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Halima Aden, the trailblazing Somali-American modest fashion model who quit last year, has said she felt like one of the “biggest tokens” in the fashion industry. Before she announced her departure last November, the model had made a name for herself by scoring many industry firsts. In 2017, Aden was the first model to wear a hijab on the cover of a US magazine, Allure; she was the first to wear the head covering on the cover of British Vogue a year later; and, in 2019, the first to wear a burkini on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Now, Aden says she felt she had to compromise to fit into the industry. “Despite me saying, ‘Don’t change yourself, change the game,’ that was exactly what I was doing,” she told the Times. “I’m not saying it’s not right for other Muslim, hijab-wearing women, I’m saying it was not right for me. I wear a hijab, I’m a Muslim, I’m Somali, so yes, all these identities set me up to be the perfect token to check all the boxes. I felt like one of the biggest tokens in the industry. I always felt like an outsider in my own career.”

In July, she spoke of the “internal conflict” she felt in the last two years of her career. “My hijab kept shrinking and got smaller and smaller with each shoot,” she told the BBC.

Aden also hit out at the fashion industry as a whole. “I’d never known an industry with so many desperate people in it, who were willing to do anything under the moon to be there,” she said. “I think it’s very sad because automatically you lose all your power when you get desperate.”

The former model also spoke about a “horrendous” magazine cover that made her look like a “white man’s fetishised version of me”. She didn’t name the publication.

Last week, she announced her return to the fashion industry, not as a model but as a designer. Aden signed a two-year contract with the modest fashion label Modanisa, and her first designs for Halima X Modanisa include headscarves. In a statement, she said: “[Modanisa] shares my faith and values, and fully respects my choices as a Muslim woman.”