Chin up high, shoulders straight, locked eyes and a rhythmic walk.
She stood out as the tallest in the group of young women who were hoping to be cast for SA fashion week in Rosebank.
Drum sat down with her after she was chosen to walk the talk at this year’s fashion week.
As soon as she sits down for a chat, Abak Akol Diing shares that she has only been in Johannesburg for a month and already things are starting to take shape.
Coming to SA, the 1.85 meters tall young woman had no expectations. She says she “took the risk to come to this country because I wanted to explore a new place, to see beautiful things, to meet new people”.
The intention might have been in line with modelling, but she never thought that she’d be cast for SA fashion week, especially so early on.
“I came here because of modelling. I started modelling when I was about 16 years and as you can see, I’m quite tall and curvy, curvier than most girls and when I had started modelling, the industry wasn’t as accommodating for taller girls or curvier girls.”
Rejected many times by agencies in Kenya because of her body structure, Abak ended up throwing in the towel on her dream to be a model.
The words that came with the rejections got to her and she remembers a time when she didn’t want to be a model anymore but because of her facial features, photographers would reach out to her and they’d want to collaborate.
“I didn’t see it as a disadvantage in my life, I saw it as an opportunity, and I decided that I’m going to pursue my studies and [now] I just graduated about four months ago.
“A month before I decided to move here, an opportunity to come to SA arose for the purpose of modelling and I said, ‘why not?’” and just like that, she packed her bags and moved to where the “biggest fashion industry in Africa” is.
She did not just come to SA though, she was handpicked by Fabulous.com from a pool of models whose pictures had been sent out across the world by the agency that had scouted her after a fashion show in Nairobi.
For the first time ever, the agency felt like home because “it was just plus sized girls, girls who are much curvier, girls who are much taller, people who are different, you don’t have to look a certain way, they just accepted everybody.”
Read More | ‘People should expect me’ – Enhle Mbali on creating an extension of herself for SA fashion week
After being chosen yet again, this time to showcase South African designers’ creations in April, she told her family and her father sent a text saying, “Chase your dreams, you deserve the world!”.
That's how supportive her family has been.
Over the years, they have seen how dedicated she’s been to her modelling career and her studies. Reminiscing on her times in Kenya juggling both, she says, “There was a time where I had a fashion show and my finals on the same day. I did my finals in the morning, I had a 30 minutes break between my finals and my show and I was running around town trying to get to the show.”
“I got on a motorbike, and it was crazy,” she laughs.
The 24-year-old studied finance at the United States International University Africa but has always been drawn to fashion.
“I just love to look good, feel good as a child. On top of it, I grew up in a family of women, I have big sisters [so] I would see them getting dressed up like wow ‘I’d love to do that’. I’d wear their heels, my sister’s clothes, my mother’s clothes.”
In 2018, there was a beauty pageant poster going around in her neighbourhood and this was around the time she had given up on modelling but she still took the leap of faith.
At the end of the night of that pageant, she was crowned Miss South Sudan Kenya. This gave her a boost that she needed to become her family’s first international model.
Her sisters are also models but they’ve stopped their pursuits to focus on their corporate careers. She is the second last daughter of the family.
As her career starts to flourish, she has her mother’s voice in her head telling her to “be confident” all the time.
And now with confidence, she says, “I’m excited to rock the runway” for the first time in South Africa.
She isn’t the only one who’s ready for that runway.
Read More | IN PICTURES | House of Zwide meets SA Fashion Week as Funani Zwide and Alex Khadzi stage R50m shows
Maréva M’peti from Congo on the other hand, has been part of fashion week every year since 2021. Although she was raised in the country from the age of six, it was only through this opportunity that she learned the essence of the South African culture.
Like Abak, she was rejected too many times but it was no surprise because she had been bullied in school because of her height.
At 15 years old, she already knew that the modelling life was the one for her.
“I didn’t really choose to do modelling. It feels like modelling chose me,” she says.
“I thank God for it. It’s hard at the beginning but [after] you start, many doors open for you. It’s been amazing for me to be a part of it and to see designers calling now.”
Studying law and modelling have been hard to juggle but she’s now gotten into the groove of things.
More confident than ever before now that she’s been affirmed by the castings, she tells Drum that “Now, I can say that no one can turn me down because I know what I’m capable of. The way I see things now is also quite different.”
At just 23 years old, Maréva will be modelling in the garments of Bam, Rubicon, Essie, Mantsho, Michael Ludwig and Fikilé from 20 to 22 April at the fashion week.