Halima Aden's career has been a series of firsts. The US-Somali model was the first Muslim queen of St. Cloud, Minnesota, where she grew up after spending the first seven years of her life at the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, Africa.
Aden was also the first contestant in the Miss Miss Minnesota USA contest to wear a hijab and burkini in the swimsuit competition. Since her signing at a major modeling agency, she has become the first model to wear a hijab and burkini in Sports Illustrated.
Aden has also appeared on the covers of Vogue and Elle, as well as appearing for the Dolce & Gabbana label and rapper label Kanye West, Yeezy, among others.
Speaking of these experiences at the 2019 One Young World summit in London last week, she gave young people an essential tip: "Do not change yourself, change the game."
"Being first is never easy," she said, noting that she had been told that she was "not American enough" or "a good Muslim". Aden also spoke of the "painful memories" of making fun of wearing the hijab and "hearing terrorist jokes".
The 22-year-old said she had experienced "an innate sense of community" both in her early years in the refugee camp and during her move to the United States.
Aden recalled that in Minnesota, his mother did not have the "means and literary abilities" to own or drive a car, but that in the middle of the blizzard season, an "incalculable number" of people stopped to help them.
"They were people who did not look like us and did not owe us anything," she added. "Minnesota (is) a community made up of people who are not all alike but from where we found hope."
The fashion industry can be viewed as a cold and unwelcoming business, but it contradicts Aden's own experience.
She stated that she was "welcomed with open arms", although she is aware that she may have been the first person to work with designers, photographers or stylists wearing the hijab and dressing soberly.
"Fashion is a community made up of people who see value in differences and are not afraid to highlight the unknown," said Aden, adding that it gave him hope that many other industries would continue. to "include and accept all walks of life."
It is thanks to these positive experiences that Aden has stated that it seeks to "pay for the future" by aligning with brands and organizations supporting communities in need of help. She was recently appointed UNICEF's official ambassador after receiving services from the organization during her stay in Kakuma.
She urged youth to do "everything you need to be heard, make a difference, leave your mark and, most importantly, never lose hope".