Philomena Kwao: When I started, I was different from anything that existed in mainstream fashion

Philomena Kwao is a plus-sized British-Ghanaian model who has many philanthropic interests.

Her meteoric rise came from working on multiple major campaigns for Torrid, MAC Cosmetics, Lane Bryant, Evans UK, Nordstrom and she has been highlighted on Huff Post UK, Guest blogger Metro UK, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Essence Magazine, among others.

This British-Ghanaian beauty is the perfect canvas and model for the fashion industry! Her regal unapologetic natural beauty is one to behold.

Philomena is also the Global Ambassador for Women For Women International Charity. She preaches the need for open dialogue and real inclusivity in the movement towards equal rights for women.

SLA interviewed Philomena during her recent visit to Nigeria to celebrate with the women who are graduating this year’s program and have achieved access to life-changing skills to move from crisis and poverty to stability and economic self-sufficiency.

 To pursue modeling, be yourself! - @PhilomenaKwao Click To Tweet

You bagged a degree in Economics, and a Masters’ degree in International Health Management, how did you make the career switch to fashion and style?

My original career choice was very different and my journey into modeling began by chance as I had planned out a career in health management and policy after completing my masters degree.

A friend of mine entered my details online into a modeling competition in which Evans and Cosmopolitan in conjunction with Models1 were looking for a new plus-size model to front their shape campaign and to also become the Face of Style 369.

I eventually won the competition and hence my career began.

I was going to take a career break anyway after my masters as I had continued through school and work with no break. 

So when the opportunity came for me to move to NYC a new adventure made perfect sense. I could make money and travel which were two of the things I wanted to do most at the time. It was a huge blessing.

I originally set out to try modeling out for a year. One year turned into seven and here I am today. It’s been an incredible journey so far. I am now signed to JAG Models and I am living and working in NYC.

Tell us about how you got your modeling debut

When I first got to NYC I didn’t work at all. It was hard! My look was new. I was everything you weren’t supposed to be rolled into one. Dark skin, plus and a shaved head. What would brands do with me?

It took a while for me to find my place in the industry but when a few brands like Lane Bryant, Landsend and Torrid took the plunge to try something new and widen the definition of beautiful my career really took off. 

My beauty is common in Africa but in the West its what defines me and sets me apart - @PhilomenaKwao Click To Tweet

As an African plus-sized model, what was your biggest challenge breaking into the fashion industry, and how did you overcome them?  

For so long, in the West, the standard of African Beauty was (and arguably is) very very narrow.

Extremely tall, extremely thin and extremely dark. Most of the African models hailed from East Africa and the west fetishized their beauty as exotic and a true representation of The African woman. There are many problems with this.

Africa is a vast continent with hundreds of thousands of ethnicities each with their own beauty. To homogenize the African woman is limiting and dangerous. 

My beauty is common in Africa but in the West its what defines me and sets me apart. When I first started I was different from anything that existed in mainstream fashion. I had a shaved head, my features are more commercial and I am a plus sized woman. It was very hard for people to get their head around it. 

Typically plus-size models are white and hourglass, and when they are black they are of a fair complexion with an acceptable hair texture. If they were slightly darker they had a long weave. The typical American girl next door look. 

African models were typically slim tall and dark. And yet here I was a mixture of everything; too ‘exotic’ for commercial modeling, too big for mainstream high fashion modeling. 

My biggest challenge was getting people to understand that black beauty exists in an infinite number of forms. This wasn’t easy, a big push for my career was definitely when Lupita was recognized as a world-class beauty because then I became the plus size Lupita. 

My biggest challenge in the industry was getting people to understand that black beauty exists in an infinite number of forms - @PhilomenaKwao Click To Tweet

What prompted you to get involved in the movement towards equal rights for women around the world?

As a woman, it’s hard to exist and live in this world without being affected by what’s happening to women around you. I was born in London, in the UK to a mother who immigrated from Ghana.

I will never forget my first visit back home to Ghana. The disparity between my cousins and I simply because of where we were born was staggering. Even at such a young age it just felt so unfair and I was determined to make a change in any way possible. 

How did you become a Global Ambassador for Women For Women International Charity?

