'I’m from South Sudan, originally born there and lived there half of my life. And then I came to the USA when I was fourteen years old. We came as refugees—there was a war going on in my country—and first we lived in Egypt, and later we got sponsored by Catholic Charities to come to Newark [New Jersey]. We moved to San Diego, where we had family, and then I came to New York in 2006 to model. I learned a lot about myself [modeling]… And now with DJ-ing, it’s been great; I just love music. When I used to have a get-together with my friends, I was always the first to put my playlists on and everybody liked them. I was like, ‘You know what, I might as well try it out and see how it’s going to go.’ After that, I just fell in love with it; I’m addicted right now. [Laughs] I'm also doing a lot with my charity, Southern Sudan Initiatives, which my cousin [Dut Leek Deng, a Lost Boy] and I started. It focuses on education, healthcare, and clean water in Africa. The main thing we’re working on right now is raising money to drill water wells in some of the villages because there isn’t any clean water. Our main goal is to bring self-sufficiency into our country.
I love New York, I love the diversity. It feels nice that people appreciate my color or think it’s beautiful. At first, I wasn’t used to it, since growing up I was teased a lot for having darker skin, even by other black kids. So I just thought it was weird [to be called beautiful], but now it actually help me appreciate myself even better. I see my skin as a blessing, and there’s nothing wrong with it, nothing to be ashamed about, you know? It also makes me want to speak to more Africans or black people because some of them are stuck in the mentality that dark skin is ugly or it’s not good... So, I think it’s good that I’m out there with my dark skin letting myself be out there and letting people see it’s beautiful.
I’m from Sudan, so we’re pretty natural with our beauty stuff—that’s how I grew up. We drink a lot of water, and use a lot of natural products. Since we tend to have dry skin, we like to use a lot of cocoa butter type of stuff. We’re not big makeup people. But as far as products go, my favorite is Kiehl's, especially the Exfoliating Body Scrub. And if you’re very conscious of what ingredients go in your products, you can make your own, using brown sugar and a little bit of very clean, virgin olive oil, and salt. Just mix it together and go. You can make enough for just one time, too—use, like, one big spoon of sugar, and then half a spoon of Kosher salt, a little bit of oil, and just mix it together—that’s enough to make a scrub. Then you just scrub your face or body really gently, wash it off, and you’re good.
For cleanser, I like to use coco butter soap. I'll go to stores that have a lot of African products—normally, I go to Harlem because there are a lot of African stores that have hair and skin products starting from around 116th street, walking on 7th or 8th Avenue, up to 135th street. Some people are very cautious of using things that have oil in them—people think oils are bad, but you should even drink, like, one teaspoon of olive oil a day. You need that in your body—that’s very natural and healthy. For me, it’s like when they say you need to eat five fruits and five vegetables a day. You need all types of minerals and healthy things for the inside of your body.
One thing I do enjoy is eye makeup. I’m a big eye makeup person! I use Maybelline XXL Extensions mascara, and I like Maybelline Unstoppable Eyeliner—the one you just twist up; you don’t have to sharpen it. For my skin, ‘cause I’m so dark, it’s really hard to find my color in foundation. At first I was using MAC and then I switched to Bobbi Brown Espresso. I like that they have two different types you can use, for oily skin or dry. I have the two types, and I use both. The color is still not quite mine, but it’s good because it has a red undertone that brings out my color even more. But recently I discovered Astarté Cosmetics. They have a lot, a lot of different varieties of skin colors; you can basically find your exact tone if you wanted. I found one that’s even darker than me. I was like, “What the heck?! Who’s darker than me?” [Laughs] I guess I don’t need to use foundation, but it helps a little bit, making your skin look much smoother than you think. When I put it on, I put it all over, but I use it really lightly.
I wash my hair once or twice a week with Pantene—I use the Relaxed & Natural line, for women of color. I do shampoo and conditioner. My friend told me about it so I went and got it, and I liked it. And then I’ll use Olive Oil Crème, which is a non-greasy hair lotion you can get at an African beauty store and now at Duane Reade. I don’t have to do much with my hair because it’s shaved and I’m wearing it more natural. But if I have a weave on, it’s a whole different story. I don’t know what’s going on with my hair right now. [Laughs] I got my mohawk—it’s shaved on both sides—but I’m trying to grow out the sides. It’s actually getting long now, so I made this updo, sort of Grace Jones -ish. And at this moment I’m experimenting with color, so yesterday I sprayed it with a bit of green dye I got from Ricky’s, just to see how it would look. I liked green because Lady Gaga said so—just kidding! I’m a Taurus and green is the color of my sign. It’s supposed to bring me good luck, so let’s see how that works.
When I work, my name is DJ Stiletto—I wear stilettos at my gigs. It’s because, first of all, I love shoes, you know, but also for when I become bigger as a DJ I’m going to get lots of shoe sponsors, it’s going to be awesome. All the male DJs are like, 'She’s so feminine,' and I’m even more feminine with heels. But can you DJ with your stilettos on, man? [Laughs]'
—as told to ITG
Mari Malek photographed by Emily Weiss in New York on November 13th, 2012.