A couple of months back, in the dead of winter, I went on a little weekend getaway to Miami. I stayed in South Beach and soaked up the sun, the smell of the ocean, the colorful landscape. Dreamed that my expansive room at The W was, in some alternate universe, my warm-weather pied-a-terr, (I mean, look at it. How could I not start day dreaming?) Though my visit was brief (a mere 48-hours), I found myself falling in love with the smell of the ocean, the colorful landscape, and perhaps most of all - THE WEBSTER (swoon, crush, lust, etc.) Oh, just kidding. I went south to Miami to rendezvous with one of my favorite PR gals from Evans and we caught-up on our trans-atlantic friendship on top of swanky rooftop bars overlooking the beach and while soaking up some of the sun. And boy, did I ever need a dose of sun.
One of the highlights of my trip, however, was meeting Philomena Kwao - a devastatingly beautiful, wickedly smart London-based graduate student who, on a whim, decided to enter a modeling competition - only to find herself in a major contract and sent off to Miami to shoot her very first story, ever, for Cosmopolitan.
Follow the jump for a low-key shoot I did with Philomena, and a special little Q&A I got to do with her! She's an amazing woman!!
How did your entry into the model search come about?
I've always wanted to be a model, but finding my right area and learning
to accept myself as I am took a long time. I was actually about to embark
on an agency search when two of my closest friends sent me a link to the
Style369 competition via Facebook. After a lot of persuasion, I eventually
entered; not being sure about the outcome but with the mindset that I had
nothing to loose. I entered in early October and I forgot about it until
I received an email in November saying I had made the finalists day! I
was elated and I guess the rest of the story is taking place now.
What are you looking to gain out of your relationship with Style369
I hope to use this opportunity to become the first black British plus size
supermodel, thereby using this as a platform by which I can hopefully empower
girls and young women like myself. Evans and Style369 have some of the
most amazing campaigns, using the supermodels of the plus size world. I
hope to learn from them and use their invaluable knowledge and experience
to shape my own successful modelling career.
What role do you want to play for young girls/women?
I want to be a figure-head for young girls today who sometimes may become
disillusioned by 'the glamorous lifestyle'. I want to show them that you
can really do it all if you try; that is to pursue your dreams, whatever
they maybe and get an education. Your education doesn’t have to suffer!
I also want to help spread the message that there is beauty in everything:
every shape, colour, size, and height … whatever. We are all beautiful.
What is your relationship with your body like? How do you celebrate
My relationship with my body has been a turbulent roller-coaster ride. To
say I've always been happy with my body would be a lie. But over the years,
with the support of my parents, my family and my friends (I have incredible
friends, I don’t even call them friends anymore they are my sisters and
brothers!), I have learnt to feel beautiful in the body I have. I also
have stopped obsessing over trying to fit into a particular size. I just
try to keep healthy and within a healthy weight range for my height, regardless
of whether that’s an 8 or an 16. I celebrate my curviness by frequently
wearing body-con style dresses that exaggerate and enhance my shape.
Where does your confidence and sense of self come from?
My sense of self is firmly based in my faith, however I wouldn't say I
am particularly religious. I feel there is a difference between the two.
I also feel that I am a melting pot of all the strong woman in my family,
and I especially look up to my mum and my grandma as inspiration. And confidence?,
I gained confidence the day I realised that I really am my own person and
only the opinions of those that love me count and that comes from having
a strong network of people around me who are constantly there to support
me and remind me that at the end of the day I should always be myself,
because you can’t please everyone.
What are the things you love to look for when you shop? What are your
struggles or frustrations with looking for clothes?
I love staples and current trends inspire me. I tend to interpret them
in my own way as I feel that style is an expression of one’s individuality.
I also buy investment pieces that I can mix and match. Such things are
timeless and it actually saves me a lot of money. I like to look for good
jeans, beautiful day dresses and blazers. I dress very simply most of the
time, leggings and tunic/ dress; sometimes with a splash of African print.
I tend not to wear jewellery; I guess I just never really made it habitual
so now I never remember to put it on. However when I go out I like bright
colours, statement pieces: Loud outfits that are still beautiful and classy.
My main frustration with clothes is that I have a large difference in my
top half to my bottom half, I also find I get a gap with my jeans and regular
trousers are often short.
How do you incorporate your own heritage and love for Ghanaian culture
and prints into your contemporary style?
I absolutely adore West African print, the vivid colours especially attract
me. I have a number of blazers, tops dresses and skirts made out of various
clothes. I used to make clothes when I was younger and now some of my favourite
designers include Christie Brown and Sika Designs. I also take a lot of
inspiration from the designers behind the seasonal Vlisco campaigns. Additionally,
at family functions (funerals, birthdays, weddings etc) I tend to embrace
my heritage by wearing differing variations of the Kaba and Slit, Ghana’s
Now that you've been signed with a modelling agency, do you think you
career will take a different path? Will you continue to pursue your education?
Not at all; the end career goal is essentially the same; be instrumental
in improving health equity across the world. I hope to use modelling as
a platform by which to do that. Currently I am studying for an MSc in international
Health Management, having graduated with an economics degree last year.
I feel blessed because this opportunity couldn’t have come at a better
time. My MSc is a year in duration, and I am already half way through so
the doubled workload will only be for a little while longer. Models1 have
also been very supportive in recognising the importance of finishing my
education to the best of my ability.
What was it like to shoot with the Cosmopolitan team? Have you ever been part
of a large photoshoot before?
I have never been a part of a large photoshoot before and shooting with
the Cosmo team was nothing short of incredible. I felt so special and the
Cosmo team were amazing! Shelly, Lisa, Clare and Nicola from Acardia were
all very supportive and made me feel extremely confident and relaxed. The
photography and production team were also very friendly. Regardless of
the crazy weather (manically switching between rain and wind and extreme
sunshine), and the extremely early call time (5.30 am) everyone was relatively
calm and I had an enormous amount of fun. I feel extremely fortunate that
my first major shoot was with such wonderful people.
Any tips for women who want to break into modelling? How did you prepare
for the big shoot.
Believe it or not I actually studied to prepare for the shoot. This being
my big opportunity I didn’t want to spoil it. As soon as I found out about
the shoot, I searched the internet, studying the pictures of well known
models such as Crystal Renn, Tara Lynn, Candice Huffine, Robyn Lawley lean
and Marquita Pring; watching the way they posed, moved and how they were
confident and comfortable with their bodies. I also had major prep talks
and words of encouragement from Joe at Models1, my parents and sisters
and my best friends.
Breaking into modelling can be extremely difficult. This competition has
given me a huge boost and I appreciate how long others work to be given
the opportunity I have been given. My advice would be to never give up,
keep on trying! Also, don’t take anything personally, criticism is not
directed at you personally so don’t take it to heart, and finally work
hard and always be optimistic.