‘My personal experiences made me develop interest in speaking up for models’
International supermodel, Adesola Adeyemi, is living the life of her dreams, proving that with hard work, perseverance, and resilience, no goal is impossible to achieve.
Rising from obscurity to become one of the first indigenous Nigerian models to work with many well-known international brands, she has strutted runways in New York Fashion Week, with renowned designers like Pamela Roland, chiarabonilapetiterobe, Christian Cowan, Patbo, Custo Barcelona, Bibhu Mohapatra, and has been featured in Vogue Italia, Marie Claire, Moevir Magazine, models.com, among others.
A fierce defender of model rights in Nigeria, Adesola advocates for industry standards to prevent the sexual and financial exploitation of fashion models.
Overcoming many obstacles, she is now one of the most sought-after indigenous Nigerian models on the international scene and is currently signed to Wilhelmina models, a leading modelling and talent agency.
The outspoken mental health advocate, who constantly speaks about the importance of nurturing the psychological welfare of models, spoke with TOBI AWODIPE about being scouted by chance at the University of Lagos campus, protecting models from the harsh industry and why mental health must be taken more seriously.
Being an international supermodel is what most people could only dream of; how would you describe this journey?
I WOULD say the journey has been fair, with various milestones and difficulties that thankfully, I was able to overcome. I compare my life as a model to a puzzle. Pursuing this goal comes with its challenges. It takes strategy, grace, smart thinking, some disappointments and some good luck.
You said you were scouted in UNILAG, could you take us through your career journey till you were able to walk the world’s biggest runways?
I had a distinct way of dressing; I was always dressed in colors, especially pink or purple, and I would always wear high heels everywhere I went, because, in my mind, I was a model, even though I had no background exposure to modelling. Prior to meeting this scout, I had come across people who would pretend to be helping me get a modelling contract, gigs and so on, but nothing ever came out of it. However, I was never discouraged.
I never stopped telling people about my interest in modelling. One day, I was walking to the gate with my high heels from Makama Hostel to UNILAG gate, and then this man asks me, ‘Are you a model?’ My response was ‘yes.’ And he says, ‘what agency are you with?’ I responded, ‘None, I am trying to find one.’ And then he said he would introduce me to a modelling agent named Eriks. Although I was excited, I was a bit nervous at the same time. As a young lady who didn’t want to fall prey to predators, I was very wary. I questioned him further, and thereafter, I decided to give the agent a call.
I remember going to the appointment with a friend, due to safety concerns. When the agent saw me, he immediately said I should audition for Nigeria’s Next Super Model. I wasn’t actually prepared, and I hadn’t heard anything about the contest prior to meeting with the agent. Thankfully, I got selected, participated and was first runner-up in the competition. Afterwards, my agent advised me to participate in Ghana Fashion Week. I participated in and was given an award for Best Model Ghana fashion week 2013. My zeal for modelling increased, but I was barely making money.
In 2014, I contested for the Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria (MBGN) and represented Katsina State. Unfortunately, the pageant clashed with my 300 levels exam, which made me miss the MBGN camp. But my little participation in the MBGN contest gave me the opportunity to meet a scout from Elite Model Look Nigeria, who encouraged me to participate in the competition. Although I was reluctant at first, I decided to give it a try and came first runner-up again. Here, I got my first promising exposure to modelling and started making a little money to fend for myself. I had a whole fantasy, but I was also strategic with my actions.
After graduating from the university, I focused on executing my plans how to be an international model. I then decided to reach out to agencies abroad and have appointments with them.
The first time I tried this, I didn’t have much luck, as most agencies said they couldn’t sponsor my visa, as I was fresh from Nigeria with no tear sheets/portfolio from Europe or South Africa to support my visa. I went back to Nigeria, thinking about how to get myself to Europe.
However, months later, my instincts told me to try again. I returned to New York City, and this time around, I had better luck, as I also realised that all the tear sheets of jobs, contests and recognition I had gotten while modelling in Nigeria, were strong enough to support my visa processes.
I got signed to a modelling agency, sorted my visa and then faced the reality of being a model in New York City. It wasn’t an easy one, especially when my agents told me that I would be walking the runway during New York Fashion Week. It was a dream come true, but I knew that they had high expectations regarding my performance. Thankfully, it all went well.
What is it like working with the biggest names in this industry?
Very fulfilling for me. This makes me reflect on my journey and never forget where I am coming from. I am always grateful and thankful to be opportune to work with some big names.
What does it take to be a top international model in today’s world?
It takes a lot of grit. It’s a highly competitive industry, where your looks are severely scrutinized. Your personality and intelligence also play a major role in how you are perceived.
Just like every career, passion, dedication, and consistency are required to make it to the top. As a model, a management team that believes in you is also instrumental to success.
Some of the things you saw and experienced you said, led you into fighting for the model’s rights. What are some of these experiences?
My personal experiences, as well as seeing some of my colleagues’ struggles, made me develop an interest in speaking up for models. There is a whole lot I have seen. I’ve seen some of my colleagues get so pressured, supported by some of their agents, about their bodies, that they develop unhealthy habits, just to be able to meet the unrealistic statistics requirements. In the process, they develop disorders like bulimia, anorexia, body dysmorphia and so on. Over time, they still end up getting dropped from the agency.
Sexual and financial exploitation is rife in this industry, as you have pointed out, what best can stakeholders do to change this?
I believe that transparency and accountability are imperative. Predators should not be protected; they should be called out and where applicable, legal prosecution should be pursued. Victims must be protected at all costs and not shamed for speaking out about their experiences.
