9 things you didn’t know about Halima Aden: from braces on the runway to working with Kanye

The model made headlines last week when she spoke out about the way the hijab has been represented in a number of her fashion projects

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Somali-American model Halima Aden is widely credited as being the first hijab-wearing woman in mainstream fashion shows. However, she made headlines last week when she expressed regret and assigned blame for the way her hijab was styled by some brands over the years, followed by an announcement that she'd like to run as the first Miss Somalia in the Miss Universe pageant.

While these admissions are now common knowledge, here are nine facts you probably did not know about Halima Aden:

1. One of her biggest obstacles was learning English

Halima Aden was born in a Kenyan refugee camp in 1997 and moved to the United States when she was 6, with her mother and younger brother. She went to school at St Cloud State University in Minnesota, but had a tough time initially as she spoke no English.

"I think any time you go from being a refugee to moving, you have a wide range of culture shocks; you almost have to reprogramme your entire life," she told The National last year. Aden spoke fluent Somali and Swahili, but had to learn the English language from scratch when she emigrated. Today, she has the animated drawl of a born Minnesotan.

2. She was the first woman to wear a hijab and burkini in a Miss USA pageant

In November 2016, 19-year-old Aden made the semi-finals in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant for which she wore her hijab, as well as a burkini for the swimwear round. Aden told Minnesota Public Radio News that the pageant was "a great platform to show the world who I am". Indeed, just a few years later, Aden brought her hijab to mainstream fashion shows and the big four fashion weeks, as well as becoming the first model to don a burkini in Sports Illustrated. Twice.

3. Her first turn on the runway was for Kanye West

In February 2017, fresh from the Miss Minnesota pageant, Aden signed with the prestigious IMG Models agency. Her first assignment was a turn on the runway for Kanye West’s Yeezy Season 5 collection, for which she wore a floor-length fur coat and a hijab.

4. Her first designer purchase was …

A pair of Alberta Ferretti shoes, which she bought in 2017. The Italian design house was also one of the first big-name labels to work with Aden, when it signed her for its Milan Fashion Week show in the same year.

5. She wore braces during Milan Fashion Week

During her first stint for the Italian runway shows, Aden was wearing braces. The model remembers calling her aunt after. “I told her: ‘Oh my gosh, I just walked at Milan Fashion Week; this is kind of a huge deal, I’m wearing a hijab and on top of that I’m wearing braces, so who would have ever thought I’d be walking in any show?’” Her aunt’s response was: “Walking around in heels is considered a job?”

6. She wants to design a Ramadan collection

Aden flexed her design muscles in April 2019 when she collaborated with e-tailer Modanisa on a collection of headscarves. The 27-piece capsule launched at Istanbul Modest Fashion Week. However, Aden told The National at the time that her "dream collection or collaboration would be a capsule for the Ramadan and Eid season".

In May, Aden designed face masks and hijab sets for a good cause, proceeds from which went to healthcare workers at the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic.

7. She has been part of several projects in the UAE

In April 2017, Etihad Airways invited Aden to Abu Dhabi for the launch of its Runway to Runway rewards programme. Eight months later, in December 2017, Aden was the star model at Dubai Modest Fashion Week, walking for Turkish-Cypriot designer Rasit Bagzibagli.

Aden has also starred in fashion campaigns for the now-defunct UAE e-commerce site The Modist, appeared on the cover of Vogue Arabia, starred in a Middle East capsule with MaxMara Dubai and attended Rihanna's make-up masterclass in Dubai in September 2018.

8. She starred in one of the first Fenty campaigns 

Aden and her “sis” Rihanna go way back. The singer and beauty mogul tapped Aden to star in one of the first adverts for Fenty Beauty when it launched in 2017, even allowing the model to sport the plain black hijab she came to set on, a fact Aden applauded during her recent Instagram tirade.

A screenshot of Aden's Instagram Story acknowledging Rihanna's respectful attitude during the Fenty Beauty shoot  

9. She was a keynote speaker in Saudi Arabia

In November 2019, Aden made her first visit to Saudi Arabia for the kingdom’s Fashion Futures event in Riyadh, which aimed to promote and foster Saudi Arabia's fashion industry. Aden delivered a keynote address entitled, Don’t Be Afraid to Be the First.