Modeling is fun. It’s been an incredible blessing in my life, and I’m so grateful for every opportunity that I’ve been given but it isn’t enough. It isn’t enough for me.

I’m still very much interested in my first love and passion, the advancement of women around the world. Whether through health, economic empowerment or social empowerment, women around the world need advancement.

For too long we have been globally oppressed. The time for change is now and everyone can create change, firstly within themselves and then in their wider community. Social media has become such a powerful tool for this. 

One of the many blessings that my modeling career has given me is a platform and when I heard about the work women for women were doing I felt compelled to support. 

Women for women empower the women they work with by teaching them how to make a change within themselves and in their community 

The year-long social and economic empowerment program provides marginalized women with the opportunity, often for the first time in their lives, to come together in classes of 25 women to build support networks, to share experiences, to learn critical skills, and to access new resources.

.@womenforwomen empower the women they work with by teaching them how to make a change within themselves and in their community - @PhilomenaKwao Click To Tweet

Women for Women International supports the most marginalized women in countries affected by conflict and war. Their programs enable them to earn and save money, improve health and well-being, influence decisions in their home and community and connect to networks for support.

By utilizing skills, knowledge, and resources, women are able to create sustainable change for themselves, their family, and community. This is something I truly believe in. 

From your experience, what does it take to build a career in the fashion and entertainment industry?

Patience and resilience. Patience and resilience. I’ve said it Twice because I can’t stress how important these two things are.

I have an academic background and in that setting, one plus one plus equals two. The same can’t be said for the fashion and entertainment industry. A huge amount of luck is involved. Right time, right place. This can often leave hopefuls feeling very frustrated.

I often feel frustrated myself. But it’s something that has become easier over time. The best advice is to stay ready, so when your opportunity comes you’re ready to take it. Unfortunately, you just don’t know when opportunity will come knocking. And that’s where patience comes in.

Most things are entirely out of your control and you can’t always judge how people will receive you. That’s the resilience, for every yes there will be a thousand nos. You just have to keep going. 

What four skills have you found yourself using/learning frequently?

Leading on from the earlier question my four frequently used skills are:

  • Patience
  • Resilience
  • Communication
  • Adaptability

 You just don’t know when opportunity will come knocking. That’s where patience comes in - @PhilomenaKwao Click To Tweet

What’s your ONE advice for curvy girls who would like to model but do not have the confidence?

I’ll start with confidence, we all have down days, and honestly that ok. But it’s not ok to not be your own best friend and cheerleader. Whenever anyone says their feeling down about their looks I always remind them of the beauty in individuality.

There is no one on the planet that looks like you or has your unique features so you just celebrate them and not put it down. I’m a big advocate of the extraordinary and I believe everyone is inspiring because we are all different.

Confidence comes from understanding that you only have this one body and one life so make the most of it! You can’t compare yourself to anyone! Not anyone in fashion or on TV because most of what you see isn’t real. 

And to pursue modeling, be yourself!

Always stay true to you no matter how hard it gets! And don’t let criticism get to you because what works for one may not work for another. Be lucky to find a great Agent that believes in you. I was very lucky due to the competition I entered.

All reputable Agencies do have open calls where you can have an informal chat about modeling and the possibility of becoming one. 

Also, don’t take things personally. It all depends what the Agency is looking for and what suits all markets around the globe. Edgy editorial clients may get you instantly but the commercial ones may take longer to get that look if at all.

This industry is super competitive and you need a thick skin and determination and professionalism to make it.

For representation I would stick to Agencies that have great reputations, do your research, take a look who else is represented by them, go and meet them, it is all about feeling comfortable and trusting your agent. You will develop a very close relationship, and trust and communication are key.

What’s your morning ritual?

I’m trying to find one. Morning rituals are so important they center your day and help organize your thoughts.

I used to have one which included completing my five-minute journal, drinking water and meditating. However, the more I travel the harder it gets. 

For all our melanin Motherland Moguls, how do you keep your skin glowing?

I owe a huge part of my skin to genetics. You think my skin is glowing? You should see the rest of my family.  Genetics plays such a massive part in the health of your skin but there are definitely things that can help.

Inside out is my mantra. Eat well, make sure you eat your greens and veggies and try and eat as wholesomely as possible. Stay hydrated. Drink lots of water, hydrated skin is a good skin. And lastly, find what works for you and stick to it. 

