From Classroom to Runway

Youma Wague is a full time student as well as a full time model. She recently signed Gucci.


She steps out on the runway, flashing lights surrounding her.  Her gown sparkles. She’s floating like a gazelle with her feet planted to the ground. She poses with her chin forward and turned shoulders. Once all is done, she shoves her belongings into a Harlem bag, puts on her Vans, ties her hair, and walks towards the subway.

The destination? Mercy College.

Youma Wague is not your typical senior at Mercy College. Along with being a full-time International Relations major, she is also a full-time model. She has ambitions to merge the two words together by profiting from her modeling in order to build her own non-profit organization to give young girls get an education in Africa.

On June 6, she shot a Gucci collaboration with Dapper Dan, which has been a huge accomplishment for her, proving to herself that her hard work has indeed paid off.

Modeling started at 16 when she wanted to boost her self-confidence. She was raised in a strict Muslim-African household, where modeling was not the norm, encouraged, or even considered.

“There was something about photography, fashion, and being yourself and loving yourself in front of the camera that caught my attention.”

She did not have her family’s support, however, this only gave her motivation to pursue her dreams evermore. “Something in my gut always loved modeling, fashion, and photography. It helped me get over my fears,” she said.

She later got into the business in high school and has had a passion for it ever since.

“I enjoy making art and that’s what I feel I am doing when I modeling. I am portraying an emotion to the person that’s viewing the photo,” she said with a smile.

Youma was cast twice before getting hired for the editorial. This shoot was in collaboration with Dapper Dan, whom Youma has admired for years. Dapper Dan is one of the pioneers of fashion in Harlem and of black culture. In the 1980s, he’d take the fabrics of high fashion brands like Guess, Gucci, MCM and made his own designs out of it.

“I thought he had amazing concepts and original designs. He’s had celebrity clients like Floyd Mayweather,  Aaliyah, LL Cooljay – so just meeting him was amazing.”

She gazed into astonishment for a moment. “He smelled so good, you have to understand his presence was that of greatness. We shook hands and he spoke to the models about his concept.”


The theme of the photoshoot was putting old school designs on new school kids. This was shot in a beautiful art elementary school on the lower east side. The school was infused with artwork from young talent.

“When I stepped out, it instantly felt like the environment matched what we were wearing perfectly.”

They switched her outfits a few times, finally giving her a nude/bronze tracksuit that was made of leather and velvet material.

“I really loved it on my competition. I thought it was a perfect match for me,” she said.  The only complaint she had was with the hairstylist who didn’t know how to work with her hair texture.

“He put wax on my hair or whatever that is,” she said with a chuckle.

The photos included some close-up shots as well as full-body shots with other models. The whole process was a good six to seven hours.

“We took like a million shots of a lot of different scenes and switched people in and out,” she said. Youma was very pleased with the outcome. “I’m happy that it was a nice straight style, the clothes were amazing and my hair didn’t look bad on camera.”

The close-up shots were held in the gymnasium of the school lying down on the floor. “That particular shoot is my favorite because I felt like I was shining. I think that’s why it was chosen for the magazine. I felt like this is where I belonged. I was vulnerable in the best way,” she smirked.

Going to school full-time and modeling can be very stressful as Youma has to juggle so many responsibilities. When she gets an opportunity for casting, she tries her best to go because opportunities do not come easy. She will finish class and go straight to the Metro-North in hopes of getting hired. And sometimes, that even means missing out on class.


“I don’t like missing opportunities, so if that means me skipping class and making up the work, then so be it. I am stressed out in class worrying about due dates and such, but I know it will work out because I have a vision and I believe in it.”

Youma recently walked the runway for the fall collection of Imaatu Designs. Imaatu is a designer in the city who makes gowns and evening wear. She was showcasing her collection at the PHD lounge.

Walking the runway is a lot different than editorial shots. It’s all about the catwalk and a model’s style on it. And she already has her own distinct style.

“Being still and slow, and taking your time so that the photographers have a chance to capture the garments. You want to make sure you are coordinated from your face to your tippy toes and look effortless.”

She realizes others want to chase this dream as well. And she knows that they can do it too. “Be yourself and believe in yourself. You are an original concept, and when you try to copy other successful models, it doesn’t work. Those models got to where they are by being themselves and not trying to fit in.”