5 Things You Didn’t Know About Ugbad Abdi

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Ugbad Abdi has had, by all accounts, an extraordinary life. Born in Kismayo, Somalia, she spent her early years in a refugee camp in Kenya, then resettled with her family in Des Moines, with the help of UNICEF when she was nine. Now, the 19-year-old is one of the most sought-after models in the fashion world, opening New York Fashion Week shows for the likes of Marc Jacobs and Michael Kors.

Signed with Next Models, Abdi made her runway debut walking for Valentino spring 2019 in Paris alongside Naomi Campbell; since then, Abdi has walked for Chanel, Miu Miu, Simone Rocha, Dries Van Noten, and more. That same year, Abdi became Fendi and Lanvin’s first hijab-wearing runway model. Below, find five things you may not know about the barrier-breaking Vogue cover star.

  1. As a child, she dreamed of working at a zoo. The young Abdi was “obsessed with turtles,” according to an Arabian Vogue interview, but became interested in pursuing a career in modeling partly as a result of exposure to fellow Somali and Muslim model Halima Aden’s career. “Before Halima, I just assumed there was no place for the hijab in the fashion industry,” Ugbad told i-D in April, adding, “I have now realized that Muslim women can be anything we want to be.”

  2. She’s been wearing a hijab since she was 14. Abdi began wearing it to emulate her mother, she told i-D in an interview with It’s Not About the Burqa author Mariam Khan, explaining, “Growing up, I wanted to be like her, I wanted to look like her and dress like her, so I did.” Abdi also spoke about the significance of her hijab to Arabian Vogue, saying, “I haven’t encountered any discrimination or people making me feel like an outsider solely because of my hijab. I’ve had instances where people would say something ignorant, and that’s when I feel I have a responsibility to educate them.”

  3. Her discovery story is very now: Abdi received an Instagram DM from Next Models scout Lacey Hevern two months after her high school graduation, and the rest, as they say, was history. “It was the biggest shock because I never thought it would happen so fast,” Abdi recalled. Now, Abdi’s Instagram is full of images of herself modeling in international campaigns and traveling around the world for fashion shows. What a difference a few years can make!

  4. Abdi has five siblings, two of whom were born after her family moved to the U.S., and her family speaks both English and Somali. They’ve all been brought up with the same powerful values: “My mom has always taught my siblings and I to never compromise who you truly are for anyone, and to try to be the change you needed growing up for kids growing up now,” Abdi has said.

  5. Muslim role models are important to Abdi, in the fashion industry and beyond. She has mentioned receiving inspiration from model and activist Bethann Hardison, models Iman and Naomi Campbell, and politician Ilhan Omar, among others. “They have inspired so many women to be unapologetic for who they are and take up space no matter what other people might think of you. Women like these make me feel like I can dream big,” Ugbad said in her interview with i-D.