At only 24 years old, Sylvia Owalla stumbled into modeling in a way that seems proof some really have greatness thrust upon them. Now juggling modelling with a career in interior decor and a double-major at USIU, Owalla talks to Ivy Nyayieka about how she got into modelling, her exciting current read and the viral hashtag #PayModelsKe
How did you get into modeling?
I was working on a shoot and I was to drop an item at a studio. When I walked in the director, Bobby Garcia, was shouting at me asking why I am late. I had no idea what he was talking about. When he realised I was not the model they were waiting for, he apologised and requested me to replace the model who was late. The team did my hair and makeup and later used me in two more of their personal projects. I got more jobs thanks to the few images I had done with them.
What do you usually have for breakfast?
It depends. I don’t like white tea but I can have nearly anything else. Be it porridge or coffee or black tea- most things are fine with me. Fruits are great too.
What do you order when you go to a coffee shop?
Most of the time I ask for white coffee and a muffin. I like my coffee concentrated but with A LOT of sugar.
What do you like to read when having coffee?
I love reading. I am currently reading a book called A Path Not Taken. It is a story of Joseph Murumbi. There’s a newly opened coffee shop at school so I go there for coffee and some reading during my free time.
If you could meet anyone in the modelling industry for coffee who would it be?
Locally, I’d love to meet the designer Deepa Dosaja. I love how she doesn’t conform to the presumption that African designers have to use African print. Her designs are not focussed on that. They’re fresh and beautiful and something anyone can wear. I look forward to working with her one day.
Tell me about #PayModelsKe
Well, #PayModelsKe was a good hashtag to give an insight on how the modeling industry is in Kenya. However, as models, if we are informed, I don’t think we’d have such experiences. Once you know what you are worth, what type of model you are, how agencies work and the amount of pay you deserve in what particular job, I don’t think you can fall victim to such instances.
Have you had instances personally where people have asked you to work for free?
Yes. But if I know it is a lucrative business that’s requesting me to do a job and I am aware that they can pay me, I usually turn down such offers. Modelling is a profession so you need to take a model as seriously as you would take your business. I also focus on personal projects that I know will either elevate me or put me on the map instead of doing free jobs that are not really reputable in my portfolio.
What support would you like to see agencies giving models?
Right now, for agencies, it’s a matter of sending messages on Whatsapp and asking people to show up for auditions under their name. Then they just take their cut once you get the job. I don’t think that’s how agencies should function. They need to learn how to scout models and focus on how they can build them. So if you scout a commercial model you need to understand that you need to find jobs that fit this model.
What inspires your passion to push for black diversity?
I push for black models because I know there are not so many opportunities for us. Deddeh Howard, a blogger who also campaigns for black diversity abroad, did a shoot where she replicated the same look and the same poses that white models had when they shot for highly endorsed products such as Victoria’s Secret. When I started talking about black diversity, I was not really sure what to expect. But Deddeh Howard saw my posts and she appreciated what I was pushing for. That gave me a boost of confidence especially since I expected some backlash but it never happened.