The 25-year-old — who speaks five languages (or six, if you count “a little bit of Dutch”) and studies law in her free time — fled her native Burundi, Africa, at age 10 and relocated to Brussels, where she was discovered. Since, Nda has appeared in Vogue, Elle and Allure and for Versace, Zac Posen and Vera Wang, in addition to last year’s Victoria’s Secret show. “I’m just lucky, you know?” said Nda. “It’s not because I’m the most beautiful. It’s because I’m lucky, and sometimes, something good happens to you and you don’t know why.”
How did you start modeling?
I was discovered on the street when I was 16. This guy from a French magazine was like, “I have to give you this card. Call me if you want.” But my mom was like, “Never! This is not for you! You have to go to school!”
She is African, and she was scared about the modeling industry — she thought it would be naked photos or [trafficking] or something like that. She said, “You can do it, but never be naked!” Now, she knows me better. When I started modeling, I did my first year of law at university at the same time. I was like “Mom, here is the thing you want me to do — law. But also, I want to be a model.” I went to an agency and they signed me in Belgium. Since then, my mom is really proud….She knows I’m the first [major] model from Burundi.
Do you ever visit your hometown there?
My heart is there in Africa because it’s where I grew up. I went two times to visit family, but it’s not enough. In my country, so many girls are really tall and skinny — all of the girls look like me. But when you grow up in Africa, beauty means to be a little bit curvy. I’m not curvy at all. I felt I was missing something. I was really trying hard to gain weight. When I went to Europe, everybody was like, “You’re so skinny and pretty.” And you’re like, “Oh, finally.” With [beauty], it just depends where you are.
What are the most important things you’ve learned in your career?
Everybody’s pretty, and the most important thing is to learn to be confident. I was so shy [in the beginning]. I couldn’t imagine myself being a model. So I was like, “Oh my God, maybe I shouldn’t be here.”
But you really need to tell yourself, “This is my place, I have something to offer.” And there’s so many things to learn about modeling — designers, stylists, who’s doing what….It’s a real job.
That’s what I say to my mom and my friends, because people far away from this industry don’t understand — they think you just need to pose. It’s about building relationships with clients, [learning] how to be professional… Sometimes, you’re so tired, but you can’t show it. It’s not just about being pretty. It’s a full-time job.