From Refugee Camp to Runway: Q&A with Halima Aden – St. Cloud, MN

From Refugee Camp to Runway: Q&A with Halima Aden – St. Cloud, MN

Sports Illustrated did something unprecedented last spring, although it was Halima Aden who really made history: At 21, the Somali American fashion model appeared in the magazine’s swimsuit issue dressed wrists-to-ankles in a burkini—beaming, lounging on a beach in Kenya, the country where she spent much of her childhood in a refugee camp before moving to St. Cloud, Minnesota, in the early aughts. Among Aden’s other firsts: first woman to wear a hijab in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant, first to sport one on the covers of AllureBritish Vogue, and Teen Vogue, among other women’s magazines. In 2018, the proud Minnesotan took on her most cherished role yet, as an ambassador for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). We sat down with Aden to catch up.

What was your childhood at Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya like?

I remember the happy moments. I had a normal childhood, I had a happy childhood. Despite it being a refugee camp, and despite the environment, I still was thriving. I think when a child doesn’t know any better, you don’t know that you’re missing out on anything. So, for me, I remember the strong sense of community, people coming together and helping each other out. I remember so many nights where all the neighbors, all the refugees, would come together to dance and sing. I had so many friends. We all spoke different languages, but Swahili was our common ground. I just felt like every day was something new, and the opportunities were endless, in a way.

At the refugee camp, what can you remember about your first UNICEF interactions?

It was a UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] camp, and I remember people coming back to the camp and playing with us, a lot of visitors. It was definitely a UNICEF-sponsored camp, but UNHCR also did a lot on the ground. Early on, I remember seeing the UNICEF shirts, the staff wearing the shirts, the school that they built in the camp, all the programs that they tried to do for the kids.

In your work as a UNICEF ambassador, what do you hope to achieve?

I’ve always said my family won the million-dollar lottery by escaping the camp and coming to America, and I’ve had the chance to go to school and get an education, and now, with modeling, I have this new platform that I can use to share the stories of refugees and bring attention to the work that UNICEF is doing on the ground. My advocacy is 100% necessary in that space. I know what it’s like to be a child refugee. So many of the challenges the kids are going through I can personally relate to, and I think my story gives them so much hope and inspiration for the future.

UNICEF ambassador Halima Aden on a field visit in Italy in August
UNICEF ambassador Halima Aden on a field visit in Italy in August


Last year, you returned to the refugee camp where you grew up. What are your memories from the trip?

That trip was eye-opening, because it was the first time that I got to go back home. With that was a whirlwind of emotion. On the one hand, I’m going home to the place where I grew up and spent the first seven years of my life. On the other hand, I was doing the first-ever TED Talk that was taking place in a refugee camp, and that was exciting and nerve-wracking. Overall, I would say that experience of returning home as an adult was one of the most moving, impactful trips I’ve ever taken. For me, what made it even more exciting was the fact that my mom was so proud that modeling essentially brought me back to the place where she raised me, back home.

You recently visited with refugee kids in Italy, at the UNICEF center based there. What did you take away from your trip?

We stopped by Palermo, and I got to see the center where migrant adolescents were housed after they entered Italy. Then I got to meet the girls. That was really fun, because those girls could have been in Minnesota. They’re girls, they’re young, and giggling, and kind of nervous at times. Towards the end, the girls were dancing, they were singing. One girl sang me a song, and she really wanted Rihanna to one day hear it. It was really nice that, despite her journey, she’s still a girl listening to Rihanna, and she just wants to sing. It reminded me so much of when I was a kid. The first song I ever memorized was “Dilemma,” by Nelly and Kelly Rowland. In a way, it was this normalcy despite the circumstances.

