of the nominees give her baby pictures. She wanted birth photos and all the photos of their lives leading up to their senior heads. “You know how many childhood photos I had? Maybe two. But at the time just, one.” Aden explained why, “I spent seven years in the camp so my mom had other priorities than memories, so I don’t blame her.” Aden began going on Google and trying to find pictures of children that might look like her. Aden explained, “I went on Google! You know where this is going!… I was like, ‘Kenya refugee child, big forehead,’ Literally like, ‘Feed the children campaign from 1997 all the way to.’ and I tracked myself down, I think… So I submitted it.” The teacher was confused with the picture quality and asked Aden for better pictures. “In my head I’m like, ‘If you knew the trouble I had to go through to even find pictures to give you,” she laughed. Aden went to her cousins and got pictures of them. She reminisced, “I had to literally audition all the little girls in my family!” “Of course I chose the ones that looked nothing like me,” she laughed. “My classmates were like, I feel like it’s five people who grew up… it seems like it’s five different people,” Aden’s classmates expressed. Aden continued, “Nonetheless girls I still got it! I still was crowned!” Aden thought the struggles were over until she had to get her parents to walk her around the field at the game. Aden’s mom was not walking her. Aden explained, “She said, ‘No.’ So I had to audition my friends’ parents!… If I show up to the school with a Chinese mama I they’re gonna have a lot of questions.” She got a Somali mom who was her neighbor to escort her. “If I could go back, I would have just been honest with my teacher,” she regrets. Aden’s mom believes school is somewhere to “become a doctor or a lawyer or a engineer period.” “Where she came from, girls were not even getting the opportunity to go to school everyday,” she explained. Aden’s mom did not see the importance or purpose of American culture including homecoming. She believes school was solely for educational purposes. After homecoming, many Muslim girls came and asked Aden for advice on how to do things that were not normally expected. They asked her how to join choir and be apart of different activities in school Muslim girls were never apart of. “They were looking up to me as the spokesperson for the community,” she continued.
Aden wanted to continue to represent her community as she went to college. She became the first Muslim student senator. She then competed for Miss Minnesota USA. “I competed, I wore a hijab, I wore a burkini*,” she described. “It changed my entire life,” Aden explained. Libby, who was sitting across the room called Aden that day and told her that IMG and Rihanna called. Libby flew her to New York. She sung, “All I heard was Rihanna and I was like, ‘Sign me up!’” Aden was apprehensive because there was never a hijab wearing model. Aden continued, “I have to credit Carine Roitfeld, because that woman believed in me.” Aden recalled, “I was wearing my braces, like literally straight out of high school, 5’5” with a 6’0” foot attitude. I’m kidding! A petite girl.” Roitfield shot her for the first time. Aden and Paris Jackson got the cover of a magazine.
Aden thanks Roitfeld immensely for her bravery. Aden knows it must have been difficult to shoot a woman with a hijab because it had never been done before. The cover happened in 2016 and Aden reminisced on the intense political climate that “made it hard for someone like me to do these things.” Aden believed it was the best time to make a statement that Muslim women are “different but equal.”
Aden explained her first meeting at IMG. David Cunningham, Libby, Lisa Deruko, (I couldn’t find Libby’s and Lisa’s last name so if you know it, please let me know) and Aden’s management team sat down talking. Both sides were nervous but “it went great!” The meeting ended up lasting for four hours. Aden learned about Cunningham, Libby, and Deruko and how they got into fashion and she shared her story. They made a plan. UNICEF came up in the meeting and now Aden is a proud ambassador of UNICEF. Aden encouraged, “Don’t be afraid to own your dreams.” Aden expressed,“ They saw me for who I am.” Every time Aden does a shoot, IMG makes sure the designers know what she can wear. She has never gone on a shoot where they made her wear something against her religious values. Aden expressed, “You don’t even know how many times a stylist has said, ‘Don’t even worry about it, we’re gonna go with a different look.’” Aden has always been accommodated on set. “And that was me starting out. Newbie model! Didn’t even have a professional headshot taken. Besides yearbook photos,” she reflected. “Don’t change yourself, change the game,” she demanded. She made us repeat it. “You are future fashion leaders if not world leaders. Today it’s this room and tomorrow you take over the world,” she predicted. “If you don’t see yourself represented in any space or any field, please take it upon yourself to be that person,” she advised. Aden was scared to be the first Muslim model. She did not know if the community was ready or the world was ready for the first Muslim model. “We took that leap of faith,” she described. Now there are dozens of Muslim models. Aden believes,“We have reflected on our consumers and we want to make sure our runway represents that.” Aden said, “I’m so proud to be in this generation.” Aden quoted Yara Shahidi, “It almost feels like we were born with a debt to pay.” Aden believes there has been a shift in the world for all people to be accepted.
“Don’t be afraid to own your dreams.”
