Anok Yai was born a refugee in Cairo, Egypt in 1997 after her parents fled the second Sudanese civil war (1983-2005). A few years later, her family moved to New Hampshire, USA and were given government support and housing. Initially, her family struggled to make ends meet and she learnt to be independent whilst her parents worked long shifts. As such, she understood the importance of working and studied biochemistry at Plymouth State University with the hope of becoming a doctor. Yet, growing up watching America’s Next Top Model, she always dreamt of walking down the runway one day.
In 2017, at Howard University’s homecoming week, Yai’s life underwent a seismic shift. A photograph of her was uploaded to Instagram and secured over 20,000 likes overnight. She quickly became an internet sensation and signed with Next Models Management. In 2018, she made history by opening the Prada AW show in Milan. She was the first Black model to do so in 20 years, after Naomi Campbell in 1997.
In an industry that has faced backlash for its lack of diversity, Yai provides a face to look up to for countless Black women, proving that their beauty deserves celebration. Indeed, she has used her platform for positive change, becoming a motivational speaker, calling out racial injustice and critiquing the industry for placing the responsibility of educating others on Black models themselves. She also featured on the 2022 cover of British Vogue alongside 9 other models, to celebrate African beauty and heritage.
Yai’s modelling career has skyrocketed. Since becoming the face of Estée Lauder in 2018, her first Vogue cover and Met Gala debut in 2019, she has walked for many acclaimed fashion houses like Chanel, Burberry, and Gucci. Anok Yai is certainly a face to watch in the modelling industry.