Supermodel Halima Aden is a woman of many talents – and she's poised to take on the world

By Julia McEwen

This was adapted from a piece that originally ran in HELLO! Canada Issue 728/729.

She has always challenged the status quo, and that's why we love her.

Somali-American supermodel and social-media star Halima Aden has been breaking down barriers since she was a teen. She was the first Muslim homecoming queen at her high school in St. Cloud, Minn., where she moved after spending her first seven years at the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya.

At 19, she made headlines as the first woman to wear a hijab in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant. She was quickly snapped up by a modelling agency, becoming the first hijab-wearing woman to walk the runway for top designers like Dolce & Gabbana, Tommy Hilfiger and Moschino.

She continued to add to her collection of "firsts," receiving an astounding amount of press when she became the first model to wear a burkini for the 2019 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition – and her meteoric rise shows no sign of slowing.

Halima looked stunning at New York Fashion Week last year. Photos: © Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for Sherri Hill / Sean Zanni/Getty Images for Sherri Hill

In just a few years, Halima has graced the covers of British Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, Elle and Allure, in addition to becoming an ambassador for UNICEF. For her latest collaboration, Halima teamed up with jewelry brand Pandora to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Pandora Moments charm bracelets.

We sat down (via Zoom!) with Halima to chat about what it's like to be a Pandora muse, how she's spent her time in lockdown, and her vision of a more inclusive world.

HELLO! Canada: During the pandemic, what have you turned to that's brought you joy?
Halima Aden: Thanks to my team, I've still been busy. I haven't viewed this time as a staycation, but instead as a time to work and improve myself. I'm actually busier now than when I was travelling for work and doing photo shoots. One of my passion projects has been donating my time to Allure Banding Together. I designed hijabs with matching face coverings for women in health care – frontline workers. Instead of going behind the ears, these masks clip over the hijab, which saves them time. Amid a pandemic, time is everything!

You're a muse for Pandora – where do you find your own inspiration?
Since I was a little girl, I always looked closest to the women around me for inspiration. Growing up, that was my mom. As I grew older, my girlfriends. Now, it's the women I work with, including the other Pandora muses. All the girls have one thing or another that I can look at and be like, "Wow, this is something that I want to learn." Whether it's Georgia [May Jagger], with all that she’s passionate about in terms of sustainability and the work she does to protect the oceans, Larsen [Thompson] with her tech talk videos, or Margaret [Zhang] being a voice and an advocate for the women of China.

What's your jewelry style?
It's different every day. I’m either clean and simple or the whole shebang. Like today I'm wearing my Pandora hoops on their own and they make a statement, bringing attention to my face. But other days, bring it on, sister! The more, the merrier, stacking rings, earrings, bracelets – I'll even accessorize my turban. And that's really what Pandora is known for, customizing and collecting pieces to make your own style.

Photo: © Halima Aden/Pandora

You've had many exciting benchmarks in your career – can you tell us about a pinch-me moment?
I think for me it's all the covers I've done. When I see one, it always shocks me. I can't believe I'm looking at myself! But since the pandemic hit, one thing I can't believe we still managed to accomplish is this partnership with Pandora. My apartment turned into a cool studio, they sent me all the equipment and I shot it from home! The campaign is all about firsts and I've had so many firsts in my life, so I was really able to communicate that. I hope when the campaign comes out, everybody knows that us girls [the Pandora muses] put our love, time, passion and heart into creating this – from the comfort of our homes.

Since your career began, you’ve been breaking down boundaries – what's next?
Even in my short three years in the [fashion] industry, from being the first hijab-wearing model to, now, seeing countless girls proudly working while wearing their hijab, it's incredible! They're accepted, and they're just killing it. We're headed in the right direction – but we need to do more. We need to make space and allow everybody to have a voice and a seat at the table so that they can feel supported and grow. I pray that we continue on this path and not treat this [diversity] as a trend because it needs to be embedded in our industry, culture and society so that it’s not even something we need to talk about.

Halima's Hot List

The supermodel shares some of her favourite things

Must-have accessory
"Definitely earrings, I like big ones!"

Asymmetrical Heart Hoop Earrings in Pandora Rose, $55,

Signature scent
"Currently I'm obsessed with Daisy Love by Marc Jacobs"

Marc Jacobs Daisy Love Eau de Toilette, $125 for 100 mL,

Favourite Pandora charm
"The elephant!"

Ellie the Elephant Charm, $45,

Skin-care essential
"I live in Minnesota, so I need something super moisturizing. I love Tatcha"
Tatcha the Dewy Skin Cream, $89,

Favourite Muslim designer
"Humblebrag here, but I'm going to say myself I have a 27-piece collection of headscarves and turbans with Modanisa, one of the largest Muslim e-retailers in the world"
Halima x Modanisa Instant Scarves in Emerald, $59,

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