HUNGER meets Cameroon-born, London-based model and agent to talk about fashion’s future, inclusivity on the catwalk and being her own boss.
Hey Brenda! How did you get into modelling? Was it always something you were interested in pursuing?
No actually it wasn’t! I never really had a career in mind but I loved music and taking photos! During my A-levels, I originally applied to study music production but later I changed my mind and applied to study business management. I was accepted by a few universities with unconditional offers! However by the time I finished my exams, I realised that I wouldn’t enjoy having a career in that field! Amazingly, just as I completed my A-levels, the Cameroonian designer, Patou Manga, who sadly died in 2016, was having a fashion show in London. A friend of mine introduced us and he booked me as one of his models! I realised how much I loved the feeling of being in front the camera, and this was what I really wanted to do as a career. I organised shoots with mcmlondon to put together my portfolio which I used to apply to fashion shoots and projects. The rest is history!
You also founded Ciel Model Management this year – what’s the ethos behind this agency? How is it different from others?
I started this agency because I wanted to move away from the 20th-century stereotypes and showcase a diverse range of looks that illustrates the increasingly cross-cultural society we live in. I feel that too much consideration is given to the industry’s conventional standard of beauty, promoting the idea of “The Perfect Body” i.e. size 0-4, which can lead to serious eating disorders (something I suffered from myself for over a year). So I was determined to dedicate CIEL to supporting healthy models, and to encourage the industry to understand that fashion is not the preserve of the ultra-slim, and models should reflect the shapes and sizes of the potential customers.
The biggest difference between CIEL and other agencies is the fact that it was founded by a model: ME. No one can understand what it takes to be a model except the models themselves. Other agencies haven’t been in my shoes: a black, lesbian and female model. CIEL isn’t just an agency. I have made it a safe place for models where they can be themselves and not feel pressurised to be someone else. All the models have a story to tell and most of them have shared this with me.
What would you like to see more of in the fashion industry?
There are two key things. Firstly, I think the fashion industry needs to learn to see models as humans and not just walking clothes hangers. I strongly disagree with the way models are treated and pushed about in the industry. Abuse is very common in the industry, both verbally and sexually. There have been several cases where models have been abused by clients, and agents have done nothing to protect them. In most cases, where it has happened it is usually brushed under the carpet, and some agents have been known to tell models to do it for the sake of the “exposure” or yelled at them and said “you are only a model so you shouldn’t complain.” Now this where the industry has failed! What does it mean to be a model? Does it mean you should lose your dignity and yourself in the process? Many agents think they have the right to tell models lose weight … I mean this is not buildyourmodel.com, I feel like most bookers/agents are just insecure people who try to make someone else into something they dream to be. I mean, how can you tell me to not eat while you’re tucking into KFC? Come on, let’s be real!
Secondly, I want to see genuine diversity in the industry. No, I don’t mean booking only black models for a fashion show/campaign or only Asian models because that’s still tokenism in reverse. Genuine diversity will involve all type of models irrespective of race, religion, gender, sexuality, physical ability and so on. The Industry needs to stop using diversity as a “theme” or trend to get praised for. If you truly support diversity, you will continue to book all types of models! I also want to see diversity behind the scenes. There is so much talent around the world! I am tired of makeup artists who don’t know how to do dark skin and afro hair! I want to see diversity in content creators, the backstage crew at shows, magazine editors…
In your Insta bio you write “I Don’t Do Fashion. I Am Fashion.” – can you elaborate on this?
Fashion isn’t about garments, pictures, cameras, makeup etc. Fashion is the people and the earlier we wake up to this the better: people in the fashion industry have lost themselves and their purpose. They work in quantity and not quality, everyone is in a rush to produce and I don’t know why!! If you have noticed, most brands make the same things, because they are all focused on the numbers, so they recruit models, photographers, etcetera, based on their following and not their ability to deliver something truly inspiring or unique. I believe that the fashion industry is meant to be a place for all creatives to express themselves via their specialised skilled fields.
Who are your top five female creatives to follow on Instagram and why?
MAGIC OWEN (@MagicOwenPhotography). She is an angel sent from heaven into my life! An amazing photographer who should be shooting covers but is so slept on! I really look up to her and I appreciate her so much for everything she has done for me. She believed in me the first time she set eyes on me.
JAZZELLE (@uglyworldwide) because I mean who doesn’t love Jazzelle! I really plan to work with her some day and better still be friends! I just love her vibe so much and how she is unapologetic herself.
LAURAINE BAILEY (@laurainebailey). She is like a fashion mum to me and an amazing hair stylist. Since I met her at a shoot where she did my hair, I have connected with her big time! She is always there and real people like her are hard to come by in the industry.
MISS BONES (@bonesandheels): she is such an amazing stylist & creative director! Honestly her work is outstanding and I think she’s a babe! Definitely need more like her in the industry.
KAREN BENGO (@Karenbengo) because she’s unstoppable! Super talented actress, absolutely breathe taking model and an amazing soul. She is so under the radar and needs to be discovered asap.
Who or what is your biggest inspiration?
My biggest inspiration is my mother! She is the most hard working person I know, she doesn’t take a no for an answer and if she wants something she gets it! We came from one of the poorest families in my village back in Cameroon. If anyone told me I’d be in London running my own agency at the age of 21 I would have probably said no but because of everything I have learnt and I’m learning from her, I have realised that in life, you can either sit there and feel sorry for yourself or you could get up and fight for your future! I only had £50 when I started my modelling agency CIEL but that was not an obstacle I was going to let hold me back. I had a plan and that’s just something I learnt from her. She always has a plan! I pray I get to be even half the woman she is!
Any upcoming projects you can share?
I shot a really exciting campaign with an icon in the fashion industry few months back… it’s out this September! Can you guess who it is? I will give a hint, starts with a V or you can stalk my socials to find out or you just might spot me somewhere, who knows?!
Finally, your dream creative goal?
If I said a specific thing then I did be lying to myself. I honestly don’t know. I don’t think I have one; I just want to be the best version of myself in everything I do. I am constantly learning and finding myself everyday so how could I have a specific thing that I’d want to limit myself to? I mean just this year, I have worked as a fashion stylist, started photography and have my own agency! I just want to continue to inspire the people around me through my dedication to following my dreams, passion and vision. I want to create a longer table instead of building a higher fence, because I feel as though my purpose in this world is to help others. I genuinely believe you haven’t lived until you have done something for someone who can never repay you. So as a creative, I would say my goal is to continue to create out of this world content.
13 September 2018