For me, I love products from the body shop as well as my natural staples of Shea butter, black soap, and baobab oil. Keep your eyes peeled for something special. 

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Sharon Kadangwe: No competition without innovation

Sharon Kadangwe
You won't find anyone else who will be as honest with you as you are with yourself Click To Tweet

Model….. what comes to mind is the svelte size zero figures, catwalks, high fashion and of course the G_L_A_M_O_U_R! And usually when we talk about Runway Fests, its all about the gorgeous models working the runway and less of the amazing superstars behind these events. With that said we decided to challenge the norm and spotlight a poet, writer, model and entrepreneur from Blantyre, Malawi who goes by the name Sharon Kadangwe.

Sharon has a degree in Counselling Psychology but is also passionate about fashion, arts and empowering girls. She has been modelling professionally since 2012 and has appeared in fashion shows in Blantyre and Lilongwe. Sharon has also appeared in several themed photoshoots and adverts for Airtel and Nedbank. 

Her interest in the fashion industry grew beyond modelling over time as she became one of the founders of the Winter Ankara Fashion Expo (WAFE) an annual street fashion show which occurs in Blantyre and started in 2015. 

Is it possible for a teen starting her modelling career to just breakthrough without undergoing a training of some sort?

It depends. In other circumstances some of the best models have just been scouted in the street. Scouted means they are seen by someone who works in the fashion industry and then from there their careers start, they then train as they work. Most international models start their careers like that, locally we have Jack Thunde who was scouted in South Africa.

You then have another group of models who make it because they are hard-working and passionate and they get training. In our industry, it’s not everyday that someone is scouted so you would have to train and practice if you want to find jobs as a model.

What makes WAFE different from other festivals?

Everything about WAFE is unique. The name is unique, where it occurs is unique and how we do it is unique. We are the first fashion show in the history of Malawi to be held on the street. The Winter Ankara Fashion Expo  (WAFE) is an event that we created after we realized that most fashion shows in Malawi were centered around the capital city and the summer season.

We hold it at the end of July, which is the end of the cold/winter season in Malawi and we have it on Victoria Avenue. The reason why we chose that particular street is because of its history and the significance it has in the present day. We also wanted to have an event created by Blantyre, for Blantyre that anyone could enjoy.

Sharon Kadangwe

Which is the most important, strong headliners or strong supporting acts?

Great question.

Being someone who’s been on both sides (attending and planning an event) I would say headliners are important but supporting acts can also make or break the headliner. The tricky part is in finding both strong headliners and strong supporting acts at one event.

Sharon Kadangwe

The aim of WAFE is also to promote youth entrepreneurship within the fashion industry. Is it going according to how you envisioned it?

Yes. It has. Response from the event so far has been positive not only from the attendees but the designers. We have been able to provide a platform for different types of designers, especially upcoming ones. Models we have auditioned and trained have gone on to parade in different shows and campaigns all over Malawi.

That’s what we wanted to do; give people a platform to people so that they grow and develop with the skills they learn and empower others to do the same and that chain keeps going until the industry expands and grows and I believe with time that will happen.

You can't have competition without innovation - Sharon Kadangwe Click To Tweet

How competitive is the industry?

It’s competitive, challenging and slowly responds to change. I believe most of the competitiveness comes from selfish ambition and greed. If we had a lot more people willing to collaborate with others to grow the industry things would move at a faster pace.

But at the same time you can’t really call it competitive when people don’t come up with their own creative ideas they just copy what others do. You can’t have competition without innovation.

You’ve had much experience with festivals now. What seems to get easier with time?

Hahaha, I wouldn’t say 2 years is a lot of experience but I have definitely learnt a lot about myself, what I can do, how people think, how to work with others and how to talk to people from all walks of life. The only thing that becomes easier is seeing where you made mistakes and being willing and able to fix them. We have had a lot of disappointments and setbacks over the past 2 years and being able to pick yourself from that and forging ahead is also something that comes with time.

