Kenyan Model in New York reveals she met boyfriend through twitter
Malaika Firth, 20, is a Kenyan-born, London-bred model, now based in New York. She came to prominence in 2013, when she became the first black model to front a Prada campaign since Naomi Campbell in 1994. Since then she has become a face of Burberry, Marc Jacobs’s Daisy fragrance and Valentino.
To me, home is wherever there is love and happiness. I was born in Mombasa, Kenya, which is so beautiful and green, then moved to Barking, east London, when I was seven. I’m based in New York now, where I live with my boyfriend, so that’s probably the place I feel most at home. There’s a huge buzz over there. The mood is so different to London – everyone is hyper.
I love acting. I studied it at school for my GCSEs and I wanted to be an actress. I used to go to the theatre every Saturday and I thought that was going to be my life. I watch movies now and wish I was in them; it’s something I can see myself doing in the future. I like the idea of being a comedic actress, but you have to really put yourself out there and make yourself look stupid.
I didn’t like clothes before I was a model. I dressed like a clown in colourful clothes and had a huge collection of trainers. I used to hate shopping. My mum would drag me to the shops but I’d just be looking in the mirror, dancing. Now I mostly wear black. If it’s not black it’s grey; if it’s not grey it’s navy. I try to be more sophisticated – I think the transition has been a part of growing up.
PHOTO: Aitken Jolly
Modelling can knock your confidence because people are constantly looking at your pictures, how you eat and how you dress. But I think my confidence is growing back – I feel stronger. This is me and this is how I am.
I am notorious for losing things, especially jewellery, so the only item I wear now is a promise ring my boyfriend [the model Nate Gill] bought me for Christmas. It’s gold and has one side higher than the other, so the meaning is he puts me higher than himself. I like that.
I don’t put money above happiness but it is important because it provides security, and part of the reason I am working so hard right now is to make money. I’m proud to be a 20-year-old who is financially secure. I’ve managed to buy my own apartment in New York, as well as a house for my parents back in Kenya. Now I’m trying to save more money, this time for me, to do something for myself.
My life right now is luxury to me. I’m travelling a lot, which I couldn’t afford to do if I wasn’t doing this job. It’s such a blessing. Sometimes I find myself smiling because I’m so happy.
I find the biannual fashion-week seasons very stressful, so it helps to have my mum with me. She’s an angel. She used to accompany me to every single job but then I started wanting to do stuff on my own so we’ve settled on her just coming to the shows now.
PHOTO: Aitken Jolly
Cleaning is my kind of fitness. My boyfriend calls me a clean freak – I put the music on loud and start hoovering and washing. Apart from that, I only exercise when I feel like it, which is really bad. I’m not going to look like this in two, three years time so I need to start.
I met my boyfriend through Twitter. I saw him and thought he was very attractive so got in touch. He’s very inspiring. He’s a machine. He works out every single day, does boxing and eats healthily. I’m the complete opposite.
I love Instagram. A lot of young girls follow me, and when I was in Kenya recently I had loads come up to me and ask for a picture. It was a shock because I’d never had that before, but I think I’m a good role model. I’m a young person doing very well and there aren’t a lot of people right now who are doing that. Fellow models Jourdan Dunn, Cara Delevingne and I are inspiring the younger generation to do good.
PHOTO: Aitken Jolly
I’m quite low-maintenance. I think it’s because I didn’t have a lot when I was young. Growing up, I used to admire my auntie’s make-up, and now I love buying beauty products myself. I can’t live without the Body Shop’s Vitamin E Face Mist, Shiseido Ibuki moisturiser, Rimmel red lipstick and YSL mascara. I’d like to have my own perfume range in the future.
Most memorable outfit
Back home in Kenya we have this tribe, the Giriama, and they have this outfit that’s a white feathered skirt and a very colourful bra-like top that they wear to perform a traditional dance. When I was five I had my own made and was so excited. I remember dancing in it; there were so many people watching me and I loved that. Every time I go back there and we have a family party we all put them on.
The lack of racial diversity is a prevalent issue in modelling but I try to ignore it. If you talk about it and try to make it an issue, then it’s still going to be there. I think a lot of people my age don’t see the racism, and if we can just carry on trying to do better for ourselves, then I think it will be fine.