Anok Yai was just 19 when she attended Howard University’s famous homecoming celebrations in October 2017 to visit a friend. A photo of her taken that weekend landed on Instagram and led her to viral fame, attracting the attention of modeling agencies and eventually, high-end designers and publications — now including Elle magazine.
The South Sudanese model was a student at Plymouth State University, where she was a biochemistry major. However, within a week after the candid image went viral on social media, she was visiting New York, where she was signed with NEXT model management. And in Milan, Italy, she opened Prada’s Fall/Winter 2018 show, only the second black woman to do so, following in Naomi Campbell’s footsteps.
After a couple of magazine spreads and covers, and numerous catwalks, Yai, now 21, is making a splash on Elle magazine’s January 2019 cover.
“Prior to her discovery, Yai was juggling a full course load and working as much as 80 hours per week in order to pay for her education. Initially, her parents weren’t thrilled about their daughter putting her academic pursuits on hold,” the Elle article reads. “It wasn’t until they saw her image on a billboard that the Yais came around.”
Meanwhile, Yai is not content just to bask in her new status in the fashion industry: She’s out to change things. “As a face of Estée Lauder, she’s vocal about the need for more diversity in the fashion industry and is particularly proud of convincing designers to allow her to walk the runway with either cornrows or an Afro,” the article reads. “She also advocates for the hiring of hairdressers trained in a wider range of hair textures.”
Online, many people are rooting for the young model.
From going viral off one photo at Howard Homecoming to the cover of Elle! pic.twitter.com/G70gKV8znn
— The Posh Standard (@ThePoshStandard) December 22, 2018
I remember that photo… She’s breathtaking 😩👸🏿✨ pic.twitter.com/ZEOd9oJHqY
— Ciara Shante Mc. ♔ (@Shante1019) December 23, 2018
Wow! Remember tweeting her pic back then, not claiming anything tho😁
— Afroink (@eatingwithgods) December 23, 2018
She’s so beautiful I’m mesmerized
— 👼🏼Angel The Fag👼🏼 (@iconthicc_jordd) December 24, 2018
Imagine being so flawless, someone takes and posts your picture then next thing you know you are COVER of a well known magazine! GO GIRL
— Mikaela Wallen (@Mackk_Wall) December 24, 2018
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