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Ugandan Model Aamito Lagum Is Set To Become One Of The Biggest Names In Fashion [Exclusive Photos]

Ugandan model Aamito Lagum stars in an exclusive editorial shot by Remi Adetiba in collaboration with CoutureMask.

Exclusive photos shot by New York-based fashion photographer and creative director Remi Adetiba, one of the judges who discovered Aamito on Africa's Next Top Model Season 1

Photography & Concept: Remi Adetiba (in collaboration with CoutureMask)

Styling: Lakenya Kelly


Hair: Anike Rabiu

Makeup: Miyako J.

Manicure: Ada Yeung

Ugandan model Aamito Lagum skyrocketed to fame last year after winning the very first installation of Africa's Next Top Model. Since then, she's walked in high-profile runway shows for Top Shop, Burberry, Paul Smith, Marc Jacobs, Rag & Bone, Lacoste and a slew of others. Her personal highlight? Securing the much sought after opening spot at Balenciaga's A/W 15 show. As an African model, walking for South African designer David Tlale was another exciting moment for Aamito. "It's a promise of things to come," she told Okayafrica over email. "I believe that African designers will be able to in the future contribute more to the global fashion industry and set trends from the runway."

It's hard to take your eyes off the luminous beauty - her jaw-dropping editorials for British Vogue, Elle Magazine South Africa, WSJ Magazine are nothing short of spectacular. With the road to stardom paved with so much success so early on, what does Aamito consider to be her greatest career achievement? The 22-year-old compares her work thus far to music, explaining, “I consider my career milestones to be a grand crescendo: with the next being greater than the last. That said, I would love to think my latest showcase is always my greatest.”

Now a seasoned model, there is no doubt that the 5'11 star is set to be one of the biggest names in the fashion industry. A true global citizen, she regularly jet sets around the world working in New York, Milan, Paris and South Africa. She credits her close circle of friends for helping her to stay connected to her Ugandan roots. "I'm really lucky that I have friends that keep me down to earth and make sure I'm up to speed on the latest slang and gossip,” she says with a laugh. "But if I'm feeling homesick I get a little deeper and look up my favorite Ugandan music on YouTube or I run around the East Village markets looking for traditional ingredients and cook up a storm." She says that Eddy Kenzo's "Sitya Loss" and Amaru's "Stay" are two songs by Ugandan artists that you might catch her humming, while peanut sauce with plantain is her favorite Ugandan dish she spoils herself to in New York. "My culture has whipped the best meals out of the peanuts thrown at them," she tells us.

Aamito says she also binge-watches Ugandan vloggers. Comedian Anne Kansiime is her favorite. "She chose to be herself in an industry where everyone was trying to be the best of someone else," Aamito tells us. "Plus, she started from the bottom; gathering giggles at small parties and moved to a level one can’t laugh about. She is self-made and self-aware."

If Aamito is our captivating princess then her fairy godmother is no doubt Oluchi Orlandi. "Oluchi was my golden ticket into the Chocolate Factory," Aamito tells us of the Nigerian supermodel and TV personality. "Even before Africa’s Next Top Model, I had gotten to learn her story, and she embodied the struggle of many an African talent; me inclusive. It was when I heard that she was coming to a country next to mine [Kenya] for auditions that I knew it was my closest shot." As the host of Africa's Next Top Model, she often imparted wisdom to the contestants during the duration of filming. Aamito recalls the best advice she received from Oluchi: “One of the toughest moments on the show was when I was down on my morale and Oluchi walked up to us and said 'what are you doing here? [The reality show] is a simulation of what the fashion industry is...it's tough. It is never going to be easier than this. Are you able to look past today's sweat? If you are, then that is what will you make you stand out.'”

Aamito is having a moment and then some. While the African community at large toasts to her success, no one can claim to be happier for Aamito's ascent than her mother. "[My mother] has seen me learning to walk," Aamito tells us. "She was there for my first photoshoot in which the only label I wore was my baby smile. It's not that she just sees my pictures; she HAS to see my pictures. She is prouder than anyone else can claim to be of me. She gets to see some clips of my walks though. Having given so much into making me who I am today, she cannot be any prouder."

In just a little over a year, Aaamito's cast a spell on the fashion industry, and this is just the beginning. What keeps her motivated in the often tumultuous modeling world is not surprisingly her drive. “I have always been an ambitious as a person but the difference is I don't just dream, I do.”

Makho Ndlovu is a Zimbabwean born blogger living in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @MakhoNdlovu.

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Photo: Julius Kasujia

In Conversation: The Ugandan Supermodel Fighting Climate Catastrophe

We talked to Aamito Lagum about the climate strike and what her activism means to her

You may know Aamito Lagum from the first season of Africa's Next Top Model in 2013, where she blew away the competition in the popular reality television show. After taking the crown, she moved to New York and started walking in many of the world's biggest fashion shows. Dozens of magazine spreads, campaigns and photo shoots later and Lagum is a globally recognized face with a big following. But she's also a person deeply concerned about climate change. In 2018 she spoke at the Global Climate Action Summit bringing her experiences as a Ugandan into the discussion. This month she took part in the Global Climate Strike, meant to push leaders to deal with the crisis. We talked to Lagum about what the climate crisis means to her and how she hopes to empower fellow Ugandans on issues of climate justice.

How did you first get involved with climate change activism?

