Top model Aminat Ayinde hails Africa’s diversity

photo by photographer Shamayim

photo by photographer Shamayim

IT WAS about five years ago when the world was introduced to Aminat Ayinde. The Nigerian-born beauty was one of 13 contestants competing in the reality television show,America’s Next Top Model (ANTM).

The show, produced and presented by supermodel Tyra Banks, premiered in 2003 and over the years has launched the modelling and acting careers of many of its winners and other participants. Although Ayinde was placed as second runner-up for Cycle 12 of the show, she did not disappear into fashion oblivion. Instead, she has walked in many runway shows – every New York season of Mercedes- Benz Fashion Week, fashion weeks in her hometown Lagos in Nigeria, featured in major fashion campaigns, and graced the covers of several magazines.

by photographer Shamayim

by photographer Shamayim

With no modelling background at the time, the then 21-year-old Biology studentwon the heart of Banks and captivated many with her doe eyes and dazzling smile.

An impressive 1.82cm tall, Ayinde’s long, lean limbs are hard to miss when she walks into a chic bar in St George’s Mall in Cape Town for our meeting. Wearing an African-print romper with a short black skirt, she towers over me before bending over to give me a warm hug. Her dark chocolate skin is flawless and it’s no surprise that she was voted the model with the “most banging body” during the cycle reunion.

Discovered in Miami while she was a student at the William Paterson University of New Jersey, Ayinde says a career in fashion was not something she had contemplated.

“A scout for ANTMat the time, Monique Peters found me on the streets of Miami during Spring break. She told me I would make a great model. I said to her: ‘I am sorry but I am a Biology major and I am going to be a doctor, I am not interested in modelling’. “Back then I was into the Afrocentric look. I had a big afro and I was wearing a white, flowing beach cover-up with lots of wooden beads…I looked like a tree. I was surprised she could see my body under the tent that I was wearing,” Ayinde recalls.

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Months later she received a call from Peters inviting her to New York for the ANTMauditions. “I took her up on the offer,” says Ayinde.

“I grew up in a very strict Nigerian Muslim home where being a doctor, lawyer, engineer or teacher are professions that earn respect. The arts were not an option for me.

“When people ask me how did you go from having goals to be a doctor to modelling, I tell them ‘God, really’. I didn’t choose it, I was a very shy, lanky and awkward girl.

“My mother is the fashionista of the house. She has such great taste in clothes and I have always been a tomboy,” says Ayinde.

Without telling her parents, Ayinde took a leave of absence from studying to share a house with other model hopefuls for the ANTMproduction.

“I can honestly say it’s the best decision I made for myself at that point as a young adult. It was the best experience and vacation of my life.

“As a Biology major, my days were filled with studying and writing research papers. “(At the ANTMproduction) I learnt a lot about television as well. It’s a different learning experience, more hands on because you are living it,” she says.

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The next chapter for her includes working in film and television as an actress and behind the scenes as a producer and director,” says Ayinde.

“It’s hard for me to watch myself on TV or listen to myself on the radio. “But I am getting used to it because that is my future goal; acting is amazing. I got a bit of a taste of it and I am hungry for more… I am super excited about the possibilities in TV in general.

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“Working with Banks was a bit surreal, as a lot of girls look up to her. “She is one of the first of her kind – not only as a black American model, but as a woman who has made a name for herself in modelling and in the fashion industry. It was a huge honour to work
with her.

“I learned a lot from her… she is a very intelligent woman and a brilliant businesswoman because ANTMis still a cashcow after all these years… a lot of young girls still aspire to be on the show,” says Ayinde.

She says the industry has evolved for the better in the past 20 years, with models of colour and different ethnic groups gracing magazine covers and catwalks across the globe.

“I firmly believe that the fashion industry
is much more into women of colour
because they are starting to realise that
we are the buyers and that we are the
consumers.
“If you don’t have someone who represents
me I am not likely to buy your products
because I don’t feel like it represents
me,” she says.

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Part of her plan is to take what she has learned from Banks to help young girls achieve their full potential through a TV series, which she aims to launch in South Africa.

“I am not trying to be anyone’s role model but I can be a positive inspiration for you to see what your potential could be.

“There is so much beauty in this nation, in this land in terms of diversity. My concern is Africa, to give back to us, our land and our people,” says Ayinde.

“I am an immigrant who left Nigeria for America, and now I am an immigrant again in South Africa. I came back to Africa because this is where I feel connected,” she says.

Touching on the recent xenophobia attacks, Ayinde recalls when she was physically attacked in Sea Point last year by a man who thought she was Congolese and told her to go back to her own country.

“There were so many people around and no one did anything. There was a crowd of at least 30 people but by the time the police came, no one saw or knew
anything.

“That is the problem. When something
is done that is not right, you must report it
or speak out . We need to unite and to
stop killing each other as Africans.”

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This feature was first published in the Cape Argus newspaper on April 23 2015

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