How did you initially get involved in working on AIDS issues?

Campaigning to end AIDS has always been something close to my heart. The fashion industry has been particularly affected by HIV. When the epidemic was at its peak in the 1980s and 1990s, I lost many friends and colleagues. It was a very bleak period. Since that time, there has been huge progress, but as the latest report from UNAIDS says, there are still miles to go. Thousands of people are still becoming infected with HIV every day, and there are more people living with HIV than ever before — 37 million people, all in need of lifelong treatment. I believe a lot of people don’t think that AIDS is a problem anymore and that’s a very dangerous assumption.

You’ve combined your work in the fashion industry with your commitment to the AIDS response over the years. How do you plan to continue to do so as your career progresses?

We have to keep talking about HIV. We need to break down the stigma surrounding HIV so that people have the knowledge to protect themselves and to get treatment if they need it. The only way to do that is to keep talking. Talking openly about HIV is extremely important because one of the groups most affected by HIV is young people. Today, we have a new generation of young people who don’t know about HIV, as they’re not taught about it at home or at school, and they don’t think it’s a problem that affects them. The sad reality is that every week 7,000 young women aged 15-24 are infected with HIV. This is unacceptable, and I will use the platforms I am fortunate enough to have to spread that message — that AIDS isn’t over, and people are still becoming infected and dying of AIDS.

What has inspired you to continue speaking out about in support of people living with and affected by HIV?

In May, I visited Lesotho with UNAIDS, and I saw what young people can achieve when the right attitudes and policies are in place. HIV is still a huge problem in Lesotho, as almost a quarter of the population in Lesotho are living with HIV. I visited the Queen Elizabeth Adolescent Health Centre, an amazing place which offers young people a wide range of health services all available in one place. It also gives them access to peer support and counselling which allows them to have control over their lives because they have the information and the services they need, including how to protect themselves from HIV and get treatment if necessary. These are the kinds of services we need to promote to empower young people.

How did you decide to collaborate with Marc Jacobs for World AIDS Day 2017?

I was at an event with the UNAIDS executive director in New York, and I wanted to help. It occurred to me that there hadn’t really been a big fashion statement around World AIDS Day for some time, so I phoned Marc, who is an old friend of mine, and he immediately agreed to work with me on a fundraising T-shirt. We had fun putting the special World AIDS Day T-shirt together and it was for a great cause.            

Your focus is mainly on women and girls. How are you specifically helping this major demographic through your work in the space?

Adolescent girls in sub-Saharan Africa make up 56 percent of all new HIV infections among adolescents globally. Too often, they don’t have a voice and they aren’t allowed to make decisions about their own health, about who and when they marry, when they start a family. This has to change.

I want to use my voice to call on leaders to ensure that girls are supported to stay in school until at least secondary level. The longer girls stay in school, the less likely they are to be subjected to early, forced marriage and the more likely they are to stay free from HIV. This is incredibly important.

I use my voice to advocate for change through my public speaking roles, supporting UNAIDS and their work and through the influential people I meet who can contribute to that change whether that be through my work or in my private life.

What is one thing you want readers to know about the AIDS epidemic?

The devastating truth is that AIDS is far from over, but we have the treatment and prevention tools to end AIDS. The thing that’s stopping us is the political will from world leaders to really get behind the programmes UNAIDS and others are putting in place. We need to call out those leaders and activate change today.

What is one thing you want readers to know about you personally?

I’ve always been a very determined individual, and I’m someone who really cares about the work I do. When I take on any project, I’m going to give it my all and there’s no difference if the project is a modelling job or a philanthropic initiative. The work on the horizon combatting AIDS is immense, but I’m ready and proud to stand alongside the United Nations to be part of the change.