While for many walking on international runways is to satisfy the thirst for international stardom, pursuing the glamorous status that models such as Noami Campbell, Tyra Banks and Kendell Jenner have amassed, Mitchell Akat, on the other hand, is walking for liberation.
The 20-year-old, who hails from the extremely cultural and religious South-Sudan, hopes with every walk and pose that she makes on the global stages – that her beautiful glistening dark skin, long legs and bald head make way for others who identify themselves within her, to take up space.
More especially for her Sudanese countryfolk.
“I come from a community where everyone is a model but it takes courage for one to make a career out of it. A background that equated being female to getting an education but are ultimately expected to get married and start a family.”
This community is still very much anchored on ancient teachings, so much so that having a career as a woman is a hundred-to-one shot. Something inconceivable.
But the calling was too loud for the young black child, beckoning her from the tender age of five years to heed the call. She knew where her dreams lay, regardless of societal acceptance or not.
Her five year journey to pursuing her modeling career was, and still is, unfortunately riddled with a lot of misunderstanding and doubt.
“And this is not something that happened back then only but continues to happen right now. That everytime I have a bikini photo posted on Instagram, pictures that are purely for work that I am being paid for, the pictures are quickly followed by comments that question my Sudanese authenticity, mine and my family’s religious background and my choice of career,” with zero consideration of her ambitions to break generational barriers in achieving a dream. The journey has been a mentally draining one, she shares.
“I remember last year when I posted myself in a bikini handmade by my mother, the comments insinuated that we are spoiling the South Sudan culture by using the flag on the bikini and how I am not representing my country well enough. Which in fact was the opposite.
“Leaving that community, like I have to pursue a dream, and being where I am right now is really a big blessing and something that I am proud of. Happy that I am able to change the narrative not only for my community but for all African children who find their voices being dimmed for one reason or the other,” she said.
With zero judgment passed on her birth country, one that she loves dearly and carries wherever she goes, Mitchell Akat has taken motivation to break barriers and cement authentic African pride on all stages that she graces.
“That is why I always say that I am Africa wherever I go, because I carry my people with me, always. The commission placed over my life is a big one, a responsibility that can have a real big impact on lives and change perceptions. This quest starts with my own people, back in South-Sudan, to show that one can still be as authentic to their ethnicity and still take over the world.
“And that is what being proudly African is all about, standing by your people and representing them wherever you go,” she said. African representation.
Her story is not as gloomy, far from it actually. The bold model was raised in a good home where following one’s dreams and talents has always encouraged. She gained the nickname ‘runway model’ from her grandmother based on her striking looks – almost prophetic. At age 15 years old, modeling agencies began to pursue her but she was adamant on finishing her high-school career first. With modeling a big part of her upbringing, Mitchell Akat followed in the footsteps of her aunt and older sister, who both unfortunately were never afforded the opportunity to pursue modeling beyond their borders.
A common South-Sudan narrative.
“Modeling has encouraged me to know myself deeper, regardless of the fact that I have always been a bold child. Modeling helped cultivated a deeper confidence within myself, believing that I have a place within the global market. It is all about how you present yourself as a black woman. And because I have accepted myself, it makes it easy for the next person to accept me too. And that is the biggest secret I carry with me everywhere I go.”
Currently in Europe, readying herself for some Summer collection shoots of local brands, Mitchell Akat has big dreams that include owning a modeling agency, growing her skincare brand and continuing to encourage African children to reach for their dreams, no matter where they are from or what obstacles lie before them.
“The mission is simple. I am creating a brand for myself and a brand for the next generation. A legacy filled with opportunities for the African child, that even when I leave this earth, my work and my voice will continue to live on even where my body is not.
“A legacy of African pride, for Africans by Africans,” she said.
Photographed by Armand Dicker @armanddicker
Styling by Anthony Dane Hinrichsen @antdane
Makeup by Claudine Németh @claudinethequeen
Model is Mitchell Akat @mitchellakatofficial with 3D Model Management @3dmodelagency
Image 1 – Dress by Gavin Rajah @gavinrajah
Gloves by Gabriella Carter @bygabriellacarter
Earrings by Yellow by Jeslea @yellowbyjeslea
Image 3 – Earrings by Marija Piskac Jewellery
Image 4 – Dress by Thebe Magugu