If you haven't heard the name Subah Koj yet, take a minute to let it sink into your memory—you're going to be hearing a lot more of it. The Melbourne-based model has spent the better half of this year traipsing the international fashion circuit, walking for the likes of Jacquemus and Giorgio Armani, and has just been confirmed to walk in the 2018 Victoria's Secret show (a big win for any young model). Not only has she become an in-demand catwalk model, but she also has a truly unique personal style that we can't help but admire.
At Who What Wear Australia, we have a focus on personal style, and the influence that culture and place can have on it. And there aren't many people who can speak to that as well as Subah Koj can. Koj was born in war-torn South Sudan, spent four years in Egypt, and then migrated to Australia at age seven with her family. While Koj says she transitioned smoothly into life in Melbourne, she's still heavily influenced by her South Sudanese heritage—especially when it comes to her style. She blends Melbourne's all-black, edgy attitude with African-inspired headwraps and accessories to define her personal style, and show pride in her culture.
Koj was also the first African model to open a fashion show in Australia; the Georgia Alice show at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in 2016. While it seems slightly ludicrous that that first happened only two years ago, Koj is happy with how diversity is progressing. She is one of a handful of South Sudanese-Australian models who are excelling at the moment (think Adut Akech, Akiima, and Duckie Thot) and she aspires to book international campaigns just like they have. Just quietly, we predict this will be happening sooner rather than later.
We were lucky enough to find time with Koj while she was home in Melbourne—before she jets off again for the SS/19 shows in September—to talk about her career, personal style, and diversity in the fashion industry. Read on as she details her wardrobe staples, and where she gets her style inspiration from.
How does your South Sudanese heritage influence your style?
In my culture we have a lot of headwraps, we have a lot of colourful bracelets, and pants. And I like to incorporate my culture in the way that I dress sometimes. Just to show a bit of my culture, because it actually defines who I am, so that people can know where I’m from. I'm proud.
Where do you get inspiration for your South Sudanese style?
My mum is very fashionable actually, probably more than me. So I do get a little bit from my mum, because she looks so beautiful when she wears her headpieces. And I’m like, “Mum, how do you do that?” She taught me like, ten different ways to tie my hair, and how to style it with my everyday look. So I feel like I learnt a lot of my style from my mum.
Has living in Melbourne shaped how you dress as well? Because Melbourne definitely has a distinct style, I think.
Yeah, see, that’s where I’m in between, because I also like really edgy style. Melbourne has an edgy, chic, cool type of vibe, and that’s how I am—that’s how my personality is, and so that’s how I dress. For example, I’m a sneakers person. I wear sneakers with everything. Most of my closet is black clothes, but I do add a pop of colour here and there when I want to make a statement. But I literally wear all black.
Yeah, I feel like the black is a very Melbourne thing, it’s pretty cool.
So you like to mix the two styles, Melbourne and African?
Yes, exactly right. Like I’d wear black jeans and a black top and I’ll wear a very bright headpiece with boots or sneakers, depending on where I’m going.
How would you describe your style overall?
I like to wear jackets with embroidery at the back, and prints on my tees. And with shoes, I like them to stand out, so there has to be something along my sneakers. So I do like pops of things here and there when I’m styling my clothes. Not too plain, to show that my personality can be a bit extra sometimes.
You’ve obviously been really accepted into the international fashion industry, do you feel like the Australian fashion industry has welcomed you as well?
Yes, I’m doing a lot in Australia. I’m very lucky to work as much as I did when I was here, you know, before I’d gone internationally. I felt like it wasn’t very hard for me, working as a dark-skinned model in the shows, but I feel like it’s gotten more diverse recently. When I was overseas and watching the Australian shows and designers, I was seeing how diverse it’s become. And it’s just so amazing that it’s done so much better over the past few months, and quite rapidly actually.
How do you feel about the way it's all changing?
It’s very good. I’m actually so happy, because the Australian industry is giving more dark-skinned models an opportunity to get out there and get recognised, so that once they do go into the international market, they’re not coming in too fresh. They have a little bit of experience and have a taste for it before actually going to the real deal overseas. So I feel like it’s really good, and to continue to push to accept more—not even just dark skins, but Asians and other different nationalities.
Getty Images. Koj walks in Jacquemus' runway show at Paris Fashion Week.
You made your international runway debut at New York Fashion Week in February this year. What was that like?
Oh, it was just such an amazing experience, and I didn’t expect to do so many shows, or go to Europe and continue doing the full-force circuit. I felt really honoured. I just wanted to go there and test the waters, but I got really lucky and did all the shows! My first show was Tadashi [Shoji], and I closed that show as well, so that was very overwhelming. It was a good thing, but I was like, wow! My first show and I’m closing it in New York.
That’s so cool. Did you ever think you would get there?
Um… eventually, yes. But I didn’t think on my first time I would do four circuits. I didn’t expect that. So I was very happy.
So now you've been to New York, London, Paris. Was there any city that really stood out to you in terms of the style?
Um, maybe in London. London is similar to Melbourne, they’re very chic. They’re very edgy in the way that they dress. They stand out more to me compared to all the cities that I’ve been to.