What doesn’t get easier is the same thing; experiencing a setback, making a mistake and getting disappointed. It goes both ways. Managing events is an unpredictable industry. You can plan everything to the last second but anything can happen. Nobody ever expects bad things to happen, but they do. What matters is how you deal with them

Sharon Kadangwe

Can you share with us your greatest work related accomplishment

I have a few accomplishments that I’m proud of but at the top of my list would have to be featured on, I was given an opportunity to talk about WAFE and all the things I do.

I also performed poetry and gave  a talk to female students at the S.H.E empowered retreat for girls last year. It was amazing to have such an opportunity, when I was in school I hoped for such events to happen and so I’m really glad I was able to share my story and my art to other young ladies.

Fun question! Do you ever talk to yourself? When and what do you say?

I really laughed out loud at this question so that’s one sign. Doesn’t everyone talk to themselves? I talk to myself everyday, all the time. Sometimes I might ignore someone and have a conversation with myself in my head.

It’s usually about my day, I ask myself questions, try to figure out if I did something wrong and how I fixed it or I’ll think about music I’ll listen to or I’ll come up with a poem or I’ll think about my past and my future.
It helps to talk to yourself, you won’t find anyone else on earth who will be as honest with you as you are with yourself.

What do you want Sharon Kadangwe to be remembered for?

On my birthday last year my mum wrote me a letter and she asked me a similar question, she asked what I would want written on my epitaph and I’ll use the same response I gave her
“A passionate believer who aspired to live the life of purpose which God intended for her. Romans 12:2”

If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here

Laurie Frempong: Why I self-manage my modeling career

When it comes to the modelling industry, Ghanaian model and fashion blogger Laurie Frempong is her own boss. She manages her career, finds her own jobs, negotiates payments and acts as her own PR. This model has been self–managing since she was discovered at a casting for Project Walkway Ghana nearly four years ago.

Over the years, Laurie has secured editorial, swimwear, print, runway and commercial modelling contracts without a manager or an agency. She would be first to admit that balancing self-management and a modelling can be very tough but with determination, one can achieve anything.

What led you to self-manage your modelling career?

After being discovered and gaining exposure at the Project Walkway Ghana, I went into full-time modelling but in Ghana, there are no real modelling agencies and models signed under agencies had to go out and search for jobs.

There was no need having a manager who would not assist me in anyway, yet expect to be paid. So I chose to manage my own career. This was not easy especially since I had to combine management with modelling. Both jobs are full-time so there are days my management skills would be lacking and there are days my modelling skills would be lacking. This was at the very beginning though, now I have developed a skill to balance both jobs so as to not lack in both areas.

As a self-managed model, how do you find work? What jobs have you done over the years?

Well in order to find work, I had to build a brand and that was what I did. I am identified with my natural hair and my colourfulness. After this, I found work through recommendations; attending castings —which are very few in the country, and via social media. I take my work very seriously and always give my best on the job so people contact me for a job knowing they are getting nothing but the best.

I have worked many brands and shows like Afua Biney, Kiki Clothing, Woodin, Lema Press, Ernest Chemist, Zedi & Cross Alikoto Clothing, Nallem Clothing, Papa Oppong, Steve French, Wusuwa’s Diary, RIP Runway, Legon Fashion week, Catwalk for Orphans among others.


What are the challenges you face as a self-managing model in the industry? How do you overcome these challenges?

When I chose this path, I knew it was not going to be easy. Given the fact that Ghanaians are still warming up to modelling as a career, I knew I would face challenges. But I was still hopeful and determined to go through with my choices no matter what.

Challenges I face include;
Non-payment for jobs well done.
Getting paid less than what was negotiated.
Missing out on castings because these opportunities are communicated directly to modelling agencies.

For the payment challenges, I have rectified it by using a rate card. The rate card has details of how much a model charges depending on the type of job wanted. This card takes into consideration the number of hours involved, etc. This way when I am approached by a client, they know exactly what to expect.

With t
he issue about the castings, there is nothing I can do about it other than investing in myself, updating my portfolio and branding myself so well that I will not depend on these castings.

Would you say self-management is better than having another person manage you?

Well, there is nothing like being your own boss but to some extent I will say having a manager has its pros.

For instance, if I had a manager, I will have more time to focus on becoming the best model since I would not have to worry about the negotiating of contracts and payments.


Are there many self-managing models in the industry? What advice would you give to a self-managing model?

There are as many freelance models as there those who are under management in the industry.

