Scouted on Instagram, the multilingual Somali beauty’s foray into the modeling industry couldn’t come at a more opportune time. As the fashion industry evolves and expands its definition of modern beauty, Donna’s inclusion gives hope and validates the existence of a generation of girls who have felt excluded by the archetype of Western beauty held as the gold standard for decades. I recently caught up with her to talk about modeling and her hopes for the future.
Tell us about how you were discovered.
I wish it was something fancy—like bumping into an agent at a coffee shop—but it was actually through Twitter and Instagram. I posted a few selfies and they went viral. Agents started to reach out to me through Instagram, that’s how I met my managers, Valenté Fanning, and Roderick Hawthorne at V Management.
Talk to us about your relationship with fashion and what it means to you.
I think fashion is one of most beautiful extensions of human expression. It has been since the dawn of time. Fashion speaks for you, and for itself. It tells us a little more about individuals, their stories; it introduces cultures, traditions, and characteristics. Fashion has always had an impact on people and what they choose to represent, and I think that’s what I love most about it.
What has your family’s response been to you pursuing a modeling career?
My family isn’t any different from other Muslim families. Though they’re very supportive, their main concern was how my modesty and my faith would not be compromised, and how my journey in the industry would fortify these two aspects of my life. I believe that I have built the foundation and boundaries to not weaken my modesty and, as aware as I am of the challenges, I hope that at all times I make the right decisions for my faith and values. I am so fortunate to have my family be a part of this journey, to strengthen me and guide me if I ever need it.
What has the reception been like for you as a Black Muslim woman in the fashion industry?
Black Muslim models are no strangers to the industry, some of the greatest and most memorable models were Somali models. With the rise of the Hijab wearing models, the likes of Halima, Ugbad, Ikram and many others, these women have paved the way for other Black Muslim Hijabis to be received with respect and dignity. There’s still so much work to do when it comes to Black Women, Black Muslim Women, and all other POCs within the industry, but we are definitely headed in the right direction.
Talk to us about the paradox of modeling and your faith.
I find that question to present a false binary, that is of: faith versus modelling. Further, all people, regardless of faith or non-faith, consider their values with every job that they do. I am no different. My faith does not disavow all expressions of art, which fashion would fall under. I operate solely within the boundaries of my faith and personal values. There are certain things I do not wear, or certain situations I will not be in. It is not a paradox, just a matter of choice.
I understand you’re a fan of art, and pop culture. What’s currently on your radar?
Well, there’s actually a few things I’ve been keeping up with recently. I love a good mini series, and HBO brought us The Undoing with Nicole Kidman—she’s one of my favorite actresses—so you know, I just had to tune in! There’s also Clubhouse, it’s an interactive app where people are having in real time conversations about a multitude of things from sports, to media, to networking, and real social issues. Literally all of it. I definitely recommend.
What do you hope to get out of your career?
I hope to meet the people that have changed and continue to change the industry as we know it and learn from them. I hope to travel the world and experience new cultures and new people. I also hope to branch out and create my own brand and create partnerships with the very brands I grew up admiring and respecting.
What does success look like to you?
I want to leave a long lasting legacy and impression in the industry. I am my own brand, and this is ultimately a business that demands creativity and uniqueness to take on the many challenges and roles. I hope to create my brand by spreading my talents across the board. Also, navigating through the industry can be very tricky and I want to make sure that I do my part for Hijab wearing models who want to contribute to the fashion industry in the future.
What would we be surprised to learn about you?
Hmm, I think you’ll just have to get to know me!
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