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The UK Top Model On Racism, Supermodels, & Loving Your Job

Photo: Courtesy of Premier Model Management
Based on Malaika Firth’s winning combination of a focused determination, fresh-faced beauty (thanks to her British, Kenyan, Swiss, Ugandan and Seychellois mixed heritage) and radiating warmth, it’s no wonder the Kenyan born, East-London raised model is fast becoming one of the biggest names in the business. Dreaming of a career in modelling from the age of 14, Firth, who started out doing e-commerce shoots (so did Cara FYI), was nominated for the coveted 'Model of the Year' title at this year's British Fashion Awards, the UK fashion industry’s biggest event.
Since being signed on the spot after walking into Premier, campaigns for Tommy Hilfiger, Marc Jacobs, Burberry and H&M swiftly followed, and the 21-year old has hit the catwalk for every brand worth talking about, from Louis Vuitton and Chanel to Victoria’s Secret. Perhaps most notably, in 2013 Malaika became the first black model to star in a Prada campaign since Naomi Campbell in 1994. No biggie. We met the new-gen supermodel at her agency to talk style, social media and staying grounded.

Congratulations on your nomination for Model of the Year! It's pretty remarkable that 2 out of the 3 nominees are black models.
Have you ever encountered racism in the industry?
Yes, I have, when I was younger. It made me angry and it frustrated me, but instead of letting it pin me down, I've tried to stay optimistic. That's the only way we can move forward. I hope I am helping bring out more girls with my skin tone, and it's very exciting to get the recognition from the industry with the nominations this year.

Modelling can be a very brutal business, did it damage your confidence when you first started out?
I was quite shy and quiet when I started, but I've always had confidence in modelling, I love it. Through modelling I have much more confidence in my everyday life, and in myself.
Has your career changed the way you approach fashion?
I'm not fussy in what I wear. I like Gap and Topshop. Topshop is my main place; this jacket is from Topshop. For high fashion and designer brands, it would be Louis Vuitton and Burberry, but I like to mix it up.

Who's your role model?
My grandma. When I go to Kenya to visit, she is always happy and smiling, and she is a fantastic cook, I love her food. What more could you ask for?
There's a constant conveyor belt of new models but what do you think makes a supermodel?
A model is... maybe just a girl who is trying it out and seeing how it is, but for a supermodel, it's their life. You have to be in it and fully committed.

What do you do to look after yourself mentally and physically?
I stay close to my family. And keep my faith in God. Physically I try to get enough sleep and drink plenty of water. I try to avoid anything with too many chemicals or ingredients. I prefer to make homemade face and hair masks. It’s amazing what you can make with things in your kitchen!
How have your friends reacted to your career and your success?
I have lost a lot of friends but they weren't meant to be in my life. My true friends are still sticking by my side. I have support from my family and I'm so close to them. My advice to young models is: Keep your mum by your side, keep God by your side, stay grounded, and be friendly.

How do you feel about social media and having to offer up a part of yourself to your thousands of followers?
I think I've grown up and learnt what to put on Instagram. Before I was sharing too much but I've since tried to make it more professional. Clients go on Instagram and if they like your page then they'll want to work with you! And, I'm aware that many young people look up to us [models] and see us as confident women – so it's important to be a role model too.