The advice I would give to a self-managing model like me is – self-management is not easy but nothing good comes easy. So stay focused; build your brand and portfolio, set goals and work towards them and most importantly learn to use social media to market your brand.

Also when starting out, many people would try to take advantage of you so build your negotiation skills and be firm at all times.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?

Every single thing. This career allows me to express myself in so many ways and be true to myself.

I also love seeing the product of my hard work. After all the stress, when I see the final work and it looks amazing, I am happy.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever done as a model?

Recently, I had to do a runway for a fashion graduate, Steve French. The concept was to act like a mad person on the runway. It was one of the most creative shows ever.


Which international brand would you like to model for and which concept would it be?

Vlisco. An editorial spread and a fashion film. The fashion film will tell a story about the history of African Prints. And I would be the model styled in some iconic Vlisco designs since its inception.

I also dream of being a Victoria’s Secret model. That will be a dream come true for me.

Want to see women you know featured on SLA? Tell us what amazing things women are doing in your communities here.

Given Mnane: I started modelling to keep myself busy

Given Mnane

Every pageant entrant has a unique story to tell about the pursuit of taking home the crown. But what’s more interesting is the story of a married woman and mother who takes her shot at a dream.

South African businesswoman Given Mnane is a mother, mentor and top 40 finalist for the Mrs. Africa Pageant. In this chat, she lets us know why she mentors girls from disadvantaged backgrounds, lets us see behind the scenes of pageantry. Given also shares why she hopes to win the Mrs. Africa title. Inspired yet? Keep reading, it gets better.

Has it always been modelling for you or did it just happen?

Honestly, it just happened.

After my first child, I needed to keep myself busy so I entered my first Pageant, Mrs. Rustenburg in 2011 which I won and as they say, the rest is history.

What did it take to make it to the semi-finals of Mrs. Africa.

I had to fill in grilling questionnaires and send in my pictures. Being already involved in charity also helped me get considered as a finalist. All it took was my knowledge and love for my continent and my country.

When you love someone or something it becomes easy for you to care, protect, grow, assist and to devote your time and attention to that.

I’ve always loved Africa and for some weird reason, I was expecting to be in the top 100 at the very least but to my surprise, I made the top 40. Being here, for me, it means I can use this platform to bring the much needed change that the disadvantaged of my community need.

I’m on a platform that allows me to change a young disadvantaged girl’s life through the Dignity Dreams Foundation —a foundation that provides girls with washable/reusable pads.

Tell us about your motivational talks.

First, I believe in human greatness and I always speak on issues that encourage people to find themselves and to establish who they really are.

I believe everyone has a God-given purpose to fulfill and I try to assist whoever cares to listen find purpose and live life to the full.

I’m very passionate about the development of women and girls and I largely speak on issues that affect or hinder women’s growth. I do corporate and private functions, MC jobs, conferences etc.

given mnane mrs africa

Besides modelling, what do you do?

I am the proud owner and director of a company called Onalekgato Consultancy Empire. This still-developing company offers a variety of services like life-coaching and image consultation. We are branching into home design & hopefully, Architecture. The aim is to give our clients a holistic and solid lifestyle – from their home to their looks.

I’m also a lecturer at my local community college called Iphatlhose in Tlhabane, under the department of higher education. I teach Natural Sciences.

I mentor Given’s Angels, a few young women from all walks of life. Given’s Angels is a social club aimed at assisting young ladies in becoming aware of life’s issues. We help them become exceptional and independent women.

I’m a philanthropist, I do charity work around my city Rustenburg. I collect clothing and shoes then distribute them to the needy. I also do events to raise money for homes/shelters. Lately, I’m raising money to buy Dignity Dream packs for girls so they don’t miss school during their periods.

How do you handle the pressure, especially as you are involved in a lot of projects?

I have pastimes like seeing movies and baking. When I feel pressured, I do things for fun. This helps me get a clearer picture of what I should be doing.

I believe one has to work hard but play just as hard.

Soapie or drama?

Nothing wrong with soapies I guess, but they are just not for me. I wasted too much time on soapies growing up, time that I can’t get back.

I’m going to choose drama instead, even though I prefer documentaries.

You’re also a mentor. When did you start mentoring? How do you pick your mentees?