The second day was with the boys. I would say the big difference between the girls and the boys was that the girls clearly had to overcome so much. One girl had to walk five days through the desert, and I don’t want to go too much into her case, but the things that she has overcome… she’s absolutely resilient. They are things that no young woman should have to face. You would never be able to tell that that girl had gone through so much at such a young age to get to where she is today. To see that they were all so driven, that they were focused not just on their stay in Italy but on life outside Italy—one girl wanted to be a lawyer, one girl wanted to be a teacher. The boys, from what we understood—their journey was different. They were brought to Italy for financial opportunity, to grow and find a job, while the girls—some of them were trafficked.

I think sometimes the world forgets that even though Italy is a developed country, the refugee crisis is still relevant in Italy, because that’s a place where a lot of refugees migrate to. It’s not the final destination, but it’s a place that still needs a UNICEF center to protect the kids.

What do you wish people would understand about the refugee experience?

Refugees, no matter where they are in the world—they’re no different than anybody else. At the end of the day, it comes down to simple humanity. We all want the same things: obviously, the chance to have children be educated, the opportunity for safe living, access to food and clean drinking water. Those are basic human necessities, and I think refugees should be treated with dignity and respect just like any other human. At the end of the day, we all want the same things that anybody else in this world wants, and that’s to see our families happy, the children thriving, and making sure that they have access to the things they need to grow and succeed.

What are the proudest moments of your career as a model?

Being named a UNICEF ambassador will probably always be my No. 1 career highlight. There is no greater title for me to ever have in my life, with my background and where I came from. That is the most meaningful. I’m so honored and so grateful to be a part of such an amazing organization.

Halima Aden
Halima Aden


How has your family responded to your success?

My mom is so proud. It’s funny, because she doesn’t understand fashion, she doesn’t get “editorial,” or anything that I do for work, but she does understand my role as a UNICEF ambassador. Whenever I tell her, “I’m taking a UNICEF trip,” she’s like, “Oh, good, stay there longer!” It’s so nice to see how excited she is, because that is our common ground. My mom, fashion is not the world she comes from, but UNICEF, that work she understands. She remembers what they did for our family on the ground.

How much of your life is spent in Minnesota now? What do you like to do when you’re here?

Every article that I ever do, every interview, every shoot, whether I’m in an Uber headed to the airport or a business meeting—Minnesota, and how amazing the people and the state are, always comes up. No matter what. I know my Minnesota facts. People are always like, “Are you being paid by the tourism department?”

I love that we have all four seasons, and we have beautiful white Christmases where the snow glistens and makes me feel like I just want to sleep all day—it’s a mood. And I love that summer is very relaxing, and, no matter what, I can go have a good time by the lake and walk around. I love the fact that the community is so, so strong. It reminds me so much of the community from Kakuma.

Minnesota—we have the largest Somali diaspora community, we have the largest Ethiopian diaspora community, we have the largest Hmong community. No matter where you go, it’s nice to know there’s always access to good food from around the world. I love that our universities and our education system rank better than a lot of states, and we have access to Africa nights, Korea nights, so many cultural nights. Whether it’s done by the University of Minnesota or St. Cloud State, there’s something to do, always.

You built your hijab into your modeling contract. Why is it important for you to continue wearing it?

Don’t change yourself, change the game. I think it’s important that you remain authentic to yourself, and that everybody feels like they don’t have to conform in order to fit in, that it’s OK to be who you are and wear it proudly, do you know what I mean? For me, my hijab is a big part of my identity, and it’s important that I never lose that.

Minnesota congresswoman Ilhan Omar is also increasing representation for Muslim women. How did it feel to see her get elected?

Every little girl should see somebody that she can relate to, somebody that she can look up to. That was not just a big win for us as the Somali community in Minnesota, to see Ilhan go on to become a congresswoman. I think it was a big win for Minnesota, because it just shows that we’re a state that allows people—no matter what culture or background they come from—the access to grow and to represent our state. For me it was a proud Minnesota moment. Not just a Somali moment, but a proud Minnesota moment. She became the first-ever Muslim, hijab-wearing woman in Congress, and that’s a huge deal. I think the fact that she’s a woman—our state holds great pride in that. Now, if Ilhan was from Iowa, that’d be a different case. [laughs]

What do you want to use your platform to say?

