Fabulous Woman: Interview with Sierra Leonean Model Zainab O Sheriff

Sai Sankoh- Please tell me more about you!
Zainab Sheriff- Well  my name is Zainab O Sheriff. I am a fashion model based in Istanbul Turkey.  I was born in 1985 but  I am not so sure about the day neither the month. My mother told me I was born on July 22nd 1985, while my birth certificate says I was born on  August 23rd 1985. Either way I love both my birthdays (laugh). I have always wanted to be a model for as long as I can remember, I am one of the lucky people who are fortunate to do what they really love. Thanks to Allah for that.
Sai Sankoh- How do you feel about your experience as a model? Has it changed you somehow?
Zainab Sheriff-  I love love  modeling. Modeling is the only thing I know how to do. I don’t see myself doing anything else but modeling. And absolutely my experience as a model has made a huge changed in my life. So far, I have gained an amazing life experience but most importantly, it has took me places I wouldn’t have ever dreamt off. I have learned more about fabulosity, style, fashion, beauty. The significant part of  it all is that, it made me believed that anything is possible, at this moment in my life, I am living a life I would have never predicted considering my background and all the hardship I have been through at my early age.
Sai Sankoh- Where were you raised?
Zainab Sheriff-I was born and rise in Sierra Leone, West Africa. I grew up in the eastern part of Freetown. We moved a lot when I was young, so I was not raised in one place but around the same area. 
Whats your fondest memory of Sierra Leone? Your favorite dishes?
Zainab Sheriff- My fun memories where the times I was doing beauty pageant, just been on that stage walking the catwalk with all those lights on and all those people looking and cheering for me and omg the tension of the show, my fellow contestants, the competition  and little gossip around town…(laugh)…..there was something about it all, that made me feel relevant, it made me feel like a some body. Because if people could sit and debate or project a winner even before the pageant was held means something relevant to argue on. And….. may I just say I won every beauty pageant I have ever participated in, I participated in a total of five beauty pageants and I won all of them (smile).
Sai Sankoh- And where do you live now? 
Zainab Sheriff- I lived in Istanbul, Turkey, 
Sai Sankoh- How did you end up in turkey?
Zainab Sheriff: Back in Sierra Leone I was dating a Turkish guy for three years while he was working in my country for a construction company. So after his contract was over he returned to his country and I joined him six month later. We were in love and still are. We both decided I  come to Turkey with him because we are in love and coming to turkey will be good for my career as a model. And so far it has been good. We got married four years ago, still together and my career is going great. Thanks to Allah. 
Sai Sankoh- How were you discovered? How hard is it being a Sierra Leonean/African Model in Turkey?
Zainab Sheriff- When I first came to Turkey, I went to see all the agencies that I could find an address and phone number of, and they all said the same thing to me that there are not so many black people living in Turkey so there is no demand for black models, in another words they won’t work with me because they do not believe I will get jobs from client. They were very honest and straight forward. For six month I kept going from one agency to the other but  kept hearing the something. I had almost gave up when one day I got a phone call  and the person on the phone was asking for a black model, they told me they needed a black model to used in a golden fair, I jump at the opportunity and every one loved me at the show. That was my break, I met the most famous choreographer and he gave me his visit card and asked me to visit him at his office, he put me in his upcoming show which was a big deal because the designer of the show is the most famous designer in Turkey. His name of the designer is (Cengiz Abazoglu).  He has  his fashion shows all over Europe, especially in Paris.
 And since then, I have been working for all the famous designer in Turkey like Cemil Ipekci, Arzu Kaprol, Christian Loboutin and the list goes on.  My latest photo shoot  was with  Marie claire magazine. 
Sai Sankoh- Why did you get into modeling? 
Zainab Sheriff- When I was growing up everyone said to me Zainab you look like a model and they also said I walk like a model but that was not the only reason why I wanted to be a model. I love fashion, clothing, shoes makeup, fashion magazine. you name it, if it has to do with fashion I love it, I learned about it. I remember when I used to glaze at  fashion magazines and thinking  I wish  “I am that girl in that dress” I use to fantasize about it all the time.
Sai Sankoh- How often do you travel?
Zainab Sheriff-I travels a lot but mostly for work and other times to visit my family back home. I love to visit different places but hate to fly, funny huh? 
Sai Sankoh- Outside of modeling, what would you like to do?
Zainab Sheriff- I will love to be a designer or own a clothing store. Either by making fabulous cloth and shoes or sell them.
Sai Sankoh- What was your most memorable shoot?