I started in 2012 with one girl and by 2014, my mentorship program had grown to 18 girls and 5 women. I always allow my mentees spread their wings. It’s easier that way to ascertain if they’ve learned anything and can stand on their own feet without me being their support.

This year, I resorted to having a manageable number of 12 mentees and they are starting to flourish already. I always choose my girls based on their background. I prefer the girls from disadvantaged backgrounds, girls with low self esteem, those that feel hopeless and sidelined.

What will winning Mrs. Africa mean to you?

It will mean I can make my continent great by empowering African women. There’s a famous saying; ”Empower a man, you have empowered a community, empower a woman, you have empowered the entire nation.”

Africa needs women who will rise up and make it great. Winning this title will break the barriers of the ‘no entry’ and ‘not adequate enough’ signs that have labeled me. I will be able to steer my continent towards the right direction.

Want to see women you know featured on SLA? Tell us what amazing things women are doing in your communities here.

Edem Fairre: I need to push more boundaries if I must get to the top

edem fairre

Edem Fairre is one of the few models in Ghana who has managed to turn modelling into a career. She was discovered by Donthes Media in 2010 fully ventured into modelling in 2014.

Though she has been in the industry for barely two years, she has walked several runways across the country; worked with known brands like Beige Capital Bank, Nivea, Renault, Samsung, Bayer Chemist, Joy FM, DSTV sport, Airtel Ghana as well as various fashion designers. She holds a managerial position in one of the top modeling agencies in Ghana, Empire Gh Models.

Naana Joa had a chat with Edem, who though has achieved so much in the industry than many Ghanaian models, still feels the need to push more boundaries to achieve her goal.

Why do you feel the need to push more boundaries? What is the goal?

It doesn’t matter your achievement in life, there’s always room for improvement. There’s always something new to learn; a new goal to set and achieve. I’ve focused mostly on lingerie, promotional, commercial and sport modeling.  

I’ve not had time to perfect my runway skills but this is something I intend to correct. There’s more to achieve in my field of work. Equipping myself and excelling at all aspects of modeling will help me stand a better chance at getting to the top.

My goal is to be a supermodel like Naomi Campbell or Tyra Banks who managed to establish themselves as the most recognised and in-demand models of their time.

I also want to prove that modelling is a real career like law, medicine, engineering and business.

Entrepreneurs and professionals alike complain of bottlenecks to getting to their goals and reaching the top. What would you say has been a hindrance for you?

It’s easier blaming where I come from but that would be somewhat unfair since Africa has raised champions.  I admit there are limitations in Africa. You’ll need to go the extra mile to break boundaries here. But with hardwork, dedication and talent, I believe this can be done.

Personally, I’ve had challenges like self-doubt, my current studies at the university, and lack of funds. Surprisingly, models also doubt their work and themselves. Our job is to portray a character and the goal is to get it right. So when the results for the work done shows otherwise, self-doubt sets in. You begin to doubt your worth and suitability.

I am currently studying ABE UK marketing management at the university.  This simply means losing some job opportunities. But this course is to help me manage my brand better so I’m not one to complain.

In the industry, other people call the shots especially when you do not have the funds to promote your brand. You are taken advantage of and made to settle for less than you deserve.

Professionally, I will say unhealthy competitions and partiality is another challenge. Though the modeling industry in Ghana is small, it is very competitive and I love competitions. They push you to be better at what you do. But it gets ugly when competitors use unethical means to get contracts. This results in unqualified models being given jobs while the qualified are bypassed.


What steps are you taking to changing the narrative?

Regarding self-doubt, I am working on building my self-confidence and keeping a positive mind and outlook on things.

I have also accepted that losing jobs because I have to be in school is totally worth it.

To solve the issue of lack of funds, I am on the verge of breaking through in the movie industry.  Also in the pipeline is hosting gig for a television show called Event Update on Top TV. These I believe would give me something on the side to help push me to the top.

With unhealthy competitions and partiality, I believe models need to be independent. This way, they are able to fund their own projects. This may not entirely solve the issue. However, it would be a start.

Advice for budding models?

  • Be yourself
  • Respect yourself and those you work with
  • Don’t sell yourself short in the name of modeling
  • Accept a good job even if it may not pay well


If you were to contest with an African model, who would it be?

