Academic and fashionista Philomena Kwao holds the coveted title as Britain’s first Plus Size Model. The 22 year old economics student who beat thousands of hopefuls in the competition held by clothing brand Evans, hopes to empower girls to follow their dreams. Dubbed as ‘the body’, Philomena’s first experience in modelling came after making the final list for the Miss Ghana UK pageant in 2008. GUBA speaks to Philomena to find out her formula to success.
How do you feel being given the accolade of the ‘first black plus-size model’? It makes me extremely nervous however, I feel very blessed and excited about what the future brings.
As an academic, what made you decide to venture into the world of fashion? Even though I am very academic, I am equally excited about fashion, modelling and make-up. I think they balance out each other quite well as they both require focus, determination and hard work. I’m quite creative and have always had an interest in fashion, specifically textiles and at one point even dabbling with the idea of becoming a fashion designer. Modelling became a career goal for me after receiving positive feedback from several test shoots.
How do you manage to juggle your education and fashion? It has been challenging to say the least but I’ve learnt to make the most of every hour and I have become even more disciplined and focused. That being said, I am very lucky to have a strong support network around me that fully believe in my abilities. They include my parents, my little sisters, friends, my agency, lecturers and work colleagues. Ultimately, my career goal remains the same which is, to be instrumental in improving health equity across the world, and I hope to use modelling as the platform to achieve that. I am also nearing the end of my degree, so I guess everything happened at the right time.
What has been your most exciting venture in the modelling world so far? My most exciting venture will have to be the shoot I did for the Cosmopolitan magazine. I was truly spoiled by Shelly Vella, the director of fashion at Cosmopolitan magazine, the rest of the Cosmo team and Nicola Spouse from Acardia. I got to stay in one of the best hotels, met amazing people and best of all I was in Miami!! Everyone was very supportive and made me feel extremely confident and relaxed. 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.
Where would you like to see yourself in the next 5 to 10 years? I would like to see plus size modelling fully integrated into fashion whereby, there wouldn’t be a specific ‘curve’ issue and where the use of ‘plus models’ is normalized. I would personally like to star in high fashion campaigns for brands such as Chanel, YSL and Giorgio Armani, and also to be on the cover of Vogue.
If you had the chance to change one thing in this world what would it be? Eradicate ignorance, because the lack of knowledge and understanding is the root of many problems in society.
What message and advice would you like to give to aspiring plus size models? 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 and to keep on trying. Also, don’t take anything personally, criticism is not directed at you personally so don’t take it to heart, work hard and always be optimistic. Lastly, study your art! Believe it or not I actually studied to prepare shoots. I constantly search the internet, studying the pictures of well known models such as Crystal Renn, Tara Lynn, Candice Huffine, Robyn Lawley and Marquita Pring. I paid attention to the way they pose, move, their confidence and how comfortable they were with their bodies.
The GUBA team will like to thank Philomena for her interview and we wish her all the best.
Story by Claudia Andrews