Where are the Ethnic Models? Ajuma Nasenyana’s right here!


Ajuma Nasenyana was born in Kenya in 1984. Her look is so striking, but honestly you probably haven’t seen much of her unless you have been to London Fashion week or read French Vogue.  For some reason many designers, agencies and magazines don’t want to use her or other ethnic models. But when Ajuma does get to strut down the catwalk she is unbelievable.  Check out Ajuma in this youtube video. The video is pretty long, but she’s at 3:02.

In 2003, Ajuma won Miss Tourism Kenya and was actively scouted and articles were written about her.  Wikipedia states:

“Gamma photo agency came to Kenya to do a story on [the Surazuri Agency’s] scouting work and were so taken with the 5’10 beauty that she became the main feature of the story, which late ran in Gala Magazine, France. The pictures that were taken on this shoot were to provide the basis for Nasenyana’s portfolio, and these were duly presented to top international agency Ford Models, who signed her up for the Ford Models Supermodel of the World Competition.”

After winning the supermodel contest, Ajuma booked numerous shows in London, Milan, and Paris. But it was one of my favorite designers, Dame Vivienne Westwood who gave Ajuma her big break. Vivienne Westwood picked Ajuma to be the lead model in one of her 2006 shows. Ajuma got to wear the wedding dress at the end of the show which is the most coveted spot.

Last year, Westwood along with many other industry insiders such as Naomi Campbell and Bethann Hardison (yea, Dwayne Wayne’s momma) became quite vocal regarding the moritorium on ethnic models on the runway and in print. According to the Telegraph:

“Describing the fashion industry as “racist”, Dame Vivienne singled out magazines as particularly culpable.”

For years magazine insiders have boldly stated that readership takes a severe nose dive when people of color are placed on the cover.  Many magazines are only willing to place minorities on covers for the January issue which is normally the smallest and leanest.  Guess that explains why only a few black women have been on the cover of American Vogue since its inception.  Of those few, most of the covers have been of well known people such as Oprah Winfrey and Jennifer Hudson, the Oscar winner and American Idol finalist.  While only a few well-know black supermodels have graced the cover of Vogue or booked shows during Fashion Week, Asian models are doing quite well on the runway. 

During the Fall 2008 Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, 19 Asian models booked shows which is a far cry from many black models except for the “it” girl Chanel Iman.  (Why is it that there can only be one black chick at a time?) I’m sure the number for Hispanic models is far worse. (And speaking of Hispanic models, has anyone seen Jaslene from America’s Next Top Model?) 

Dame Vivienne thinks that editors should be required to put blacks on their covers even at the expense of the bottom line. I’m not sure about that. I honestly believe Westwood’s heart is in the right place, but forcing people to do the right thing has always had a fractured backlash. See Affirmative Action in the US.

Fashion always has seemed quite is exclusionary. If you’re too fat, too small, too short, or too whatever, you aren’t included.  But now, if you’re too brown you aren’t included either. That is quite distressing since many minority designers participate in fashion week around the world. Who has control? Is it the designers? The agencies, or Miss Anna over there at Vogue. Any thoughts?

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