Alek Wek, Sudan

Alek Wek was born on April 16, 1977 in Sudan. She made her first appearance as a model aged 19 in 1995. She has been working as a supermodel ever since. Today, she is based in New York but works for Storm Models in London.

Models 1

The woman gave me her business card, which had Models 1 printed on it, and said I should visit her and her friend Nigel at their agency.

She took my photo and told me to call her. My mother did not approve, said I should think about college instead, so I did not call the agency.

Agency scout

Alek Wek

Alek Wek: See Iman

Alek Wek

Alek Wek: See Waris Dirie

Alek Wek

Alek Wek: See Oluchi Onweagba

Alek Wek

Alek Wek. See Katoucha Niane

Two weeks later my mother took a call from a scout at the model agency wanting me to come to their office.

Then there was another call from the scout which I answered. She said to me, 'I am serious, Alek. I think you could really, really well far.'

So I went to the office of Models 1 with my sister. There were covers from Elle and Vogue all over the walls.

A man about 40 came into the room and said, 'Alek, I would like to represent you. He talked about putting together a portfolio, sending me to go-sees for commercials on television... When do you want to start?'

All of a sudden I was a model ... 19 years old in the middle of London, and people were interested in my 'look', and photographers wanted to take pictures of me.

The kids in London hade made fun of my long legs, my dark skin, my round African face, and my short reddish hair. They made fun of everything about me. That's why becoming a model was such a surprise.

Skin color

Whether I like it or not, it's a fact that my skin color defines me. The first thing you notice about me is how dark my skin is.

I have noticed that many African Americans with darker skin both admire and look down on African Americans with lighter skin. Why is there this fixation with skin pigment?

What is beauty?

Beauty is a subjective concept. When I was growing up, I never thought I was beautiful. I looked like my sisters and most other dinka girls.We were all dark, tall, and lithe.

These days it amuses me when people point out that I have an 'African' appearance. Africa is not a country. It is a vast continent with many different kinds of people. Egypt is a part of Africa. Madagascar is a part of Africa. We are all different.

At long last, designers are realizing that there is beauty in Africa... African influence crops up every few years in the collections of Galliano, Ralph Lauren, all of them. They use that inspiration well, so it shouldn't be a problem to use models that aren't blonde and pale.

Alek Wek's vital stats: Height: 5' 11" (180.34 cm); Bust: 34"; Waist: 23" (58.42 cm); Hips: 34" (86.36 cm).

Buy Alek Wek's autobiography: Alek: My Life from Sudanese Refugee to International Supermodel.

See more African supermodels.

By Athina Simonidou