Nya Gatbel: Refugee to High Fashion Model

Hanna Da’Mes, Staff Writer|

Nya Gatbel, 18, is a South Sudanese born girl who took refuge with her mother and sister in Calgary, Canada at the age of nine. She admits to being bullied excessively in school because of her dark skin, height, and thinness. But these physical qualities that she has for so long despised are now what lead to her debut in high fashion. After her first casting call, Nya was not only given the chance to walk two shows, but was also invited to walk on the runway in Europe for Fashion Week, and then in Milan and Paris, wearing well-known brands such as Giorgio Armani and Guy Laroche.

Nya’s agent, Antonija Klotz, remarked that she will be “going to the haute couture shows in June,” which he claims is “pretty much unheard of.” Barely brushing the age of 18, Gatbel has already achieved what most aspiring runway models could only dream of. Is this an example of the exploitation of dark skinned, “exotic” young models? Nya does not seem to see it that way, and neither does her agent, who is an immigrant from Croatia.

In an interview with CBC TV, Gatbel expressed how important it was for her to be the representation in the media she needed as a child. “I wanted to have light skin, I wanted to have straight hair, because that’s all I ever saw,” she says. Gatbel is a beautiful, strong symbol for dark Canadian girls to look up to and to see themselves in. Nya recalls that only seeing white girls in fashion magazines “created a lot of self-esteem issues for [her] because, when everyone looks the opposite from you but they’re the standard of beauty, it cuts you down a bit especially as a little girl.” Although Nya was not able to see anyone who looked like her in the fashion magazines as a child, she is honored to be just that for other young girls.

Nya says she is pleasantly surprised by all the diversity in European shows. She says she had seen a lot of models of color, however, some of the girls at the show were the first black girls the designer “had hired in more than twenty years,” according to CTV News.

Nya is already prominent in the high fashion scene. She has been regarded by critics as having potential to be “one of those women known only by their first name,” according to RCI. But her humble nature is inspiring. “Two months ago, if you told me I was going to be in Paris and Milan, I would be like, ‘Stop lying. Just stop!’” Nya Gatbel is a success story that is inspirational for not only models of color but also immigrants and refugees. Her rising success is indicative of an increasing level of accessibility for “non-standard” beauty in the high fashion modelling world.

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