The fashion industry captures our imagination with high-end fashion shows and photo-shoots, but there is a side of the industry that often remains hidden from the limelight. Behind the glamour and glitz, there are untold stories of aspiring models who embark on a journey filled with dreams and aspirations, only to face unexpected challenges and setbacks. In this article, we shed light on the less glamorous but equally important side of the fashion industry, where success is not guaranteed, and the path to stardom can be a rocky one.
The allure of the runway, the allure of glossy magazine covers and the promise of international stardom attract individuals from all walks of life. It’s a world where beauty, style and personality are celebrated, but it’s also a world where the competition is fierce, the standards are high and the road to success is often fraught with obstacles.
A recent investigation by the Sunday Times revealed a sobering reality for many as these aspiring models recruited by agencies that promise a better future, undergo an arduous journey from refugee camps to the fashion capitals of Europe. The models, having passed the initial recruitment stage, embark on a voyage that grants them government-approved work permits, propelling them from the camp to Nairobi. From there, a world of opportunities unfolds as they obtain passports, visas and venture into Europe. In this new realm, they are welcomed with accommodations and a modest weekly allowance ranging from €70 to €100 to cover their expenses.
Yet, as the investigation reveals, not all these dreams are fulfilled. Many aspiring models, facing the challenge of securing paid work or being deemed unfit for the industry, return to Kenya laden with debt and with shattered hopes.
South Sudanese model Alcol Malaul Jau’s story is emblematic of the challenges many aspiring models face. Her journey from the Kakuma refugee camp in Turkana County to the catwalks of Europe was filled with hard work and ambition, but it didn’t guarantee financial success. After her return to the refugee camp, Jau was confronted with a debt of approximately €3,000, a stark reminder of the uncertainties that pervade the fashion industry.
The fashion industry is not only demanding but also unpredictable. Models are often at the mercy of subjective opinions and even the most dedicated and hard working individuals may not achieve the level of success they aspire to. Client feedback, casting decisions and industry preferences all play a pivotal role in determining a model’s trajectory.
Agencies like Select Model Management shoulder both the dreams and disappointments of their models. While CEO Matteo Puglisi expressed regret for models like Jau who did not succeed as expected, he also revealed the challenging nature of the business. In an interview with The Times, Puglisi also stated that issuing models with debt statements ia a “Fiscal Obligation.” “We need to ask for reimburesement twice, but the models never reimburse us and we do not ask a third time. We never hire a lawyer to recover the money,” he added. Models are often issued debt statements, but agencies may refrain from legal actions, understanding the uncertainties that come with this industry.
Behind the scenes, models also navigate intricate networks and relationships that can influence their careers. The story of Joan Okorodudu, a Nigerian businesswoman who signs models to her agency, Isis Models, and facilitates their entry into larger agencies, underscores the multifaceted nature of the fashion world.
Despite these hurdles, there are success stories that inspire hope and optimism. Models like Rejoice Chuol, an 18-year-old native of Kakuma, now resides in London and has walked the runway for Dolce & Gabbana, gracing magazine ads for H&M. Her aspirations go beyond modelling, she aims to be an ambassador for her homeland, and Mari Malek, who is advocating for refugee models through Runways to Freedom, demonstrate that dreams can become reality, even in the face of adversity. She recognizes the surge in demand for diversity and inclusion in the fashion industry. “African models, dark-skin models, black models, and especially South Sudanese models are renowned for their striking beauty and powerful look,” Malek emphasized.
In an industry where success is never guaranteed, the stories of resilience, determination and the pursuit of dreams deserve recognition. The proverb, “There are many slips ‘twixt the cup and the lip,” emphasizes that even when something seems certain or guaranteed, unexpected obstacles or challenges can arise and success is not always guaranteed. It serves as a reminder that for every shining star on the runway, there are countless others who persevere in their pursuit of a dream, no matter how elusive it may seem. It is a testament to the indomitable spirit of those who continue to chase their passions, despite the unpredictable nature of the fashion world.