Well, I’d contest with myself.

There must be a secret to your success as a model. Tell us about it.

If I tell then it wouldn’t be a secret anymore. But I’d be willing to share with any woman who joins the modelling family.   

Do you ever imagine not reaching your goals? What would you do if that happens?

That is not an option! I have worked so hard and patiently. I will not accept failure.

Want to see women you know featured on SLA? Tell us what amazing things women are doing in your communities here.

How to be a fashion model when you’re clueless

aina fadina model

Those who are aware know that modelling is a fast-paced exciting career that can take you to new places. But breaking into the fashion scene can be hard, especially if you’re aiming international and you’re an African girl.

To find out more, we talked to Aina Fadina, a model and entrepreneur who has done in-house work for Oscar De La Renta, Alexander McQueen, Versace and more. Aina graciously shared her advice on breaking into the fashion industry and the tools any aspiring model needs.

Understand the business

Top models from Naomi Campbell to Jourdan Dunn have called out the challenges of being a black model and Aina agrees.

“I think the fashion business is still very challenging for any model. Period. The business has changed so much but for the black model, it is a lot harder. I have seen a slight increase of black girls in editorials and commercials. Brands have finally noticed the power consumers have, however, it is still challenging.”

The challenge is further complicated by the fact that models now compete with celebrities for jobs. Aina’s advice is that if you understand the business and are strategic enough, you can pull through.

Tips to get into the industry

There are no shortcuts to this, you’ll have to work hard while remaining smart. Aina’s top tips are,

  • Do your homework. Study boards of the top agencies and brands to learn about the business behind fashion and network authentically.
  • Get a mentor! In every profession, you need mentorships so find someone willing to guide you through.

naomi_jourdanThe power of social media

If you’re broke, have no connections and still want to be a model, social media is your friend. Learn to use it to your advantage. These days, clients are going directly to talents, so you need to know how to market yourself.

Also, consider getting a part-time job in fashion or entertainment industry, it can help to gain access.

Maintaining relevance as a model

Now once you’ve gotten into the industry and are working your way to being a top model, you still need to be on top of your game. The most important thing for Aina is being nice to your clients and agents.

She says you should always check in with your agents and have great work ethics and values. Make sure you show up before your call time and always offer to stay longer if needed.

Aina shared this saying, “It is nice to be important; however, it is more important to be nice.” Wise words, right?

Good luck to you as you embark on your modelling career!


Aina Fadina: I wanted to see a change in mainstream media

aina fadina i for africa

In a time where virtually anyone can discovering their production skills using their mobile phones, webseries have become a means to address the lack of diversity in mainstream media. I for Africa is one such series that features and celebrates African-inspired innovators across different industries. Its founder, entrepreneur, fashion model and creative director, Aina Fadina recently chatted with SLA about the series, which is now in its third season.

What was the spark that leads you to create I for Africa?

Living in NYC, I was surrounded by so many talented and innovative creatives, entrepreneurs, and innovative thinkers inspired by Africa, and I thought they needed to be celebrated. As I traveled around the world, I noticed the same examples.

I realized there was something here. I felt that it was important to change the narrative of what mainstream media was reporting about Africans and immigrants. It’s important to change the narrative of our stories and the people telling African stories around the world.

With so many web series, how do you stand out?

The engagement with guests on the show is in a very relaxed format that draws the viewer in to the conversation. It is a conversation between two friends talking about what inspires them and motivates them to be pursuing their ventures.

Additionally, the program highlights the transatlantic journey of people from different ports inspired by Africa.

What defines someone inspired by the African continent? How do you brainstorm episodes and people to interview? Have you faced any difficulty finding personalities to talk to for the series?

Someone inspired by Africa is in the manner in which they choose to celebrate the continent through their creative ideas. It’s the connection of the heart and soul to the continent.

With coming up with episodes, I reflect on who I am inspired by personally and professionally. My finger is always on the pulse of what is happening, so it makes it quite easy to think about who to interview. Finding someone to interview is actually quite easy for me. I have a lot of friends who have recommended other creative friends. People have been very kind to say yes.

There are so many dope people doing phenomenal things, so brainstorming is quite easy. An interview depends where I am, if I am able to connect to the people, and if they have a project coming out.

