A year ago, Willow Allen never gave modelling a thought. But now, she’s just returned from a three-month professional modelling stint in Singapore.
Allen, 20, who was born and raised in Inuvik, Northwest Territories (western Arctic), said her career started after a modelling agency found her on social media.
“It’s not really something that is a big thing up North,” said Allen of modelling. “It wasn’t until I was scouted through Instagram that I really considered it.”
After doing some research, Allen signed a three-year contract with Mode Models — not the agency that first contacted her online — in Edmonton in September.
Allen said her big break came when she filled in for a model who had dropped out of a fashion show.
“I got recognized by some big names in that show and since then … it really just started picking up,” she said.
Allen was a social work student at Grant MacEwan University in Edmonton (Prairies) when she signed with Mode. She says she hopes to work with Indigenous people who are struggling with addictions and trauma from residential schools.
Because of her studies, she first declined the opportunity to live and model in Singapore. However, after conversations with her agency, she decided to go.
“It was such a life-changing experience being there, coming from such a small town,” she said.
While in Asia, Allen modelled for New Balance, Highsnobiety, Sony, Levi’s, Prada and other big brands.
“Going from Edmonton to a country where … people didn’t even speak English [was] such a culture shock for me, from being raised somewhere where it was literally a vacation to go to Edmonton.”
Allen said she’s proud to be representing her Inuvialuit culture, but she wants to continue to see more Indigenous people in the modelling industry.
“A lot of agencies, why they are so interested in me is there’s not a lot of Indigenous models,” she said.
“The agencies here love that I’m Inuvialuit, which makes me really proud.”
Just the beginning
Michael Meneghetti, Allen’s agent at Mode, said as far as he knows, she’s the first Inuvialuit model they’ve signed.
Meneghetti says the agency only signs people they think will do well. He said Allen has a “very unique look … it’s hard to put her in a specific box.”
He said diversity is increasing in the industry and there is more demand for Indigenous models today than just a few years ago.
“Clients want people to see themselves in the people they are using for advertising,” he said.
Meneghetti said it’s just the beginning for Allen, and the agency is starting to look at sending her to other markets, such as New York or Paris.
For now, Allen said she’s looking forward to spending time with friends and family up North. She hopes to get a summer job before making any big decisions for the fall.
“I’m kind of juggling between going back to university or continuing travelling.”
Related stories from around the North:
Norway: Norway sends song with Sami joik to Eurovision Song Contest, The Independent Barents Observer
United States: Indian Agent, the Alaska band reclaiming Indigenous voices, Alaska Dispatch News