sabah koj has already made modelling history, but she's not done yet
In 2016 she was the first African model to open Australian fashion week, these days she's walking for Valentino Couture.
Photography Mitchell Sams
This article originally appeared on i-D Australia.
Sabah Koj belongs to the new guard of models currently shaking up the fashion system. Having fled war-torn Sudan as a child, Sabah’s journey has been anything but straightforward. With a kind spirit, a beautiful smile and a huge helping of humility, though, this 21-year-old model has gone on to conquer not just the Australian fashionscape, but also the international stage. And she is just getting started.
Born in Khartoum, Sabah lived in Sudan until the age of three, before fleeing to Egypt with her family and finally settling in Melbourne at the age of seven. That was in 2005 and a lot has changed for her since then — including achieving a few fashion industry firsts. Perhaps most notably, Sabah made history in 2016, when she became the first African model to open a show at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Australia.
She was walking for Georgia Alice at the time and Sabah describes this moment as a great honour — one that helped change the game in terms of diversity. Following on from this experience, the model says she “really became passionate about high fashion shows and wanted to explore different markets, walk for top brands and keep striving to progress a successful career.”
Which is exactly what she has done. Since that stellar debut, Sabah has gone on to walk for some of the biggest names in fashion — including Burberry, Armani, Miu Miu, and Balmain. Just last year Models.com named her among the Top Newcomers for spring/summer 2019. And when we speak, she is in the midst of walking for Valentino at Couture Fashion Week in Paris.
In the face of such success Sabah is, above all, grateful. “I was brought up to be very well mannered, determined and always grateful no matter what,” she explains. “This has helped inform my values today, [allowing me] to work hard, be appreciative of everything I have and treat others with the same respect, regardless of their status.” Which is part of what makes Sabah such an inspiring role model today — and in our hyper-connected age, that is no small thing.
Speaking of this connectivity, Sabah says on one hand that social media has become essential for building a good portfolio — since “everything is more accessible through the internet now.” But on the other hand, it has also helped democratise the fashion industry. “I feel that social media has really helped boost diversity, as a lot of coloured models have been discovered, scouted, and launched through [these platforms],” she says.
Of course, we still have a long way to go in order to achieve true diversity. But Sabah believes that social media is integral to furthering this dialogue. “We can use these platforms to get our voices out there and initiate these types of conversations,” she explains. “I feel that everyone should be given equal opportunity, regardless of where they are from or what field they have chosen. But in fashion, I would love to see an equal amount of all types of models cast in the shows — only then will the industry be truly diverse.”
Sabah is emblematic of this sort of positive change at work. Hers is a story of passion and determination, but it is also one of humility. Together, her grace and grit combine to make her a formidable force on the global fashion stage — which makes the rising star an inspiration to young women everywhere. So perhaps it should come as little surprise, then, that Sabah hopes to become a mentor and motivational speaker for aspiring models someday. In a way, her presence online is already charting that course — so watch this space.
Photography Jesse Lizotte at Bernstein & Andriulli
Styling Charlotte Agnew
Hair and Make-up Claire Thomson @ Company 1
Fashion assistants Hetty Cutler and Luca Ward
Special thanks to Pix On Location, Supply Store, Harrolds and Vivien's Model Management