I grew up in Kampala and used to visit my grandmother in the northern part of Uganda. It was there that I started noticing the climate literally changing. It was beginning to feel hotter and hotter, there were shorter rainy seasons and a much longer dry season. I especially remember that there used to be a river near my grandma's where people would fish and get their drinking water—it was the life of the village. As time went on, the river dried up, and there's been less and less activity there. I was in Uganda this past year and travelled up north. It was so hot, worse than I've ever experienced. Activism is something I'd say I had been curious about for a long time and wanted to know more. Now that the world is talking about climate change, I feel like I can now put into words what I saw when I was growing up in Uganda—and that I see to this day.

Why is environmentalism close to your heart?

For me, it's a very personal issue. In America, there's enough to sustain us throughout the year. During the winter, we don't have to worry about whether we'll have enough food to get us through the dark cold months. But in Uganda, people are eating only one meal a day because there just isn't enough food. This isn't because they're lazy and can't work, it's because the climate is too unreliable. When the rain comes, it's too heavy that it spoils the crops. When the hot season comes it takes the crops a really long time to grow—so the harvest has a small yield and the food isn't enough to sustain them. People starve, to be honest. And when it comes to hunger, I know it's the women and children who suffer the most.

What do you think is the most pressing issue facing the continent in regards to climate change?

The continent is one of the most susceptible places on earth to climate change, at the same time we are the least responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions that have created this crisis. The biggest effect on Africa right now is the erratic weather patterns. In countries like Ethiopia, there are people who say they used to see drought every five or six years, now they say it's happening every two or three years. In the Somali region, people say the 2017 drought hasn't really ended in some areas and people are unable to recover between dry periods. At the same time, there is too much rain in Mozambique during winter months. Just this year there were violent storms like Cyclone Idai, which was literally one of the worst storms on record in that part of the continent.

Oxfam, for instance, is pushing for governments and large companies doing business in Africa to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. But they're also working with farmers in parts of the continent to adjust their crop cycles to the changing weather patterns, even to take out loans or help build up their savings so they have a kind of buffer. I think we also have to be careful to protect some of the continent's greatest natural resources—our rivers, lakes, forests. I realize that work and new economic opportunities are important to fighting the very real and heart-breaking poverty there, but we have to also be sure to protect the nature that millions there rely on for things like fishing and even tourism.

Photo: Becky Davis/Oxfam

Can you talk more about the work you do with Oxfam and how it's improving happenings on the ground?

Oxfam is fantastic. When I went to Uganda with Oxfam, my main focus was on women and the work Oxfam and its partners are doing do to help women. It's the women who have the power to make change on a household level, who focus on the children and what they need to thrive. The men don't make those kinds of decisions. The work Oxfam is doing helps women make the kind of small-scale decisions that lead to big change.

One example of an Oxfam program we saw was at a refugee camp in Uganda, where women were making sanitary pads for girls who couldn't afford or access them. The girls couldn't go to school because of this. Something so basic has the potential to reduce the number of school dropouts and have a much larger impact on these girls' lives.

It's important to realize what power women in Africa have to affect long-term change. For instance, it's the women who do the cooking and decide whether to burn charcoal, firewood or briquettes. If they begin to use briquettes versus firewood, that teaches their children that firewood isn't good for the environment—briquettes are often made of recycled materials, they produce less smoke, and they don't require cutting down trees. These are the kind of simple, but important choices that kids will grow up knowing. Oxfam is empowering women so women can pass on their values and knowledge to their children, so they'll make better decisions growing up.

You work in what some would consider two very different worlds: modeling and activism. How does one inform the other for you?

I actually don't think they're two different worlds. The world is one, and everything is interconnected. Modeling provides an opportunity for activism. As a model you have to ask how do you influence people, what do you say to people to create positive change? If you've been given some sort of platform—even if it's not modeling—it's so important to ask how you can create some kind change. That's the direction we're going in. We now have a lot of access to people with just one click. We can post something and 100,000 people will see it instantaneously. It's fantastic and I feel very blessed that I'm living in this day and age.

I also see the fashion community paying lots and lots of attention to the need for more sustainable products. I know examples of denim companies that are more sustainable—they're into more sustainable fabric and more sustainable ways of running their business. Stella McCartney is always advocating for sustainability, holding people accountable, and researching how products are made. There's also an increasing amount of information on fast fashion companies which aren't sustainable or ethical. Lots of people I know no longer buy from them and are becoming more conscious. The more that people talk about these issues and become aware, is how change happens.

How do we empower people on the continent to take action against climate change in order to protect their livelihoods?

I think many of the things that happen on the continent is because people aren't aware. They don't know that years of what they've been doing will have an impact on generations after them. People coming together, getting information, spreading the word about climate change is one of the ways we can make change.

Africa is so rich in oil, minerals, and other natural resources, that many large foreign companies are looking to do business there. But there isn't lot of information about the kind of damage they can do to the environment and people's health. For instance, major mining companies on the continent create so much coal dust that it causes people to have asthma and pollutes the harvest rain water.

In Uganda, only a percentage of people own phones. So this means not many people have access to information through Facebook, and other social media channels. Most people still listen to the radio and that's not reaching people our age. So how do you get to the woman in the small village who doesn't know about these huge companies? That they are polluting the land, that the animals are dying because they're drinking polluted water from companies that are dumping waste water everywhere? I believe if they knew, they would come together, and they would hold their governments and decision-makers more accountable.

One of the things that's most important for everyone to understand is that nothing will get better unless rich countries most responsible for climate change –including the US, Germany, and the United Kingdom – reduce emissions and take serious climate action. I truly believe information is power.

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(Photo Courtesy of DIARRABLU)

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