With NZ Fashion Week in full swing, Alice Lolohea speaks to some of the Pasifika models strutting their stuff on on the catwalk this year.
Occupation/s: Lawyer, Plus size model
Tell us how you were first discovered?
I was at Countdown with my Mum and my sister and a makeup artist walked up and introduced herself to me. She asked if I would be interested in plus size modelling and gave me a few agencies to get in contact with. I initially took the chance and contacted a few agencies as I thought this could be a foot into acting, and thankfully I got picked up by Red11.
Did you ever aspire to model when you were younger?
Never. I had serious self-esteem issues growing up and it was never a thought in my mind. I never felt like I was ever ‘model’ material because growing up, there was literally no one in the media that looked like me, so it was always something that I thought was out of my league! I also grew up in an environment that was hostile towards ‘modelling’ because it was perceived as being ‘vain’ or even ‘arrogant.’ I think in the age of social media and cultural changes, the perception has somewhat changed.
As a Pacific model, have you faced any obstacles during your time in the business? How have you overcome them?
Despite New Zealand being the home of an array of ethnicities and Polynesians, there is still a lack of Polynesian representation when it comes to modelling, even though there are so many beautiful and talented Polynesians here. It’s hard to get visibility in the media, in fashion, on the runway, in campaigns, and it’s even harder when you add being plus size to the mix. You are almost fighting against the wave to have representation and visibility. The only way to overcome these boundaries is to never give up and to always use your experience, platform and shared opportunities to help bring up other Poly brothers or sisters.
You’ve got the unique position of being both a lawyer and a model – what are some of the skills or experiences of being a lawyer that you’d take with you into modelling and vice versa?
I can honestly say that both are equally demanding, but the two roles are polar opposites of each other! However, being a lawyer, you are under a lot of pressure 24/7, and you learn various ways of being able to deal with it. I think that the coping mechanisms that I developed as a lawyer really help me deal with the pressure and rejections of the modelling industry.
You’ve been quite vocal about body positivity on your social media platforms. Tell us about your journey of self-acceptance – how long did it take for you to get to that place of self-love?
It’s definitely a journey, because I still have days where I struggle with myself for whatever reason. I’d say that a huge difference between then and now is that I am more aware of my negative thoughts about myself and am more conscious that any self-negativity is just a thought and not reality. It really is all in the mind. When I was younger I really struggled to accept that I have a typical ‘Polynesian’ body. I have big feet, thick thighs and curves. Once I realised that I am never going to be anyone but me, the shift in how I saw myself began and I started to accept and find the beauty in all the ‘different’ ways my body and face made me… me!
I also think that what I put into my body has really shifted the way I feel and as a result, I feel more confident, because I feel my best when I am eating my best. I have been plant based/vegan for the past five years, and it has been one of the most fundamentally positive shifts I could have taken with regards to my “self-love journey”. The mental and physical clarity I gained once I became aware of food – how food is sourced, how it affects my body, how it affects people, animals and the environment – has been exponential.
Now that the mould for the ‘traditional’ model is changing, what does it actually take to be successful in the business?
I’m definitely still learning, but I think that not being afraid to take risks is key. If you are truly passionate about something, what other people say or think does not matter. I often talk to other Polynesian female models who struggle to take on opportunities because it culturally conflicts with their family. I think that culture is fluid and forever changing for a reason, and there is no reason why anyone should be stopped from pursuing opportunities, unless it personally does not align with their own beliefs.
Also, accepting that there will be a lot of rejection. I have been rejected more times than I can count, but the incredible opportunities that I have come across due to my persistence and hard work outweighs every ‘no’ I have ever been told. So, keep it up and never take no as a sign you should stop. Take it as a sign that you should work harder!
Name a few of your fashion or modelling inspirations
My Mum, Vangana. When she was younger, she was a serious fashionista. She had such a diverse sense of style but still managed to be classy, edgy and current. I still look back at her photos and draw inspiration from how she styled her outfits and shoes.
Ashley Graham. I love how she interplays different styles! I have a lot of respect for Ashley. She really has paved the way for plus size visibility, marketability and body positivity.
My sister Sonata Faletau. I look up to her journey as a model and the courageous steps she takes to pursue what she wants. One day she was talking about how she wants to move to Sydney to model; the next week she booked her flight to Sydney, got signed by Bella Management and had a few jobs lined up within a few weeks. You really do need that type of fearless attitude when it comes to this industry!
Dinah Jane. I have always been such a huge fan of Dinah’s, and it’s such a trip that we have connected on social media! It’s hard being a Polynesian woman in the industry because a lot of culturally conservative people always have an opinion on what’s appropriate or not. She’s still true to her own style and fashion and absolutely kills her outfits. As a Pacific woman, she really is breaking fashion and cultural norms for the better, and you just can’t help but feel proud that we literally have a Tongan sister out there killing the industry fashionably!
Name 3 of your favourite Kiwi / Pacific designers you have worked for or would like to work for.
Sammy Salsa is a Polynesian stylist I’ve worked with on a charity runway show. I LOVED working with Sammy. He has such a fresh, creative mind. I also can’t help but feel proud seeing a Polynesian kill it in this industry, because we are a rarity in this particular sector.
I’d love to work with any Pacific designer. In particular I have been loving Kanumez. Their modern spin on cultural attire is so beautiful to me, not only aesthetically but also because it represents the ways in which culture is fluid and forever changing.
I’d love to work with Kiwi designer Trelise Cooper. I absolutely LOVE all her designs and love that she caters to a range of sizes. Her garments and campaigns are always so classy, elegant, simple yet beautiful and often have a range of beautiful models.
What’s one piece of advice you’d share for anyone who’s considering a career in the fashion industry?
The industry needs you. Spend less time thinking about it and just do it! If you needed a sign, this is it!