‘Too skinny’ Ugandan model wows Europe via South Africa
Now she's in Grazia and modelling for Gucci
For years Aketch Joy Winnie wanted to be a model and escape poverty in Uganda via the catwalk. But she was repeatedly rejected by agencies in her home country, many of which told her she was too skinny.
Her break came when she landed a modelling job in Kampala Fashion Week, and in November Winnie, 25, signed with South African agency Fusion Model Management and later moved to Cape Town.Last week she was in Arles, France, and modelled for the Gucci Cruise Fashion Show. She’s since left for Germany and has been booked by international fashion magazines French Grazia, Vogue Japan and the US’s VMagazine.
Her international success is in stark contrast to the years of struggling to book modelling jobs in Uganda, and the times when she and her family had to turn to the church for food.
“There’s beauty embedded in me that people can appreciate,” Winnie said this week. “For a girl who had to work to get food on the table or a place to sleep, that was incredible. Deep inside I knew this was my time.
“Walking for Gucci was breathtaking. I had only seen the clothes and the shoes and then I actually got to model them,” she sais. “I had a passion for modelling since I was 14, but my parents wanted me to focus on school. When I was younger I entered every modeling competition but I never won. But that didn’t kill my passion.”Her career breakthrough happened “in such a miraculous way”, she said. “A friend saw a model casting call for Kampala Fashion Week and he asked me to give it a try. I went for the casting and there I had my first job. The journey has not been smooth, especially in Uganda. There, only the favourite girls would get booked. Some designers back home said I was too skinny, and that was heartbreaking.”
The eldest of four children, Winnie said growing up in Tororo, eastern Uganda, was “challenging”. Her dad, a storekeeper, was the first person to “like” her pictures on social media. Her mom, a teacher, and her three younger siblings are also proud of her.“Some of our basic needs were limited. Church was my runaway place, in times when we had no food to eat,” she said.While her family and friends are proud of her, many people in her home town questioned her career move.
“Some people in Uganda don’t understand the fashion and modelling industry. When I came to South Africa they associated it with prostitution. Most people at home associated it with a job that’s not worthwhile. I consider this a calling and so I turn a deaf ear to the negativity,” Winnie said.The former English literature teacher has no plans to return to the classroom any time soon. Fusion director Fiona Craig said the agency had initially battled to get Winnie a visa for South Africa.
“We eventually got her visa for South Africa and she arrived in March just in time for AFI/Cape Town Fashion Week, which she walked very successfully. In the meantime Gucci had requested her and we got her German visa in four days.”
She said Winnie’s latest magazine bookings had been off the strength of her Gucci Cruise show.