Dr Sharon Okubo is not your ordinary model. She is a supermodel gracing the world’s most enviable fashion shows.
She also attends high-profile UN sessions in her role as the African Renaissance and Diaspora’s Red Card Campaign (ARDN) ambassador, brushing shoulders with the who-is-who in the diplomatic world.
Yet, her rich résumé has not hindered her quest and passion to give back to her motherland Kenya, where she is running an NGO called Andaa Vijana Initiative. Its main focus is to empower the youth, help them develop essential skills, and connect them with mentors.
As an ambassador for ARDN, Sharon’s key role is to raise awareness about the challenges faced by women and girls in Africa and the diaspora.
New York City is her backyard and has allowed her incredible connections and opportunities.
It is not easy to recognise Sharon when she is strutting the fashion runways including the New York Fashion Week, where she will be among the top models dressed to the nines next week.
“My journey in the fashion industry has been remarkable. While I have not experienced discrimination or violence firsthand, I am aware that the fashion industry, like any other, is not exempt from this. Throughout my career, I have heard numerous stories from females and males who have been subjected to discrimination in the fashion world,” she says.
She says when she received the invitation to become a Goodwill Ambassador, she did not hesitate. She wanted to make a difference through the fashion industry, she wanted to increase awareness about discrimination and violence towards women and girls.
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“By leveraging my platform and influence as a model, I am committed to shedding light on these issues. I believe that raising awareness and initiating conversations can lead to the dismantling of discriminatory practices and promotion of gender equality,” she says.
She believes that the fashion industry, with its far-reaching impact on society, plays a significant role in driving social change.
Through her involvement in the ARDN Red Card Campaign, she aspires to use her voice and influence to challenge harmful norms, advocate for equal treatment, and support initiatives that empower the female gender.
“When I was a teenager I was scouted by a local modelling agency while attending a fashion event in my hometown. With the support and guidance of the agency, I began attending casting calls, participating in photo shoots, and walking in local fashion shows. This experience allowed me to gain confidence and understand the basics of the industry. However, I knew I had to push myself further if I wanted to make it to the international level,” says Sharon.
Aiming high, she sought opportunities beyond her local market. By actively seeking out opportunities, honing her skills, and building relationships within the industry, she has been able to broaden her horizons and achieve her goals in the global fashion scene.
She has represented premium brands in the fashion industry, among them Bottega Veneta, Sean John, Paul Mitchell, Larissa Glazirani, and Donna Karen. These collaborations have allowed her to showcase their exquisite designs and be a part of their creative vision.
She has had the honour of gracing the runways of renowned events such as the Paris Fashion Week, Milan Fashion Week, and New York Fashion Week - shows that have provided her with opportunities to showcase the latest trends and designs from top designers around the world.
“Aspiring models should stay focused on their goals, work hard, and not give up on their dreams. The future of modelling is becoming more focused on inclusivity and diversity, including a greater representation of black models,” she says.
She adds that challenges black models may face include limited representation, racial discrimination, tokenism, and the pressure to conform to Eurocentric beauty standards.
“Breaking through these barriers requires persistence, advocating for change, and supporting organisations and initiatives that promote inclusivity in the industry,” says Sharon, who says that supermodel Naomi Campbell has been an inspiration.
“Naomi’s feisty personality and determination are what make her an iconic figure in the modelling industry. She is not afraid to speak her mind and fight for what she believes in, even if it means ruffling a few feathers along the way. With her fierce strut and captivating presence, she commands attention like no other. In a nutshell, Naomi Campbell is like a force of nature, leaving an indelible mark wherever she goes,” she says.
Sharon was born in Kenya to a Luyha father and a mother from the West Indies. Her family went to the US when she was only nine, and Dr. Okubo spent her formative years in Maryland.
When she turned 17, she went to New York in pursuit of higher education, and at the same time embarked on modelling as a career.
“Life, in its unpredictable nature, has led me to contemplate the prospect of returning to my birthplace, Kenya. The process of making this significant transition is underway. Nonetheless, I anticipate maintaining a connection with New York City for professional obligations,” she says.
She says that in future, she would love to dedicate her time to overseeing the Andaa Vijana Initiative.
“I have a bunch of other projects that need my attention. Recently, I made the difficult decision to resign from my position as a board member for a renowned PBS television station in the US - a move that allows me to prioritise my family and enjoy life to its fullest,” says Sharon.