From refugee camp to the runway (Photo:formal dresses)

Halima Aden made her way down a dark hallway at St. Cloud Hospital on a recent afternoon, her slight figure obscured by the cleaning cart she pushed.

Dressed in her housekeeping uniform, she headed to the room of a recently discharged patient. She stripped the bed then tackled the bathroom, bending low to scrub the toilet. She stood up briefly to admire her work, a satisfied look on her makeup-less face.

This might seem like a strange transition for someone who was last seen wearing a shimmering trench coat while strutting past a bevy of photographers at the Max Mara show for Milan Fashion Week. That came right after she dazzled audiences during New York Fashion Week.

But no matter how incongruous the notion of a model moonlighting as a housekeeper may seem, to Aden, 19, there's nothing at all unusual about it. Both are part of who she is.

"I'm proud of my modeling job, but I'm also proud of this job and that this was my start," she said. "You go home and you feel good -- especially if you've done a lot of rooms that night."

Stealing the spotlight

Aden was back at her old job for the first time since she was discovered by modeling scouts last fall and swept up in the jet-setting world of high fashion. She was making a weeklong visit home before jumping on a plane to her next stop -- London.

She burst on the scene in November, when she sashayed her way to history as the first contestant in the Miss Minnesota USA beauty pageant to compete wearing a hijab and burkini. Although she didn't win the contest, the image of her megawatt smile and covered silhouette alongside women sporting swimsuits and flowing hair thrust her into a media spotlight that led to her being signed by international modeling agency IMG Models.

The number of people following her on Instagram skyrocketed from 2,000 to 100,000; Vogue and Cosmopolitan dubbed her this season's breakout star; supermodel Iman, a fellow Somali Muslim, interviewed her for the cover of CR Fashion Book; and she just got word that she's featured in a photo shoot in the Harper's Bazaar magazine that goes on sale later this month.

No one is more stunned than Aden by her newfound fame.

"It's absolutely mind-boggling, to be honest," she said. "It's something completely new, and I'm still getting used to it."

No barriers

It's a life she could never have dreamed for herself.

Born in a Kenyan refugee camp, Aden and her family stood in long lines for water and had to barter for pots and pans and coal. When she was 7, her family joined the waves of Somali refugees resettling in the United States. Their first stop was St. Louis, where Aden struggled to acclimate.

It wasn't long before the family was on the move again -- this time to St. Cloud, where Aden found friends and support from her teachers, who pushed her to learn English. By the time she entered Apollo High School, she was turning heads and breaking barriers.

Aden put in her name for homecoming queen. She won, becoming the school's first Somali student to be crowned.

That same gumption led her to enter the Miss Minnesota USA pageant. She said she wanted to prove it was possible to stay true to one's beliefs and participate in events such as a pageant.

"I did notice growing up that there are so many things, obstacles and things that people think you can't do because you're Muslim or because you're wearing a hijab," she said. "That was something that I wanted to see change."

Her contract with IMG Models is for three years with an automatic renewal, said Denise Wallace, Aden's manager. Aden sees a chance to make the modeling industry more inclusive.

"I feel bad for my little cousins who don't see themselves being represented, or the little girls in my community who won't have a chance to see a Disney princess . . . who resembles them," she said.

But she's had to learn how to deal with backlash from some Muslim critics who have denounced her modeling as inappropriate. For advice, Aden turned to Iman.

"I just asked her how is it dealing with people who are in your own community and who don't understand. She said, 'You're bound to have critics no matter what you do in life. So you just have to choose: Do I like what I'm doing enough to ignore the people who are hating on me?' "Read more at:formal dresses canberra