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High fashion hijabs.
TRAILBLAZER

“Diversity is beauty”: A Somali refugee-turned-model has worn the hijab on fashion’s top runways

By Lily Kuo

After US president Donald Trump’s electoral victory in November, some Muslim women in America reported feeling scared to wear a hijab in public. Less than a month later, 19-year-old Halima Aden competed in the Miss Minnesota pageant wearing the head covering, as well as a burkini during the swimsuit portion.

Now, Aden has quickly shot to fame. The Somali-American model has been signed by a major modeling agency, IMG, and appeared in Kanye West’s Yeezy collection at New York Fashion Week, last week. Most recently, she was featured on the cover page of Carine Roitfeld’s magazine, CR Fashion Book

“I never dreamed I could have a career in modeling. In fact, I never knew someone wearing a hijab could be a model,” Aden said, over email from Italy where she modeled at Milan Fashion Week. “I hope to show Muslim women and young women of all backgrounds that they are represented in the world of fashion,” she says. “I truly believe diversity is beauty.”

Aden was born in the Kenyan refugee camp of Kakuma, where she lived until the age of 6. Her family sought asylum in the US and eventually moved to St. Cloud, Minnesota. She remembers the camp, made up of Somali, Sudanese, and Ethiopian refugees, as a place that showed her the importance of diversity and acceptance. “Moving to the US was an adjustment,” she said. “I noticed that the kids played in groups. Back in Kakuma, everyone played together.”

In St. Cloud, she was her town’s first Muslim homecoming queen and later the first woman to wear a hijab in the Miss Minnesota pageant, a contest run by the Miss USA organization formerly owned by Trump. (Aden was a semifinalist in the pageant.)

Aden’s quick ascension comes a time when the fashion industry is paying more attention to Muslim shoppers. Muslim shoppers spent an estimated $230 billion (pdf) on clothing in 2014, 11% of the total global market. Last year, the first International Modest Fashion Week was held in Turkey. New York Fashion Week also featured its first show where hijabs accompanied all the outfits, by Indonesian designer Anniesa Hasibuan.

Asked if she would always wear a hijab when she models, Aden said, “I am proud of being a Somali-American Muslim and my wardrobe has been an important part of my religious and cultural upbringing. I am most comfortable in a hijab and dressed modestly. You don’t have to show a lot of skin to be beautiful.”