“Don’t change yourself, change the game,”
“If you don’t see yourself represented in any space or any field, please take it upon yourself to be that person,”
Aden came out with a hijab line. The hijabs are premade and do not have to wrapped. Aden saw a lack of hijabs that were for her generation. She partnered with the brand, Mona Lisa, to create Halima & Modanisa. The hijabs are for all different types of occasions including parties and everyday wear. Aden struggled with finding fashionable hijabs that catered to her unique style so she created a brand. “I want to be like Tyra Banks, like I admire her so much, like Ashley Graham. Model turned mogul,” Aden explained. Aden described that modest clothes were boring and targeted towards the older community of Muslim women. Aden expressed, “I’m still a young girl, I wanna zip and zoo it!” Aden was able to choose the fabrics that were breathable and comfortable. Aden has received great reviews from Muslim women about her modern hijabs. “I don’t believe in pins, all my turbans are pin-less,” she described. “Plop and go,” she said. “Don’t wait for an invitation to the table, grab your seat and pull it up,” she recommended. She created the hijab line she was looking for when she was growing up. “This is my first collection ya’ll, I can’t even,” she laughed. We screamed and clapped. Aden continued, “Modanisa. is the number 1 modest Etailer.” Aden and Modanisa partnered to make a hijab collection. Aden believes there is no well-known modest brand. “Modesty is Sexy,” Aden stated. “I can only speak for myself. I love hijabs. It’s beautiful, it’s so feminine,” Aden claimed. When she did a shoot with the hijab line, she had all women wearing the hijabs, including non muslim women.“These turbans and scarves are not exclusive to Muslim women,” she explained. Aden’s line is for all women, not just Muslim women. Etail which is an electronic retailer, Modanisa, was founded in 2016 in Istanbul and it blew up. “88% of the designers that are with this company are women,” she explained. Aden wanted to start her line because she would get so many DM’s and comments asking where to get her turbans from. Aden always did her turbans herself. She shared, “Random fact, but did you know, every shoot I’ve ever done, there’s always a hairstylist. They literally never do anything. They just sit there have a good time and play good music.” Aden always does her own turbans and always tries to wrap them in fun ways. Kenny Charles is a hairstylist but he also does turbans. Charles will help Aden or a few other people, but normally, she does it on her own. When women would ask her how she did her hijabs, she would never know how to tell them. Now, she has her own line of hijabs. “I just want to get hijab wearing women to get away from using pins in 2020,” she professed. “I don’t want a receding hairline by the time I’m thirty,” Aden described the importance of a breathable fabric on a hijab. Aden showed us several of her hijabs that ranged from formal to informal. The hijabs on the market now are for all purposes, but she believes there should be unique hijabs for different occasions. “I want to one day be the number one hijab brand,” Aden shared.
“Don’t wait for an invitation to the table, grab your seat and pull it up,”
“Modesty is Sexy.”
I tried to look for the pictures she showed us and find the website but I don’t think the brand is out yet.
Aden was asked how does she feel about women being forced to wear a scarf. Aden answered, “Scarves should not be compulsory…no one should ever be forced to wear a scarf. At the same time nobody should be band from wearing it…” Aden believes all women can wear hijabs whether or not they are Muslim. Aden thinks modesty and Islam are not the same thing. Someone can be modest regardless of their religion. “If you search on where a headscarf came from, you’ll see every culture had their own forms,” she explained. “I don’t think you’re doing anything wrong wearing a scarf if you’re not muslim,” she added. “I think it’s something like a hat, an accessory,” she continued. “No one is forcing me to wear a hijab. I could take it off right now if I wanted to. I just chose not to,” she expressed.
“I don’t think you’re doing anything wrong wearing a scarf if you’re not muslim.”
Aden also struggled storing her hijabs. Aden showed us baggies she created to store hijabs and hang in the closet.
Aden wanted to personalize her collection. Each hijab comes with a message that says, “With the Halima by Modanisa collection, I want to celebrate women around the world through fashion and encourage them to be pace setters and change makers. Beauty is power and it comes in so many forms. We as women need to be each other’s biggest cheerleaders. Love, Halima.” Aden described thehard work she put into the scarf line and she hopes to continue making strides for her community.
I got to talk to her before she had to leave. I’ve been following her on Instagram for years so it was honestly a dream for her to be even better than I ever imagined. She wants to work on a TV series with a Muslim woman as the lead and I told her that I could help her with that since I do film. She agreed and I gave her my card.
A note to Halima,
I have been following you since I found out about you in 2016. You are honestly a dream and I was shocked to realize you are even more magical in person than on Instagram. I wish you luck on the new line, the scarves are wonderful and I hope to purchase one soon, now that I know they’re not just for Muslim women! I would also love helping you with your TV series about having Muslim lead, because there aren’t many and it is long overdue. I hope all your dreams come true!
Sasha C. Yates
We began making our Mood Boards…