Vanessa Umugabekazi – Tell her no, but this model will do it anyway

On Monday independent model and creative Vanessa Umugabekazi walked in the opening show for New Zealand Fashion Week 2018 – but she very easily might not have: it was only after she protested her right as an independent model to be able to attend castings.

Initially told she’d need an agent to be considered for official castings, she was firm she didn’t want one due to negative past experiences with them. When she did have one, she felt done with being told ‘You’re too short, you can only do commercial modelling, you won’t get booked’, add in extra issues with not being paid properly, she was determined to stand strong in her conviction – she wanted to represent herself. Being the thoughtful, creative writer she is too, she expressed her frustration of not being able to attend NZFW castings as an independent model on Instagram, despite having walked in NZFW before, this time she just didn’t have an agent. Her followers were shocked, in an age where the internet makes self-management logical, they themselves tagged @nzfashionwk in support of Vanessa.

Fashion Week replied:

“Hi Vanessa. Thank you for your reply. We appreciate your passion for casting as an independent model for NZ Fashion Week and will consider your request for next year’s event. As we’ve mentioned, you are welcome to approach designers directly and we wish you all the very best should you choose to do so. Kind regards the team at NZFW.”

Vanessa wrote back:

“We professional independent models don’t lack anything agency represented models do besides not being managed by someone else. We pay our taxes too. NZFW opening up their casting to professional independent models would be a big step in the NZ Fashion and modelling industry recognising and respecting the work of freelancers. I hope the opportunity is offered to us.”

Auckland based designer Turet Knuefermann caught wind of the post and called her in for a casting. A few hours after that she was booked. Knuefermann was the recipient of this year’s Mercedes-Benz Presents Award and officially opened the seven day event.

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“It’s funny now being able to model for certain brands or being in certain shows people thought you won’t be able to do – or being the first African girl in a certain show or competition – it’s cool to break all those barriers” – Vanessa Umugabekazi

The current pop culture market celebrates diversity, talks about inclusion and why representation matters. Hash tags like #blackgirlmagic show a global pride and hefty efforts worldwide to create a movement intent on reversing the narrative that fashion is for stick thin, 6ft out-of-this-world rare looking beast women of a lighter complexion. Because #staywoke #woc and online movements for young people of colour, the world of social media makes the terrain look different, but confusingly – social realities still feel the same. This makes modelling a tough place to be for a young woman of colour trying to navigate through castings especially when your face, skin and body is what you’re trading.

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