Aamito Lagum

For 22-year-old rising model Aamito Lagum, the path to success began with a 16-hour bus ride. Africa’s Next Top Model, a franchise of the popular reality show, was holding casting calls in Nairobi in 2013, and Lagum, who grew up in Uganda, was determined to make it. “It was the only way I was going to get signed internationally,” says Lagum. “I mean, how many modeling scouts go to Uganda? Not many.” So with just enough money to get there and back, Lagum boarded a bus in her hometown of Kampala at 2 p.m. “I arrived at 6 a.m. in Nairobi and walked from the bus station to where the auditions were being held,” she recalls. “I changed in the bathroom.”

Despite the overnight journey, casting directors were instantly smitten with the 5’11”, almond-eyed beauty. “I kept making it, round after round,” she says dreamily, as if she were still in disbelief. But right before the final cut, Lagum had to make a painful decision. “I realized I was going to miss my bus if I stayed any longer. And I didn’t have enough money to stay overnight in Nairobi.” She left early, and the whole ride home prayed that she would make the cut.

Lagum’s mother had always wanted her to be a lawyer. “She thought going to law school would solve all our problems,” she says. “That if I worked hard, I could make a lot of money and we wouldn’t need to live hand to mouth.” Lagum had promised her mother that she’d enroll in law school if she didn’t make it onto Africa’s Next Top Model. A few days later, the show’s host, Nigerian supermodel Oluchi Orlandi, called. Lagum was in. “I screamed so loud, I probably hurt her ear,” she recalls. Lagum went on to win the competition, which included a contract with the DNA modeling agency. She relocated permanently to New York in October, and this past season walked the runway for, among others, the Row, Marc by Marc Jacobs, and Lacoste. So does her mother still want her to be a lawyer? “As long as modeling pays the bills,” Lagum says, laughing, “she’s okay with it.”