22 Jul THE INTERVIEW: ADEOLA ARIYO ON THE AFRICAN MODELLING INDUSTRY
If the fashion industry was a country, the modelling industry would be its economic capital; important, ceremonial and expensive. Modelling has been a fashion trade for decades and has seen tremendous growth over the years and across the globe. While it is considered one of the most glamorous, exciting jobs of the 21st century, the industry has also managed to garner subjugating stereotypes that have haunted models for so long. Through sensitive issues such as racism, diversity, body size disparities and others, the modelling industry still thrives with unflinching standards and a turn-out of stronger personalities year in, year out.
The African Modelling Industry is not much different. Apart from looking similar to the competition and battling similar woes, modelling in Africa poses the same challenges; the struggle to be visible, to have that big break, to not be overlooked because of complexion or race, and so on. Fortunately, a story always comes out; of a model, young, bright and unstoppable. One of African heritage, and with a promising portfolio. So, even though the larger narrative is yet unchanged, we celebrate these ones as loud as we can, aiming to affect change one breakthrough story at a time.
When Nigerian-Ghanaian model Adeola Ariyo became appointed as the first ever African Ambassador for Elizabeth Arden in 2014, the news was widely celebrated as a win for Africa. A win that heralded many subsequent wins. Africa can now be said to be in the center of the action. The place where it’s all happening and the modelling industry is no less affected.
Adeola Ariyo got into modelling at age 13 when she was scouted in London and walked the runway at London Fashion Week. Her family returned to Nigeria soon afterwards. Her career officially began after her debut at the Nokia Face of Africa competition in 2005 and she modelled successfully in South Africa for years until her appointment by Elizabeth Arden in February 2014.
Adeola Ariyo has graced the runways of the prestigious London Fashion Week, Cape Town Fashion Week, Johannesburg Fashion Week, Arise Fashion Week Lagos and Mozambique Fashion Week. She has also been featured in several fashion publications in South Africa, such as Cosmopolitan, Elle, Marie Claire, Glamour, True Love and Fair Lady. She’s also modelled in the pages of Sports Illustrated.
Adeola’s background of work easily sets her apart as a veteran, although her fresh-faced exuberance doesn’t give away as much. Before Instagram and all the digital gloss, as she duly points out in this interview, she was there. Adeola gets real and comfortable with Blanck discussing her experiences as a model spanning over a decade, her high and low opinions on certain issues and Africa’s future in the modelling industry. Enjoy!
How is the modelling scene in south Africa different from Nigeria?
The modelling scene in South Africa has always been influenced by international brands and clients who come in to work with agencies and models in the country.
Although Nigeria hasn’t fully reached that level yet, the industry is slowly getting there. A lot of models are actually working internationally which is a great thing for the industry. A lot of work needs to be done but with the help of some industry giants, it’s getting there slowly.
Modelling in South Africa has a lot more structure than in Nigeria for sure. There are more agencies and also a union for models.
I have been watching the progress of the industry in Nigeria and I must say, things are looking great! I can’t wait to see the full potential in Nigeria get unleashed. Fully.
You have been modelling for years but we daresay your popularity doesn’t match the amount of work that you’ve put in so far. Do you feel snubbed sometimes? Is it true that the industry is somewhat selective?
Haha. Not at all. I’m a veteran in this industry, way before social media was a thing and I know how much work I have put in.
Also I believe that my work speaks for itself and I don’t really need any extra noise over my name to be honest.
The industry can be selective. You know what they say, “one day you’re in, the next day you’re out”.
Some of us are always in but because this industry is the type that’s constantly finding new faces, not everyone can be in the limelight.
For me, as long as I’m getting my cheques, I’m good.
When was your greatest runway moment?
Not a runway moment but the day I met Alek Wek, and Kate Moss. I’d just been signed to my first agency in London which we had all been signed to at the time. I was 13 at the time.
Recently, Supermodel Naomi Campbell seems to have taken a sudden interest in African fashion. Do you think it’s genuine or rather an attempt to take advantage of the growth of fashion in the continent?
I absolutely love what Naomi is doing. For many years she was depicted as this diva, the bitch (excuse my French! Can we say bitch here?) and it’s so refreshing seeing her connect with Africa. Our time is now and there couldn’t be a better person to get involved in the movement.
You are Elizabeth Arden’s first African Ambassador, what would you say set you apart for that appointment?
You know what, I always say this. When it’s your time, it’s your time. I was lucky enough to have been the brand ambassador and face of Elizabeth Arden for 4 years. It was my time. I can’t say anything set me apart because I don’t know who the other girls that could have gotten the position I did were. God’s time is the best time and after all the hard work I had put in, my time had finally arrived. And I made the most out of it. It gave me so much confidence in myself as a dark skin woman.
African fashion has been developing in terms of global recognition, what would you say has put us on the map?
We are so talented it’s ridiculous. Also people are getting opportunities to showcase their talent via different platforms and the world is gravitating towards Africa. Our music, food, fashion, culture… the world wants a piece of it all. This is Africa. We’ve BEEEEEN on the map, the world is only just realizing it.
Tyra Banks has returned to modelling with a cover for Sports Illustrated magazine, what are your thoughts on this and what are your thoughts on retirement?
AMAZING!!!!!! I love the fact that she came back to shoot SI. It’s a clear message to models and upcoming models who do all sorts just to stay thin. As women, our bodies change. It’s a natural thing. My body is definitely not the same as it was when I shot Sports Illustrated and that’s OK.
Tyra shooting that has also made so many women love their bodies for the way they are.
And it’s a strong message that you don’t have to be slim/skinny in order to think of yourself as beautiful or sexy.
What are you most proud of as an African model?
As an African model, it hasn’t been easy. As a dark skin African model, it’s so nice to see that the industry is using more and more models of my complexion and even darker, and for beauty campaigns as well.
I am even more proud of what Africa is doing in the fashion industry. Not being afraid to come out of comfort zones to show the world the gifts we possess as Africans.
Well done on combining a career with schooling. What prompted your current schooling programme? Is it to further your career or in fulfillment of a personal goal?
Thank you, it’s been a very rough, hard, long road. I needed to complete my degree by all means. I started modelling at a very young age and while my mates were in university, I was busy working and traveling the world.
I’m studying something very close to my heart. Not only has it helped me in my career as a model, it has also helped in understanding people and the reasons why they do what they do. It has helped with dealing with rejection which is a huge thing in the modelling industry.
I would one day like to further my education even more one day. But for now, once I’m done I don’t want to see a single textbook for at least a year. Lol
What African brand(s) is/are your favorite(s)?
I have loads!!
Jewel by Lisa
What career choices have you made in the past that you wish were different?
I have no regrets. Everything that I have done has been a lesson for me.
Image credits: Adeola Ariyo.