Zainab Sheriff-My most memorable shoot was a shoot I did for vogue few months ago at the down town street in istanbul …. there were over 30 other models out in the street for the same shooting.  It was very memorable day because there where a lot of models present and most of them I have already met in other shows. Any way we were talking, eating making jokes, it was kind of like we were clubbing out on the street on a broad day light and a professional photographer is taking our pictures, it was really fun and memorable. 
Sai Sankoh- Has modeling changed your view on fashion and what did you think aboutfashion before you became a model?
Zainab Sheriff- Yes being a model for this long of cause has changed the way how I look at fashion. If any one can put on something and pull it off or make it work, it fashion…… if he or she can rock it, then it rocks. Fashion does not has to be what everyone think it is. Any one with personal style and make it work then he or she is fashionable. 
Sai Sankoh-  How did your family and friends react to your career as a model?
Zainab Sheriff-Fortunately, my family respect and support my career, they love me a lot and so they supported me from the beginning. They have always been there for me. and I thank God that my friends are also very supportive. They are always pushing me to do stuffs that they think will help my career.
Sai Sankoh- For runway, how difficult is it to walk in those shoes? Are you ever nervous about tripping? Have you ever tripped?
Zainab Sheriff- Run way is my thing, I love being on the run way, with all those light and cameras flashes, there is nothing like runway for me. Those shoe are not hard to walk in at all…..maybe it because I so passionate about modeling, as a matter of fact wearing those fabulous ridiculously expensive shoes is part of the fun. No, I have never been afraid of tripping at all and no, I have never tripped. From a model perspective, tripping is not really a big of a  deal as people may think, When a model trip we all laugh including her, it kind of fun for all of us. As long as the model is not hurt… then we take it as a joke. 
Sai Sankoh-  What is a unique fact about you that most people wouldn’t know?
Zainab Sheriff- I love to stay at home, if I don’t have something to do like a job or casting am not going out. I can stay in my home for two weeks straight up with out going out at all, and it not because am depress or something, I just like to stay home by myself and chill alone, it my thing. 
Sai Sankoh-  Are you single? What would you wear to a dinner and a movie date?
Zainab Sheriff- No. I’m still happily married, and I have been for the past four years. For dinner and movie date, I will wear a dress, not too sexy though, I will prefer to wear a cute dress, not too short either, just above the knee. Not too tight or too short, a girl should always know the different between sexy, desperate and trashy. 
Sai Sankoh- How often do you work?  What is fashion week like in the life of a model?
Zainab Sheriff- working times are not always the same, it changes depends on how often I get a job. Some times I work everyday, some times I work three or four time in a week,and there are times where I don’t work at all for days or weeks. some jobs I love some I hate but I always have to be at my best at every job. Fashion week are super  fun and super tiring. Normally I do one show a day but in fashion week I do three or four shows per day and for every show I have to do separate choreography, a separate hair style and a separate make up, and that is really tiring but I love love it. 
Sai Sankoh- What should we expect from you in the next couple of years.
Zainab Sheriff- In the next two years, I will still be here finding more success in the  modeling world, trying to be better and giving my all to do what I love most …..but maybe being feature on more TV shows, because  early this year, I worked for a TV show that comes up on TNT called “Acil sus sam acil” and I really loved it plus it paid well . So let’s see!! 
  • Anonymous

    This is a very inspiring story, as a girl who is trying to break into modeling in a country where there's very little black people, this has given me the strength and hope to keep trying. Lovely interview!

  • Anonymous

    I admire her so much, she is very courageous and brave. Very brilliant too, with God by your side there is nothing impossible keep moving forward sweetheart you will rip what you sowe. Your story is Amazing!! Hope to meet with you someday…………

  • Anonymous

    wow wow wow, what a story!!! i am so proud of her, puttin Salone on the map, i love it!!! may Allah continue to bless u with ur career, gurl!!! she's is truly beautiful…

  • Anonymous

    she is very inspiring.. keep it up my dear.

  • Anonymous

    You rock….Put mama Salone on the map and please don't look back but keep your head up!!

  • Anonymous

    she is great.. interesting story..

  • Anonymous


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  • Edison Samah

    Zainab you are a model and i like so many things about you. My wish is to see you succed in life and that is my prayer. you will one day raise Sierra Leone flag some where that will make the whole country proud of you. Take care and God Bless.