It’s hard to believe that modeling wasn’t Adesuwa Aighewi’s first calling—the 26-year-old is easily one of fashion’s most sought-after beauties. But before magazine covers and high-fashion shows for designers such as Alexander Wang, the Nigerian-Chinese-Thai supermodel’s first love was academia. It’s fitting. She was discovered on the University of Maryland’s campus where she began studying chemistry at age 15. When she finally decided to pick up modeling seriously, it was because she wanted to save enough money for a science internship at NASA. And when agents hinted that her waist-length locs looked “too black” for European beauty standards, she didn’t stay silent. She used her savviness and know-how to create lasting dialogue about the politics of black hair, writing an op-ed about self-expression and racism in fashion for The Guardian.
Considered one of the most outspoken models in the industry, Aighewi is a true advocate for social change and diversity. She amplified her activism with her directorial debut, Spring in Harlem—a short film that captures the beauty of five Muslim women in New York’s uptown neighborhood—and in the near future, the pre-med student turned model and filmmaker plans to create a miniseries exploring African culture and values.
She’s still critical about the modeling world—in a Refinery 29 interview last fall, she details her gripes about how the industry treats young women—but she understands that this is a means to an end. Her purpose is to put African women on beyond the runway. And she plans to use all she knows—science, activism, filmmaking and fashion—to do so.