What motivates you? Why?
My family is my biggest motivation. Looking back at what we have been through as family makes me understand life better and that I don’t need all the materialistic things that society tell us we need in order to be happy.
What inspires you? Why?
Many things inspire me: movies, photographs, stories that people tell. I love imagining myself in the movies I watch and try to live in them. Photographs remind me of what it was like years before, and stories motivate me to see myself in them and try to change what I can change in my own life to be a better person.
What is an important lesson you've learned?
An important lesson I learned in life is to live for today, and not in the past. Growing up and having to move around all my life because of the war in my country, helped me understand to be happy with what I have at the moment, not what I could have had yesterday.
Is there something you want to change in your life?
I am learning to have compassion for everything I see or do. With each day, to be a better person then I was yesterday.
How do you think individuals can ignite and change the world?
Everyone can change the world by doing good for others, being grateful for what we have and by dreaming bigger.
You spent your childhood in a war-ridden Sudan, could you share a few memories from that time?
My best experience as a child was playing a lot. We didn’t have toys to play with, but we made our own with clay. We got dirty with mud and our parents didn’t care - that was the best part. We had so much fun with the simple things in life: I remember running around the house and in our neighborhood, climbing trees and picking fruit. My dream was to never have to move because I learned to love the new house that we were living in at the time - but we always ended up moving from place to place, because our parents wanted us to have a better life, go to school and come home safe.
You grew up surrounded by strong women. How did they inspire you?
Yes, my grandmother was a fearless woman and took great care of us throughout the war. My mother is a very strong woman - even after losing my father, she did everything she could to make sure we were safe and took great risks to bring us to America to have a better life. I learned to be fearless and strong from them.
Tell us about your experience as a young refugee?
I remember walking to different towns with our mother to avoid conflict, fleeing to other countries even, or being relocated by the United Nations. Living in the UN camp was not easy, but it was better than being in the war. We didn’t have a lot of basic things we needed, but my family tried to give us the best they could, and we didn’t complain.
How did you feel first arriving in the U.S. as a 9-year old?
My memories were good and bad. It was hard getting used to a new way of living – like staying indoors because it was so cold. I didn’t like the snow. It took me a while to find TV entertaining because I didn’t know how to speak English. Christmas was so different because we would just sit at home as a family or go to other people’s houses. Christmas in Africa to me is like Halloween in America!
I believe people of Sudan are very kind and loving. I want people to understand that going through war is not a choice for the families that are affected by it. It's important to have compassion for someone who is going through difficulties in life, no matter where they come from.
How did you decide to move to New York on your own to pursue your career?
After being discovered in the mall in Kansas City, I was considering moving to London at first. But since I had never travelled far away from my family, I chose to visit New York in the summer and I fell in love with city. It was such an adventure to me to be here. I'll never move back to Kansas City again, New York City is my home now.
How did you feel returning to visit your family in Sudan for the first time?
All the great things that happened to me in fashion - the wonderful people I met and countries I had traveled, have just been unbelievable to me. I never would have imagined my life to be the way it is today. I couldn’t be more grateful to God and to fashion. I never forgot about my home in South Sudan because of my grandmother. After one of the last Fashion Weeks, I just got on a plane to see her. It was amazing! I felt so connected to the people. I remember how happy everyone was, even though they needed a lot of help. It made me realize how lucky I have been in my life.