She spent nights hiding from the Kony rebels in bushes in Kitgum. She was constantly taunted as a child because she was skinny and tall. Despite these challenges, Stacy Aamito recently won the Africa's Next Top Model competition, writes STEVEN ODEKE.
Throughout her childhood, Stacy Aamito was scorned for being much taller than her peers. But that story changed two weeks ago when she was declared the winner of Africa’s Next Top Model competition in New York. The Ugandan modelling fraternity is celebrating her for elevating the industry at her age of 21.
Aamito stands at 5’11”, the height that could have played a part in her victory, of course, besides her exotic high fashion look. Her victory earned her $50,000 (about 125m) and a one-year contract with American modelling agency DNA and a one-year contract as South African tourism ambassador.
However, modelling was not Aamito’s dream as a child.
“I had always wanted to fulfil my late grandfather’s dream of becoming a lawyer. Before he passed away, he always said I could make a good lawyer because I was brutally honest as a child.”
Perhaps Aamito would not be where she is today had she ignored her peers’ recommendations.
“Many people told me as a young girl that I was tall and skinny and fit to be a model,” she says.
In 2008 during her Senior Six vacation, Aamito decided to heed her peers’ advice.
“I went to fashion designer Santa Anzo’s office and applied to become a model. Anzo and her friends were impressed by my slim figure and took me on.”
This marked the start of Aamito’s modelling career. Her first gig was in 2009 at the Uganda Fashion Week in which she walked the runway for fashion designer Gloria Wavamunno’s GW Collections.
“By the time I got my first gig in 2009, I had grown to enjoy modelling. Although my mother was not happy about my choice, I stuck to my guns. She kept asking me to get a side job to supplement my modelling income, but I had already made up my mind to be a model,” Aamito says.
In 2012, she got a good job in town, but failed to keep it because of modelling.
failed to keep it because of modelling. “I gave my job little attention and decided to quit it to focus on modelling. That is when Adele Dejak, another fashion designer, came to town and I was taken to Nairobi for a photo shoot.”
Raised by a single mother, Sidonia Ayaa, Aamito was born December 3, 1992 in Rubaga, a division in Kampala.
“I will not comment about her father who lives abroad,” Ayaa says.
The young model was recieved by family, friends and supporters from Entebbe Airport last Friday
The Manager Joram House of Talent and Model Management, Joram Muzira Job (left), was there to welcome her.
Later Ayaa lost her job. To cut costs, she took Aamito to Kitgum to live with her grandparents. In Kitgum, Aamito could not continue with her education because the area was under attack by the Lord’s Resistance Army. Sometimes Aamito and her relatives would scurry the bushes at the sound of gunshots.
“I slept in the bushes and witnessed all sorts of atrocities committed by the rebels. I used to hear gunshots and it was a tough experience for us the children. Perhaps my worst experience during that time was when the rebels abducted my aunt and we were too helpless to rescue her. Thank God she was rescued after four months. Such experiences made me a bold girl. I ceased to be afraid of challenges that came my way,” says Aamito.
She later returned to Kampala and resumed her studies at St. Jude Primary School Naguru, Katikamu Seventh Day Adventist Senior Secondary School and St. Lawrence High School. In 2012, Aamito graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mass communication and public relations from Uganda Christian University.
To join Africa’s Next Top Model competition, Aamito did not wait for a second opinion to embark on an arduous 12-hour bus drive to Nairobi after the organisers skipped Uganda.
“I asked my mother to top up on my transport fare and off I went to Nairobi. I left Kampala at 2:00pm and reached Nairobi at 2:00am. I was meant to have the auditions the day I arrived and then return to Kampala immediately. However, I was asked to stay because I had passed certain tests. I took up the challenge because I had this belief that I could make it.”
She spoke to the press after jetting into the country.
After making it to the final three, Stacy 'Queen' had to travel to New York for the Sunday finale.
A few days after the auditions when Aamito was in Kampala, one of the competition’s judges, Oluchi Onweagba, called her, saying she had made it to the finals in Cape Town, South Africa.
“It was such an overwhelming experience for me,” Aamito says nostalgically. “Out of 8,000 girls, I had made it to the top 12.”
Aamito, however, adds that the competition was no walk in the park.
“Like the judges said at the grand finale, we each had different qualities. We were given tough tasks, but I was lucky to beat some of the contestants and get $1,000 (sh2.5m) to go and shop. When I made it to the top five, I knew I stood a chance of winning the competition. This gave me the zeal to keep excelling at the tasks given to us,” Aamito says.
Not only did the competition earn Aamito lucrative deals, it also changed her perception of the modelling industry.
“The governments of Cape Town and New York pay attention to the modelling industry because they reap taxes off it. I think modelling is one of the greatest investments,” Aamito says.
She says Uganda’s modelling industry can benefit the country if handled with utmost attention. According to Aamito, however, some people in Uganda have tarnished the image of modelling, the reason it has not picked up.
“The problem is, people here are in it for different reasons. Some have good intentions, while others are in it for all the wrong reasons, which gives modelling negative publicity. Also, the way some models carry themselves in public tarnishes our image.”
Aamito says there are many opportunities in modelling that she would like to expose during her reign as Africa’s Next Top Model.
She urges young women to pick a leaf from her and give modelling a shot.
“We have seen the fruits with me. Gone are the days when people thought modelling was for failures. New York sees modelling as a big investment. We need to change that negative mentality about modelling in Uganda. That negative mentality is what I am going to try to change,” she stresses.
Aamito will be based in New York for a year, where she will be endorsing products both on the local and international scene. She also has work to do in Nigeria in the coming weeks.
Off the modelling ramp, Aamito is not a party animal like many would expect. “I prefer reading books to partying at night. I enjoyed reading Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad, Poor Dad. I am also prayerful. I put God first before everything,” she says.
Aamito plans to give a modelling a break in a few years and pursue a master’s and doctorate. “But I will stay as a fashion designer and also focus on fashion marketing,” she says.
Aamito’s beauty secret is, “Never sleep with make-up on.”
WHAT OTHERS SAY ABOUT AMIITO
Sidonia Ayaa, her mother
Aamito was a tall girl who was always mocked by her childhood friends at school and home, but she never got offended. She was such a bright girl that her teachers at St. Jude made her skip certain classes. I had issues with modelling at the start, but I had to let her follow her heart and here she is now, a winner.
Fashion designer Santa Anzo
I am proud of Aamito. She is focused, determined and a go-getter. When she came to me for a modelling stint, she was a young girl, but everyone was impressed with her at Arapapa. She had that winning attitude and was excellent in catwalk. She always wanted to be busy and the best.
But along the way, I could not meet her appetite for fashion, so I let her go, along with 15 other top models in the country now. They wanted to be busy modelling. While Aamito was still contracted to work for me, she was freelancing for others, which was good for her.
For the 15 years I have been in the industry, we have been looked down on and I think Aamito’s victory has now drawn everyone’s attention towards modelling.