Ajak Deng, a successful 25-year-old Sudanese- Austrian model, announced on Feb. 23 via Instagram that she was retiring from modeling due to ‘fakes and lies.’
Since being discovered in 2008, Deng has appeared in numerous fashion campaigns, such as MAC cosmetics, Topshop and Calvin Klein — and she’s no stranger to the runway. Deng walked the runway for designers, including Givenchy, Louis Vuitton and Valentino.
Deng’s journey to the top was far from easy. Her family fled Sudan when she was 12 and her mother died of malaria in a refugee camp in Australia, according to an article posted in Vogue Australia.
Deng told Elle magazine in a 2014 interview that she has experienced racism her entire life.
“I go back to Melbourne and think I’m going home, and someone will say, ‘You don’t belong here,’ and I’m like, ‘Well I grew up here. What do you mean I don’t belong here,’ ‘” she told the magazine.
Deng has been outspoken about racism in the international fashion industry.
She tweeted that she was kicked out of Balmain for being black in 2014. She followed up with a tweet saying, “I know a lot of black models would rather kiss someone’s a** than being honest but guessed what? I do not gaged a damn f***”
The tweet and her account were later deleted.
Deng’s manager, Stephen Bucknall, of FRM model management told the Herald Sun in February that he struggled to book Australian jobs for Deng.
“They’ll book the big caucasian girls, spend the big dollars and fly them in from LA, but I’m yet to see them book a dark skinned girl in that way,” Bucknall said.
“I was selfish to only think of myself and forgetting the people that have always been there for me through the worst times and good times,” she wrote in her Instagram post.
She said she’s also thinking about all the women that look like her and how quitting wouldn’t set a good example for them.
“I feel like I have touched so many young people’s lives, gave them hope. Yes sure, giving up is easier but who will fight the war that we are so in denial about?” Deng wrote.
Deng isn’t the first black model to speak out about discrimination.
British model Leomie Anderson tweeted on Feb. 17, “Of course I get given to the makeup artist who had ONE brown foundation she was trying to mix with white on a sly because she’s not equipped.”
In 2011, British model Jourdan Dunn tweeted, “I swear some people need to learn how to do black hair/skin.”
South Sudanese model Nykhor Paul wrote a heated post on her Instagram in July 2015 that she was tired of apologizing for her blackness.
“Why do I have to bring my own makeup to a professional show when all the other white girls don’t have to do anything but show up wtf.” She wrote on to say, “Fashion is art, art is never racist it should be inclusive for all not only white people.”
Designers are also advocating for diversity in the fashion industry.
Designer and Project Runway judge Zac Posen used almost all women of color for his collection inspired by Princess Elizabeth of Toro, a lawyer from Uganda who was the first East African woman to ever be admitted to the English bar.
Diversity is very important, and it is something that has always been equally important to me as well as a key component of my collections, whether it is shapes sizes or skin color,” Posen told Style Mic. “We live in a diverse world, and it is essential it is represented within the fashion industry.”