My message for young women specifically would always be “Don’t change yourself, change the game.” Know that it’s OK to be confident, it’s OK not to conform. We’re beautiful the way we are, and we don’t have to change. I also want to continue to use my voice and my platform to speak about the work that UNICEF is doing. And to always champion Minnesota, too.


Maria Stanley: Native MN Fashion Designer – Minneapolis, MN

Maria Stanley: Native MN Fashion Designer – Minneapolis, MN

As a creative child growing up in Forest Lake, Minnesota, Maria said she had firm opinions about dressing since she was in diapers. “I spent most of my childhood quietly drawing and playing dress-up,” she explained. “My mom used to sew, and I remember watching her, but I was fairly self-taught when I started making my own clothes in high school.”


Although she was a good student, she preferred spending time in the art department. “I dreaded the thought of going to college until I discovered FIDM,” she said. “I begged my parents to let me apply, they said yes, I got in, and moved to Los Angeles two months after graduating high school, and never looked back.”

While at FIDM, Maria interned at an outerwear brand called Tulle and she designed loungewear for a celebrity stylist. She learned the “ins and outs of this ‘biz” at a family owned company, Bizz Inc., and designed their ready-to-wear brands for a couple of years before they asked her, at age 24, to launch a new contemporary collection.

That brand, Harlyn, which was featured in Vogue, was Maria’s passion for five years and made her realize she wanted to be an entrepreneur instead of having bosses. “Working in an office environment was always hard for me,” she said. “I need to travel!” After realizing Minneapolis was growing creatively, she decided to return home and operate her own business.

She told the publication that short-term trends are her enemy. “I believe you’re going to want to wear your Maria Stanley piece every day, and it’s going to last the rest of your life because I focus on ethically made, beautiful, well-cut, functional pieces. I focus on building a long term relationships and evolving with them over time,” she said.

An advocate for the slow fashion movement, Maria produces her collections in a family-owned and run factory in Delhi, India (her knits are made in Peru). The result is hand-finished, low-impact pieces that are as natural as possible. She’s currently experimenting with plant-based dyes. “Just like the food we eat, we should know where clothes come from and the story behind them,” she added.

Mpls.St.Paul Magazine 

View her F/W19 collection: 

Instagram @mariastanley

Style/Mode: Northern Vogue Gala – Minneapolis, MN

Style/Mode: Northern Vogue Gala – Minneapolis, MN

A black tie gala that will feature a fashion show with local designers, live musical performances, an elegant dinner and silent auction.W Minneapolis & by Niche debut a new take on Northern Vogue … Northern Vogue GALA. Our Fall/Winter version of the spectacular event (slated to return for Spring seasons). Northern Vogue Gala is a black tie affair to benefit the Foundation for Philippine Medical Missions. Enjoy an elegant seated banquet dinner featuring cuisine by W’s own much-touted catering kitchen. A lavish silent auction will be filled with grand items and experiences like no other. You’ll be entertained with a live performance by violinist extraordinaire, local David Gerald Sutton and a live band. In true Northern Vogue fashion a runway show will feature original apparel by local Northern Vogue break-out designer, Abbie Ross. It will be the very first time this full collection hits a runway. Kristi Vosbeck will also present a special Holiday Couture Capsule Collection. Additional segments will feature surprise celebrity models in pieces from Martin Patrick 3Ribnick Outerwear, & TJE Fashion.



A Minnesotan Made Compression Socks That Are Actually Cool

A Minnesotan Made Compression Socks That Are Actually Cool

While working as a product manager in New York City, Minnesota native Andrew Ferenci sat for most of the day and traveled a lot. “I was experiencing ‘potato feet,’” he says, “i.e., when you can’t fit your feet into your shoes after a long flight.” Spooked by a close friend who developed a blood clot while flying, Ferenci consulted his physical therapist.