Overall, coming up with a list of people isn’t challenging at all because there are so many creatives inspired by Africa.

Did you have to learn any new skills to host a web series?

I have experience modelling international. For modelling, I took commercial acting classes, which allowed me to transition to hosting. I have developed an acute understanding camera presence, engaging with people in the same space and how to engage with the camera.

What has been the one I for Africa episode that stands out to you?

They all stand out for me, every person I have interviewed has inspired me in so many ways.

If I had to choose, perhaps it’ll be the first ones I shot in South by South West. Once we were done, I realized this is what I wanted to do. It also showed me that the path of content production wasn’t an easy one, but I wanted it. I wanted to see a change in mainstream media, rather than complain about it, I needed to create a solution. Taking that first step to create something is what stands out to me. Starting something isn’t hard; the challenge is how you chose to continue.

As someone who travels a lot for work, which African city holds the most cheerful memories for you?

Tough one…I have loved every African city for various reasons. Lagos fills the core of my existence. Cape Town challenged me the most from a psychological perspective. It was there that I met two friends —who became brothers— who welcomed me with open arms. Accra speaks to my soul. Cotonou brings beautiful childhood memories.

If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here.

Maphefo Ingrid Mashigo: I hated every minute of the corporate world

How many single mothers and divorced women do you know in the modeling industry? From that number, do you know any that will leave their stable job with guaranteed income to introduce young, unknown girls from the village into the world of modeling? Well, meet Maphefo Ingrid Mashigo. Maphefo is the young Limpopo-born woman who opened up Bokamoso Future Models to young women in rural areas. Maphefo doesn’t just discover models, she produces them. To Maphefo, models are her ‘rare, raw, rough diamonds’.

When did you know modeling was in you?

Modeling runs in my family, I was inspired by my aunts and uncles. They were models in the local scene and I got to love modelling because of them. Since I was a little girl, I’ve always loved the spotlight. I did a lot of drama and beauty pageants from the age of six.

Like I have mentioned, my surrounding was a big influence.

Tell us about Bokamoso Future Models. What have you  achieved to date?

With Bokamoso Future Models, I produce models from the rural areas who have never modeled before. I want to bring them to the international stage. For a company that is only eight months old, we have shaken the industry and are taking it by storm. Before people know it, they won’t know what hit them. I am so happy to announce that I have a model that is going to represent South Africa at the Miss Heritage International that will be taking place in India this December.

I look up to the likes of Tyra Banks who has her own production company. I would want to be remembered as an icon.

There are so many modeling agencies out there, what are you bringing that is different?

Unlike any other agency, I don’t sign models, I produce them. That is a big difference.

I spend a lot of time, until the wee hours of the morning hosting extensive trainings and workshops. I provide transport for my models to castings, auditions and shoots; they don’t have to pay for such services. More than anything else, I mentor them.

In an industry that is clouded by a lot of negativity such drugs, alcohol and also anorexia, How do you guard yourself and your models against it all?

Morals are something that were instilled in me by my grandparents from a very young age. I am personally not a huge fan of alcohol and my parents taught me those things are demonic. I have never forgot those lessons. The fact that I am a Christian and a huge believer helps and guides me in everything I do.

How did you find the corporate world and when did you know it was time to leave?

Corporate world? I hated every minute of it. I never looked forward to going to the office. The idea of working for someone else was slowly killing me daily as I’ve always wanted to be independent. The salary was good and it got me by, but I was never happy.

The fear of living an unhappy life forever based on a good salary was not part of my plans. Maphefo had to come to life.

Being a single mother and business owner in the shrewd modelling industry, how do you handle everything?

We have an amazing father called God, through him, all things are possible.

The father of my child does not support her in any form but we are surviving through the angels that God had sent through. I have amazing friends, business associates and parents who look out for us and assist me with anything I need.

The world has so many ills, what calms you down?

I am very family oriented and my daughter calms me down.

You have a hoarse voice, have you ever been mistaken for a man on the phone?

Hahahaha, no! I am instead encouraged to do radio presenting. I have such a deep, strong voice even if I can say so myself.

Want to see women you know featured on SLA? Tell us what amazing things women are doing in your communities here.