In Conversation: Ajuma Nasenyana

Ajuma Nasenyana describes herself as a mother (firstly), entrepreneur, fashion model, and founder of the Adjuma Foundation, and by all accounts she is, artfully balancing each role to greater heights.

The Kenyan-born model has scaled the earth, gracing the runways of international Fashion Weeks, including the Victoria’s Secret show in 2006, as well as the pages of some of the most coveted fashion publications in the world.

Joining the ranks of well-known African models, Ajuma has contributed to a much-needed renaissance of black models who have challenged the conformist conventions of beauty abroad and at home.

Ajuma’s striking features returned to the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week catwalk in Cape Town early this year, with her adorable tot in tow.

The Insider finally catches up the ever-busy model, to get her thoughts on African fashion.


You recently walked the catwalk at AFI’s Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Cape Town (MBFWCT), what did you love most about the experience?

It was like a wonderful reunion with the amazing AFI team since I had not been back for Fashion Week in South Africa for a few years. They are great people and I consider them friends and I’m always well taken care of. Deon Redman you are such an amazing producer, Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe, you are my Idol. Also, it is always thrilling, being part of the movement driving the African fashion industry.


You’ve walked on the runway for some of the most prestigious brands in the world, how different or similar is your experience on the runway in Africa?

For me, the experience is the same, no matter where I am working, no matter the brand, be it internationally or [at] home, be it a prestigious or a less prestigious brand – I give it my very best, always. 


What is your take on African fashion?

I see it evolving more and more and it’s integrating nicely with the international styles and tastes, making it more appealing to more people around the world. Nowadays, as I walk the international streets, every now and then I catch a glimpse of an African print in the shops, which warms my heart and brings a smile to my face. 


Any favourite African fashion designers?

Thula Sindi, Mille Collines,  Adama Paris, Maxhosa by Laduma. Just to say a few, the list is too long.


Any new designers you’ve come to love at MBFWCT?

Quiteria & George and Trebene.


As a black model in the international fashion scene, what has been your experience with the racial politics that still plagues this industry?

The amount of black models on the runway still needs to be taken into consideration as we are still being used as token models. On the other hand, like I have always said, the international industry took me in and appreciated my looks, which was not the case back home in Africa. I was dark, exotic and beautiful, while back home that was considered the opposite to being attractive. 


You brought your adorable son to MBFWCT. How do you manage your career as a model and as the founder of City Models Africa, with being a new mother?

I manage by taking him everywhere. I would not be focused and level-headed with him not being by my side or at least in my vicinity. 


From all your globe-trotting experiences, which city has captivated you the most?

It’s a bit far from home and it’s definitely not a place I would raise my kids, as I was not brought up in a big city myself, but it’s got to be New York [City].

It’s rumoured that you considered starting a cosmetic and natural skincare brand. Is this true?

Yes, this is something I have wanted to do for the longest time, but my casting and model agency took off, so it all took a back seat for a bit. But I’m on it.


Any projects we can look forward to seeing you in this year?

I have learnt not to count my chickens before they hatch, but yes I’m always being approached with projects and I do have projects in working progress. 


Do you have any pointers for aspiring black models trying to make a mark in the fashion industry?

Yes. You are a model because you fit all modeling criteria, but always remember not to get carried away and lose yourself. I consider modeling the same as acting; you are made up, glammed up for a certain role. After all the makeup has been wiped off and you have made your money, you can go on, live your life and be yourself until your next role. I say this because people seem to expect models to always be in 6 inch heels and glammed up whenever, wherever… hmm…who is in the office 24/7. 


You can follow Ajuma @ajuma_nasanyana on Instagram, and @AjumaNasenyana on Facebook.

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