SI Swimsuit models Camille Kostek, Katie Austin, Brooks Nader among stars to appear on catwalk in Miami
By Stephanie Nolasco
Achieng Agutu doesn’t have time for haters.
The influencer, who is a finalist for the 2023 SI Swim Search, strutted down the catwalk during the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit runway show during Miami Swim Week. The event took place July 7 at W Hotel South Beach.
The 26-year-old, known as the “confidence queen,” has been happily making a splash this summer – and she told Fox News Digital that she has a simple approach to addressing any trolls trying to bring her down.
“Block and move on,” she chuckled. “In the beginning, I could get 1,000 great comments, and that one negative comment would ruin my day, even my week. Like, why would somebody say something terrible when I’m just trying to be positive and empower people, empower women? It would take over me.”
“Now, it just feels good to block and prosper,” she shared. “That one person who has this nasty thing to say about you has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them. Like, you took time out of your 24 hours to write something nasty, post it and feel good about it. That’s insane to me.”
“So, I block and prosper,” she continued. “Sometimes, if I do have time, I will give you a piece of my mind and then block you. But I’m always choosing my peace. So I will block you, and I’ll live my beautiful life on the tantalizing, sexy side of the internet.”
The Kenya native is among seven SI Swim Search finalists who made their runway debut. She appeared alongside Broncos cheerleader Berkleigh Wright, as well as Nina Cash, Sharina Gutierrez, Penny Lane, Brittney Nicole and Jena Sims.
The SI Swim Search, an annual casting call, receives thousands of submissions from hopeful models every year. It aims to discover the outlet’s newest star. Readers can vote for their favorite model online through Aug. 31.
The social media star, who is based in New York City, said SI Swimsuit cover girl Ashley Graham inspired her to try out for the SI Swim Search. Agutu was in Kenya when she got the news that she was a finalist.
“It was midnight, and I was sitting outside because that’s the only place where I could get network,” she recalled. “I got an Instagram DM from SI. At first, I was like, ‘OK, sure.’ But when I checked my emails, I was just screaming. And then I called my dad who was in a different city, and then he started screaming. It was midnight, and I was screaming my head off. It was the best feeling in the entire world.”
Agutu said that being part of the iconic brand is “so important” now more than ever.
“On my platform, I talk about loving yourself and loving your body in every season and reason,” she explained. “I’ve gotten messages from women in their 60s saying, ‘You inspired me today to wear something that I’ve been afraid to wear in the last 20 years.’ These are women who have only seen one specific body type over the years and never lived their lives in the way they wanted to because they felt out of place. I don’t want any woman in our generation to ever be in a place where they don’t see their bodies, where they don’t feel represented.”
“Regardless of how much we want to discredit it, we do follow media,” she shared. “What we see is what we intake, which is what we emulate. So it’s important to show different bodies, different walks of life, different colors. The world needs to see it… And the fact that I’m a 26-year-old Black Kenyan woman who came from the small city of Kisumu to the United States and demonstrating that is empowering – not just for me, but for other people too.”
The original swimsuit issue ran in 1964. It has been a launching pad for models like Graham, as well as Kathy Ireland, Christie Brinkley, Elle Macpherson and Kate Upton.
This year, Martha Stewart became the oldest model to grace the cover of the annual swimsuit issue. The 81-year-old surpassed Maye Musk, Elon Musk’s mother, who posed for the issue in 2022 at age 74.
“My story is important,” Agutu reflected. “My story and my journey are worthy of being heard. Other women look like me, talk like me and share similar experiences. They are just as important and valued. They also deserve to be seen and heard. So for me, this is just one step. I think there’s so much more that needs to be done. But the fact that I even made it to this point shows that I’m worthy. My story is valued. My story is being heard and seen. That’s what I want to keep on doing, whether it’s on social media or in person.”
As a content creator, Agutu has already made her mark. In January of this year, Business Insider reported that Agutu closed 2022 with more than $1 million in revenue from brand deals. She has 518K followers on Instagram and 354.2K followers on TikTok. She became a full-time influencer in 2021.
Agutu said her search for “community” prompted her to become a content creator.
“Sharing my journey of how I started to love myself gave me confidence,” she explained. “And then other people started reaching out to me, saying, ‘I needed this today,’ or ‘I’m glad you’re talking about this because I don’t even know who to talk to right now.’ So it really started with me wanting to share my story with more than just the four people in this house.”
Agutu admitted trying to find her way in the fashion industry was challenging, but she “never wanted to give up.”
“I worked so hard to be here, and I love it so much,” she explained. “And I have a passion for wanting to see more diversity in this industry. That’s keeping me going. Have I been discouraged a few times? Of course. But I never wanted to give up.”
Today, Agutu hopes her story will encourage others to celebrate their bodies.
“I think we are our toughest critics,” said Agutu. “I think we need to give ourselves so much grace stepping out of our comfort zones… I started dressing in the way I wanted to dress, not for other people’s opinions. That has been liberating. Once you feel liberated, you can live life to the fullest. Whether it’s stepping out in a bikini or stepping out in a dress you’ve never worn before, celebrate who you are.”
“And it’s all baby steps,” she insisted. “Start wearing the bikini in the comfort of your own home and see how that feels. Then take it to the pool. Take the next step and wear it at the beach. Take another step and now we’re on vacation. You have one life – live it.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.