The answer: compression socks. These elastic stockings, often knee-high, constrict the legs to promote blood flow. In addition to the reduced risk of clotting, Ferenci felt less fatigued from sitting all day.

The one issue: “Compression socks are ugly, expensive, and uncomfortable,” he says. We think of them as articles for the elderly, or for people with circulation-stanching conditions such as diabetes. But anyone can feel the benefits, whether they spend time sitting, standing, or putting extra pressure on their feet. “That includes athletes, computer engineers, expecting mothers, frequent fliers, servers and cooks, nurses and doctors, and the list goes on,” he says.

A natural entrepreneur (having sold embroidered sports apparel as a student at Wayzata High School), Ferenci launched the Comrad compression socks brand in 2017. It took two years and 200 prototypes for his team to land on a formula of comfort plus medical specs. Perks include fun designs—check out the indigo fade on the Dip-Dye Ombre, Ferenci’s favorite—and an anti-microbial fabric binder that eliminates odor.

Comrad joins a market of compression socks, along with Vim & Vigr and Zensah, aimed at younger, health-conscious buyers—the standing desks as well as the sitting. As Ferenci puts it, “Why wear socks when you can wear socks with benefits?”

Spencer Johnson Designs: Sota Clothing – St. Louis Park, MN

Spencer Johnson Designs: Sota Clothing – St. Louis Park, MN

Spencer Johnson sketched his initial designs for Sota Clothing as part of a class project while pursuing his degree at UMD. While Spencer is an avid travel enthusiast, his passion for his home state of Minnesota continually grows and it always brings him back to her shores. He draws his inspiration from the northland where he studied and from the trailblazers who’ve gone before him in their own creative pursuits. Since its initial debut to a classroom full of students in 2011, Sota Clothing has picked up considerable steam. Countless Minnesotans have now embraced his designs as a wearable way to express their home state pride, and Spencer has gathered around him a team of family and friends to see to Sota’s growth.


Sota clothing is hosting a a puppy party on Saturday, November 9th from noon-1:30PM in the Doc’s Hall event space with Secondhand Hounds. Here’s how the party works:

Secondhand Hounds will bring a litter of at least 3 puppies for 90 minutes of puppy play (12PM-1:30PM). Guests at the party have the opportunity to learn about rescue, what an adoption process might look like, and interact with adorable puppies!

(IMPORTANT NOTE: If you come for the puppy party portion of the event, other pets will NOT be allowed around the Secondhand Hound puppies)

Then starting at 2PM-4:30PM, Victoria Campbell Photography will be popping up and taking pet portraits for all and donating 20% of the proceeds back to Secondhand Hounds!

Cost for professional pet portraits:

1 digital image – $35
2 digitals images – $55
3 digital images – $70
Fine art prints available of final images will be available upon request.

We will publish an Eventbrite link soon to sign up for pet portrait times. Walk-ins will still be accepted, but will have a slight wait.

Bubbly Paws / Pampered Pooch Playground will be popping up from 2PM-4:30PM as well serving pup cups and talking about the daycare & grooming services they provide!

Bring your furry four-legged friends to sota for a fun day at the store!



MartinPatrick3 is an internationally recognized boutique located in the North Loop of Minneapolis that offers apparel ranging from elevated casual garments and sneakers to custom suits intermingled with accessories, contemporary furnishings and artwork, The Loupe by JB Hudson Jewelers fine jewelry and watches, an array of men’s apothecary, even modern literature and gifts, all presented as styled moments across our 22,000 square foot space. We also offer personal shopping, All Seasons custom tailoring, our own barbershop Marty’s styled by Jon Charles, and interior design services through MartinPatrick3 Studio. We’re dedicated to building a one-of-a-kind experience that brings out the best in every person who walks through our doors.

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