Courtesy Jade Willoughby
Willoughby is from Whitesand First Nation in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

Jade Willoughby: A Native Model Does Her First New York Fashion Week

Simon Moya-Smith
3/7/14

She was told from the beginning that her look "would never work" and "no client will ever want to work with you."

Now, seven years later, Jade Willoughby, a Whitesand First Nation citizen, is living in the Big Apple and is signed with her "dream agency," the prestigious Wilhelmina Models agency.

Fresh from her first New York Fashion Week and a business trip to Argentina, the tall and gorgeous Willoughby spoke with ICTMN about her experience on the runway, her childhood bout with a life-threatening illness and her future plans:

You recently concluded your first Fashion Week in New York City. How’d it go?

That was my first experience doing any fashion week, and of course it had to be New York City, which is one of the toughest. It was very demanding in terms of time. I think for two weeks straight I was waking up at 6:30 or 7 o’clock every morning and going to bed at night at 10 or 11 o’clock. … There was one day where I sort of had a little bit of a moment to myself to pull myself back together because it was so challenging. … The demands in terms of time management -- I could have anywhere from five or six castings that were all in the same time frame in uptown, midtown, Brooklyn, and they took a half-hour to travel in between -- there would need to be four or five of me in order to complete a full day.

RELATED: Jade Willoughby Signs With Wilhelmina Models (Gallery)

Did you apply to be on the runway? Or did they reach out to you?

I went to my agency. I’m still in development and a new face, so it was sort of, like, a test run to get responses from clients and get my bearings, essentially to prepare me to travel and do all the fashion weeks: Paris, Milan and London. And so it was a really good learning experience. It was nothing I had expected, but it was great.

'I’m in a category all my own and that can be tough at times.' Image courtesy Jade Willoughby.

When did you decide to become a model?

It was actually something I always wanted to do. I think I was about six years old when I decided that’s what I wanted to do. I saw my first runway show on TV and immediately I knew right then and there that’s what I to be and that’s what I wanted to do. Then I got sick, at six years old, and I battled with an extremely rare illness for about 12 to 13 years, and when I went into remission when I was 16 my family was really relieved; we had a really long struggle, but, for me, instantly I knew, “OK. I can start pursuing modeling now."

What are some of the difficulties you face as a Native model in this industry?

The biggest thing that I found so far is the fact that there are so few First Nation models that the majority of the time, for clients, I’m not sure if they know how to handle where I’m coming from as a person. ... I don’t fall under the category of being booked as a black model or any other ethnic models, so it’s sort of -- I’m in a category all my own and that can be tough at times. They do use the term “ethnically ambiguous” because I am mixed. And so I can look like several other races, but again it goes back to the fact that I’m one of the very first ones doing this, and sometimes it is met with a little hesitation because something so new and so different can scare people at times or they may just not know how to handle it.

What’s your next move?

I’ll be flying back to my hometown of Thunder Bay (Ontario, Canada) to actually speak at an economic development conference; I’m the invited guest speaker. And then I’ll also be speaking for the regional multicultural youth center -- their girl power group, and of course spending time with my family.

You can follow Jade Willoughby on Twitter @ElizabethEllyn and on Instagram at instagram.com/jadewilloughby. You can read her thoughts on the modeling site SlenderBreadMag.com, where she is one of the official model bloggers.

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