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Podcast guest Halima Aden on customizing her headwear and modeling for Kanye West

In an extract from PORTER’s chart-topping podcast series, Pieces of Me: My Life in Seven Garments, model HALIMA ADEN talks to SARAH BAILEY about becoming a world-famous, hijab-wearing supermodel and the incredible sartorial moments that will stay with her forever – from the burkini that launched her career to the Unicef T-shirt that represents her childhood. Here, we give you an insight into Aden’s life through fashion

Halima Aden bounds into the studio, riding high on the excitement of the Tommy Hilfiger show in London the night before, in which she walked the runway in a hijab fashioned from an American flag. “I still have goosebumps thinking about it,” says the 22-year-old, grinning from ear to ear. “It represents so much of my identity!”

Born in Kakuma – one of the largest refugee camps in Kenya – she moved to America when she was seven. In 2016, her brave decision to enter the Miss Minnesota USA competition – wearing a burkini in the swimsuit round – was truly a game-changing moment. Signed by an international modeling agency the very next day, she is proud to be the first hijab-wearing fashion model to have graced the cover of Vogue, CR Fashion Book and, most radically of all, Sports Illustrated’s iconic Swimsuit Issue.

“I think back to when I was a 12-year-old girl, when I was making all these personal choices in terms of style, and I wish there had been someone in fashion to tell me modesty doesn’t have to be like your mom. That it can be cool, young, edgy and fashionable,” she says.

Through her seven Pieces of Me, Aden tells us how she found the confidence to create a career in fashion without compromising her beliefs. “I say it to my girlfriends all the time: ‘Don’t change yourself… change the game.’”

My hijab

Aden, pictured here in 2017, working a colorful floral hijab with a denim shirt and a white tee

“My hijab story started when I was about seven. I just wanted to mirror my mom, because she was my shining light, my hero. You know how little girls walk around in heels, like they just want to copy their mom? It was just a natural part of my journey. I kind of fell in love with it.”

A turban

Aden customized a Tommy Hilfiger sweater dress as a turban on the day of her podcast interview, which she wore with a slogan T-shirt that was designed by The Range for Net-A-Porter

“I’ve had everything from Gucci pants to sweaters on my head – all these different looks! I love showcasing, to my followers and the little girls who follow me, that you really can make modesty your own. And individualize it.”

The burkini I wore in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant in 2016

In 2016, a 19-year-old Aden made history by wearing a burkini during the semi-final swimsuit round of the Miss Minnesota USA pageant – and as the first fully-covered Muslim woman to enter the contest

“Did I deliberately enter modeling? Did I choose the industry? Absolutely not. I was just a high-school student. I graduated. I went to college and competed in Miss Minnesota USA. And the next day, I got a call from IMG Models.”

The abaya and pajamas I was photographed wearing by paparazzi on the streets of Milan in 2017

Aden, photographed here wearing a golden abaya-and-pajamas ensemble with a floral-print turquoise hijab, just before she famously walked the Max Mara show during Milan Fashion Week in 2017

“I remember thinking, ‘Wow, this really is the best job in the world! I can just roll out of bed and roll into work and they do my makeup and put clothes on me.’ What I wasn’t anticipating was that there would be thousands of paparazzi before you even enter the venue!”

The faux-fur coat I wore at Kanye West’s Yeezy fashion show in 2017

In 2017, Aden stepped out on Kanye West’s Yeezy runway wearing her hijab, and instantly became New York Fashion Week’s most talked-about new face Image courtesy of Yeezy

“I almost didn’t get that show. The first look they set out didn’t work with my wardrobe requirements, so I went back to the hotel and was like, ‘Oh, that would have been such a fun show…’ And now, I can’t even tell my friends that I came so close to walking for Kanye West.”

My Unicef T-shirt

Aden became a Unicef goodwill ambassador in 2018, an organization that has always held a special place in her heart

“I get so emotional talking about this, because those six letters symbolize my life. As a kid, I couldn’t spell my name but I knew what each of those letters meant – and I knew what they represented for my family and my community. I hope one day we get to a place where we don’t need organizations like Unicef, because every child will have exactly what they deserve.”

The Max Mara camel coat I wore on the runway in Milan in 2017

2017 was a big year for Aden… Not long after the Kanye West fashion furore during New York Fashion Week, the model was back in the spotlight in Milan – walking the runway for Italian powerhouse Max Mara

“It was the first time I felt really beautiful in what I was wearing. I felt so elegant, and no different from any of the other girls. And I thought, I’m not here to check a list, you know; I’m not here to tick a box. It felt like I belonged.”

To listen to Pieces of Me: My Life in Seven Garments, subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, iHeartRadio, Stitcher, and many more