• Bassma Al Jandaly, Editor In Chief

Supermodel Halima Aden: ‘I quit the fashion industry because it was incompatible with Islam’

Halima Aden, the first hijab-wearing supermodel, quit the fashion industry in November saying it was incompatible with her Muslim religion.

Halima, 23, is in St Cloud, Minnesota, where she grew up surrounded by other Somalis. She's wearing ordinary clothes and no makeup, cheerfully petting her dog, Coco.

"I'm Halima from Kakuma," she says, referring to the refugee camp in Kenya, where she was born. Others have described her as a trailblazing hijab-wearing supermodel or as the first hijabi model to feature on the cover of Vogue magazine - but she left all that behind two months ago, saying the fashion industry clashed with her Muslim faith.

"It's the most comfortable I've ever felt in an interview," she laughs. "Because I didn't spend 10 hours getting ready, in an outfit I couldn't keep."

As a hijab-wearing model, Halima was selective about her clothing. At the start of her career, she would take a suitcase filled with her own hijabs, long dresses and skirts to every shoot. She wore her own plain black hijab for her first campaign for Rihanna's Fenty Beauty.

However she was dressed, keeping her hijab on for every shoot was non-negotiable. It was so important to her that in 2017 when she signed with IMG, one of the biggest modelling agencies in the world, she added a clause to her contract making IMG agree that she would never have to remove it. Her hijab meant the world to her.

"There are girls who wanted to die for a modelling contract," she says, "but I was ready to walk away if it wasn't accepted."

This was despite the fact that at that stage no-one had heard of her - that she was "a nobody".

But as time went on she had less control over the clothes she wore, and agreed to head coverings she would have ruled out at the start.

"I eventually drifted away and got into the confusing grey area of letting the team on-set style my hijab."

In the last year of her career her hijab got smaller and smaller, sometimes accentuating her neck and chest. And sometimes instead of the hijab, she wrapped jeans, or other clothes and fabrics, around her head.

Another clause of Halima's contract guaranteed her a blocked-out box, allowing her to get dressed in the privacy of her own space.

But she soon realised that other hijab-wearing models, who had followed her into the industry, were not being treated with the same respect. She would see them being told to find a bathroom to change in.

"That rubbed me the wrong way and I was like, 'OMG, these girls are following in my footsteps, and I have opened the door to the lion's mouth.'"

She had expected her successors to be her equals, and this intensified her protective feelings towards them.

"A lot of them are so young, it can be a creepy industry. Even the parties that we attended, I would always find myself in big sister mode having to grab one of the hijab-wearing models because she'd be surrounded by a group of men following and flocking [round] her. I was like, 'This doesn't look right, she's a child.' I would pull her out and ask her who she was with." BBC

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