Fashion Rule Breakers

Fashion Rule Breakers: Born To Stand Out, This Model Is Taking A Stand

"When I started modeling, I felt like I was home. I felt like people in the industry see me for just me, they don't see me as an outcast."

Fashion Rule Breakers is an original A Plus Lifestyle series: Each month, we profile a fashion designer, model, organization, or icon who is a fashion rule breaker — someone who acts outside mainstream industry standards to make a positive difference.

Male model Weah Bangura is a Fashion Rule Breaker because he not only believes "rules are meant to be broken," but is living proof of what revolutionary, ground-breaking things can happen when they are. "The most creative people in the world have broken rules," he told A Plus. "For the fashion industry, it's always good to break rules because ... you wanna be the one who stands out out of a thousand people." If anyone would know, it's Bangura. He was born to stand out. 

Born with albinism, Bangura spent his childhood in Sierra Leone, where his light skin not only made him stand out from everyone else who had dark skin but a target for witch doctors. To this day, they hunt down and kill people with albinism, believing they have "magical bones," according to Bangura. On top of this personal threat to his life, Bangura and his family were also subjected to the national danger of Sierra Leone's civil war. In 2003, when he was just 5 years old, they fled the country and immigrated to Australia. 

In his new home, Bangura discovered the modern fashion world and, consequently, his place in it. While watching television one day, he stumbled across the FashionTV channel and its showing of Australia Fashion Week. "I fell in love with the style of every outfit and the creativity that went into it [because] I'd never really seen fashion like that before," he explained. "When I was watching it, it just made my eyes open to the design and how each model really fit the outfit itself." Eyes fixed to screen, a 9-year-old Bangura told himself, "One day, I'll be on that stage."

Ten years later, that day came. At age 19, Bangura walked in Sydney designer Justin Cassin's show during Australia Fashion Week 2017 — though he could hardly believe it himself. "It was mind-blowing. From just sitting down and watching that on TV to being in it, I was just so speechless," he said. "... I felt like I was still asleep. It just felt like a dream that I never wanted to wake up from." 

Bangura modeling a piece from Justin Cassin's line in a photo shoot. 

Though that daydream did come to an end, Bangura's modeling career has only just begun. He hopes to "live a life that leaves a mark on the world," so much so that Bangura has left this mark on his body. "The tattoo on my chest is there to remind me what I promised myself ... I want to be that kid that came from Africa with no hope who had the dream to just create something and inspire people ..." he explained. "If you have a dream, and you want it, you gotta fight until you own it. You can't just say, 'One day, I'm gonna be this.' That day will not come if you don't work for it." 

Bangura believes modeling helps him leave his mark on the world because it's not only helped him discover himself and his purpose but given him a platform to speak out for other people with albinism. "I used to get stared at all the time. People would just stare at me. I just felt like I was an outcast ..." he said. "When I started modeling, I felt like I was home. I felt like people in the industry see me for just me, they don't see me as an outcast."  

When Bangura started gaining international fame through modeling, many people with albinism messaged him online, and thanked him for advocating greater awareness of their skin condition and the struggles they've shared. "It really hit me when people were messaging me, and I felt really like I was doing something. And I really want to help because I've been in that situation, and it's just not good to see," he said. "Just because someone was born unique doesn't mean there's something wrong with them. Everybody is just born in their own way. People just need to learn to accept people for who they are instead of discriminating [against] them ..."  

As one of the public faces of albinism, Bangura doesn't shy away from shedding a much-needed light on the more obscure aspects of his condition. "I do want to make awareness of albinism because it's just not right the way my type of people are getting treated. If the world can know that, maybe there can be a change. A lot of innocent people who are born different are dying every day for no reason ..." he said, referencing the witch doctors. "It's not even just Africa; it's all over the world." 

Even simple, everyday tasks — such as driving a car — are more difficult for those with albinism because the vast majority of them do not have driver's licenses, due to their limited eyesight. Since Bangura was 16, eye doctor after eye doctor said he'd never have his driver's license, and that remained true until two weeks ago. Due to a lack of research into albinism, they were testing his eyes like the eyes of someone with normal skin pigmentation. It wasn't until Bangura found a doctor "who actually put in the effort to help [him] and correct [his] eyes" that he realized he'd been given the wrong test, and consequently, the wrong glasses prescription. 

After four years of trying and getting rejected, Bangura never gave up. That persistence paid off when he passed his learner's theory test — taking the first step to receive his license. And it's a mindset he applies to all areas of his life. "I won't give up until I get to where I need to be. That's what I want to do for albinism. It's needs to be heard ..." he said. "There needs to be support for this type of thing because a lot of albinos have dreams. A lot of them want to drive, but no one is helping them to drive. You need your license to be more independent ... None of them are getting that type of opportunity." 

No matter what someone looks like, where they come from, or what their abilities are, Banguara believes "Everybody has the potential to reach their goals if they support each other and encourage each other to do well for themselves, and I just want people to do that." 

As someone who took some time learning to love himself, he encourages everyone to do the same by embracing the gifts they have. "There's no point in trying to blend in when you're not meant to blend in. You were born to stand out. So just embrace it," he concluded. "No one else in the world can ever copy you because you're just the only one ... let the world see you for who you are."

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