To say Adut Akech’s modelling career is off to a flying start is an understatement. The Adelaide-based model booked 16 shows in her debut runway season at Fashion Week Australia last year. Then came walking for Yves Saint Laurent at Paris Fashion Week, and a spot in the brand’s SS17 campaign – all before her 17th birthday.

It’s a long way from war-torn South Sudan where Akech was born. She’s now signed to Chadwick Models in Melbourne, Finesse Models in Adelaide and global agency Elite Model Management.

ED: What was your first introduction to the fashion world?
AA: I always had a passion for clothes and makeup and things like that. I really liked [South Sudanese model] Alek Wek, I thought she was so beautiful. I grew up looking up to her. I didn’t know I wanted to be a model but I knew I wanted to do something in fashion.

ED: How did you get into modelling?
AA: My year seven teacher would always tell me I’d make a good model. I didn’t really know what a good model was. My aunty used to design African clothing and she did a bit of modelling back in the day too. One day she asked if I wanted to be a part of her show, as I’d kept nagging her about it, and that was the first time I did a runway shoot – at 13.

After that there were a lot of agencies around that time that wanted to sign me, but they said I had to wait until I was 16. I’d been scouted at the airport a few times, and in the city. People would say, ‘oh my god, are you modelling?’ and I’d be like ‘no, I’m 14, I have to wait two more years!’

ED: What do you love about modelling?
AA: Everything. Actually not everything, that’s a lie. But I love travelling and meeting new people – that’s my favourite part – having the ability to see different cultures.

ED: Where has your work taken you?
AA: Paris, London, Milan and New York.

ED: How does all that travel affect your school life?
AA: At first I really struggled to find a balance. It was tough. I was falling behind. It took me until the end of last year to find a balance between modelling and school. And then I started thinking to myself, ‘how can I do my school work while I’m travelling, so when I come home I have time to spend with friends and family?’ So I started doing my work on my phone; I’d write essays on my phone, and while getting hair and makeup done I’d be doing some sort of schoolwork. I go to a pretty supportive school, so I’m grateful. They make the whole process easier.

ED: You walked exclusively for Yves Saint Laurent in Paris – what were you thinking as you walked down the runway?
AA: The only thing I could think of was, ‘Is this really happening or is it all a dream?’ That was one of the most incredible and unforgettable experiences of my life.

ED: What do your friends and family think about your current career?
AA: A lot of my friends are pretty excited about my modelling. Family-wise not everyone is too happy about me modelling at such a young age – they’d rather I focus on school. But I have the support and blessing of my mother and other important family members, so that’s all that matters to me.

ED: Where does South Sudan fit in your life?
AA: South Sudan means a lot to me now. No matter what, it will always be my first home. Making my people proud and representing South Sudanese people positively is ultimate goal of mine that I will continue thriving for. I just want to make a positive impact on my people.

ED: What’s coming up next for you?
AA: Next I’m going to Paris, doing Yves Saint Laurent exclusive again. Fingers crossed I get the campaign again. And we’ll have to see where things go from there.

This piece first appeared in Broadsheet Adelaide's Autumn print issue.