Adut Akech on becoming the beauty industry’s Black representation

·5-min read
Photo credit: Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy

Adut Akech might be one of the most in-demand models in fashion today, but she hasn’t always felt as welcome in the beauty space. “I didn’t see anybody that looked like me”, she tells me over Zoom, speaking of her upbringing in Australia, where her family arrived as refugees when she was seven.

Now, at the age of 21, Akech is becoming the representation she once longed for as the new face of Estée Lauder. "It means a lot to me, because this is something that I never saw – it's something that I never thought I would be able to do," she says. "Even though I had wished and dreamed to do it, I didn’t see it. And now in the position I'm in, I get to be that representation – someone for others to look up to."

Beauty's inclusivity issue is by no means breaking news, and Akech's feelings of exclusion will chime with people across the globe. But while it's likely easy to let frustration take over, she remains hopeful that things are moving in a better direction. "I haven't always felt accepted [in the beauty industry]," she says. "I didn't grow up seeing myself in beauty ads, so from a young age I didn't feel represented. But there's been a lot of change since I started modelling. When I started there weren't many people that looked like me; there wasn't a lot of make-up that was for people like me. That's changed in the past few years. I feel a lot more seen."

Photo credit: Adut Akech on set with Estée Lauder.
Photo credit: Adut Akech on set with Estée Lauder.

To Akech, moving inclusivity beyond a trend shouldn't be prohibitively tricky. “I think a lot of brands just need go back to their meeting rooms and drawing boards and come up with a solid plan for how to actually include everyone. Everyone should be heard and seen and represented. Every brand should have something for them. I feel a lot are doing this now, so they just need to continue and actually stand by it. That way, nobody has to feel left out. It's really just the way forward, and it's very simple to start with."

Inclusivity isn't the only issue occupying Akech's mind today. She's passionate about acceptance, too – especially when it comes to the pressure facing young girls, like her sisters, on social media. "I want girls to accept themselves. I hate what social media does nowadays – the comparisons, the idea you have to look like this person or that person. The progress starts with self-acceptance, with really believing that you are beautiful, because we all are, in our own way. I tell my little sisters every single day that they are beautiful, that no one else looks like them, and that's a great thing. Why would you want to look like anybody else?"

For Akech, it's the filters and photo editing that are most disconcerting. "It's sad that people feel they have to edit pictures to the point that they look like a totally different person. It's a really toxic mindset for young girls. You don't need validation from people that you don't even know."

Photo credit: Adut Akech on set with Estée Lauder.
Photo credit: Adut Akech on set with Estée Lauder.

Demonstrating the lower-maintenance approach to beauty that her generation are fast adopting, Akech's own skincare routine is minimalist and consistent, eschewing product 'hauls' and face-altering application skills in favour of the daily essentials.

"At the moment, I'm loving a bare face and clean, hydrated skin – and that’s really it," she says. "It’s starting to get hotter now, and in the summer I don’t really want to feel anything on my face."

One non-negotiable, however, is SPF – something the model hasn't always had in her kit. "I’m currently loving the Daywear sorbet cream – it’s lightweight and hydrating. It also has SPF in it and that's so important. I didn't know the importance until not long ago, but now I can't leave my house without it. I'm also loving the Daywear eye cream. It just gives me this awake, glowing look without feeling greasy. And I love a gloss, something shiny – right now I'm using the Pure Colour Envy lip oil."

As for make-up, Akech has settled straight into the low-key minimalism sparked by global lockdowns. "At the moment I'm loving wearing almost nothing on a day-to-day basis. I go more for a clean, bare face. I do a little eyebrow, some mascara – I'm loving the Little Black Primer because I don't I have the longest lashes, so I need something that's going to extend and make them stand out. It's a mascara and primer at the same time that gives me this extended, lifted lash effect which I love."

As we cautiously ease of our lockdowns, Akech is feeling positive about the months that lie ahead. While she's clearly missing her family, her focus on the positives, and the opportunities to grow, is humbling. "For me personally, this past year has been a learning experience, and also a grounding one. It's really made me appreciate things – the opportunity to be here, alive, today. It taught me the importance of taking care of myself and my mental state, and to know when to give my body a break."

She pauses thoughtfully, before continuing: "It's about being grateful for the things that you have, because this year showed us that nothing in this life is promised. Within a second, everything can stop – just like it did.”

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