As an accountant, how did this background help in progressing your career?
Being an accountant has made it very easy for me to keep track of my money. I can easily spot errors made in my statements and it’s really difficult for me to be cheated, as I create my own personal account statements.
Also, my accounting background sort of influences my prudent side, which is why I always apply my cost-benefit analysis before making any monetary decisions.
Having faced many challenges in your career, how would you say these experiences shaped you into the person you are today?
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I am proud to be who I am today. My experiences have given me more strength than I ever thought I could attain. Every challenge I have faced has moulded me into a stronger, more outspoken, and to be courageous goal-getter. These experiences have also prompted me to always believe in myself, to be an inspiration to others, and to be grateful always.
As a mental health advocate, what key role does mental health play in the career longevity of models?
I am happy to see that conversations about mental health are gradually coming out of the shadows. But I do hope to see it embraced fully in the industry, as it plays a major role in our overall well-being.
Mental health plays a major role in how a model can effectively and efficiently perform or be productive on set. In the industry, you have to be sociable and have the ability to network effortlessly.
Mental health plays a major role in being able to effectively do this, as when it’s impacted, withdrawal symptoms, anxiety, and depression can prevent you from doing this. I have seen people resort to substance abuse as a form of a coping mechanism in the industry due to their mental health situation, and the end results are usually really bad, as the models become more and more unproductive. Eventually, it ends their career. All these and many more are key roles mental health plays in the longevity of models.
Tell us something you did/do that has influenced your life and career positively.
Following my instincts has been so instrumental in getting this far in my career. Following my instinct to travel to America and find agencies without even knowing anyone or having enough travel experience. Putting aside my fears, not thinking about the outcome of my experience and just living in the moment, is all a result of following my instincts, and I’ve reaped the rewards of doing this. Also getting closer to my higher self and my spirituality has influenced my life positively.
In what ways are you helping and supporting the new generation of models coming after you?
As someone who has been through tough times navigating my way to thrive in the industry, I use my platform and also other media platforms to advocate for the improvement of the industry. I have advocated vocally for the mental welfare of models, as well as the new generation of models via renowned platforms like the Cornell Fashion Collective organised by Cornell University.
I have also given expert guidance on the industry at workshop events organised by Parsons, the Fashion Institute of Technology and other platforms. Through these avenues, I educate upcoming fashion creatives about the industry from my own perspectives. I motivate them by sharing my positive experiences and how I have handled my negative experiences and how they too can do the same.
I try my best to make myself available as a guide and mentor to the new generation of models, as I understand what it means to have no guidance or to feel alone despite knowing a lot of people in the industry.
If you could influence change, what change(s) would you want to see for the women in this industry?
Although I will not deny I am seeing subtle changes in the industry, I would love to see an industry with a wider range of sample sizes for women in the industry. As women, it is natural that your body shape and statistics change over time. Also, it is normal for women to experience some hormonal changes as we move from teenage years to adulthood.
It is so unfair to expect that we should still fit into the same sample sizes we fit into during our teenage years.
This expectation causes models to develop unhealthy habits. The same also applies to women, and the way our bodies evolve after childbirth. These are natural phenomena, and we must represent the real world of women in the industry. Women in the industry should be embraced in totality. No woman’s body is perfect. Cellulite, stretch marks, body hair etc, should not be hidden, but celebrated, rather than constantly portraying unattainable beauty standards to maintain that are beyond our control.
What does your typical day look like?
Every morning when I wake up, I meditate for at least 15 minutes. Then, I work out.
After this, I go into what I call my bath rituals, which vary from the use of sea salt, essential oils, skin prep and so on. It’s a therapeutic way of connecting to myself and taking care of my skin. I pay so much attention to my skin, as I feel it plays an important role in ageing. Also, I always use sunscreen, which I think most of us should endeavour to use daily.
Most times, I’m a homebody, but I do have lots of friends and we frequently have activities planned; either meeting for a drink, dinner, watching shows or other fun activities. Also, I go for a three-hour walk at least twice a week, where I get to walk by the waterside. I love walking through Randal Island Park. These walks help me to disconnect from the world and bond with nature.
I also take acting classes in the evening, which I also prepare for during the day. When I get back from my class, I love to research the client I will be meeting for the next day, whether it’s for a casting, shoot or show, as this gives me an idea of what the client wants. It helps me to prepare my style of dressing, the personality to portray and so on. Before I sleep, I prep my skin and sleep off while conversing with my creator.
What do you do to relax? What is your guilty pleasure?
Depending on the kind of relaxation I want, I either listen to music or meditate by the water or at the park. Also, I find my acting classes very therapeutic and relaxing.
I have several guilty pleasures, including eating varieties of delicious food. I also ensure that anywhere I am, they must play Afrobeats. I also love playing games on my phone till I fall asleep.
Who and what inspires/drives you?
Truthfully, I get my inspiration from the beauty and art of nature. Look at every bit of nature around you; the essence of its existence is so beautiful. The force of the creator in the style, beauty, art, and science of nature inspires me a lot. I get my drive from this same force and the survival instinct I see in nature.
What words of advice would you leave with younger women that want to walk this path?
Strive to be your unique self. Don’t take criticisms to heart. Be patient and kind to yourself, and always give yourself room for improvement to be a better, unique you. Be empathetic and treat your mental health and body like a treasure.
Lastly, always hope for the best, stay positive, and believe you have all that it takes to achieve your dreams. Dream big, and create a plan to achieve your goals.