Beauty and Position - Grace Epolo on how to stay authentic in the fashion industry
Fierce, Fearless, Empowered. The 19 year old Grace Epolo from Leverkusen studies Psychology, actively engages for Black Lives Matter – and is a successful model booked by high-end brands and magazines. She is part of a young generation of models who do not want to be defined just by the attribute “beautiful”. In our interview, she speaks about self-love and why she stands up for important causes without fearing any negative consequences in her job or private life. Thereby being – without even noticing – an inspiration for us all.
The first time I stood in front of a camera and actually felt like a model was when I first visited my agency Modelwerk. They briefly wanted to take natural photos of me. At that moment, I tried to recall 100 poses. In the end, I they told me to be natural - and that's something I still think about. Of course, you should be aware of your body and pose accordingly, but most photographers want you to show something of yourself and not pretend too much. You just have to be a more confident version of yourself in the end, and that's something I try to incorporate into my everyday life.
Models do the job of a model, but that doesn't mean that that's all they are. Many people see this young, "attractive person", who makes money because of his or her looks and think that this is all that defines that person. Often, one is underestimated, and nobody thinks that this person is intelligent, emphatic, strong, determined and much more! I've met so many incredible personalities in my relatively short career and almost no one has actually been superficial. On the contrary, I strongly believe that people for whom looks play an important role in their careers, try to focus on other things in their everyday lives. If you are limited to your looks all day, you no longer want to deal with it in private. A lot of models let their creativity run free and paint, write or make music or they go an academic path, which is reflected in my psychology studies, for example. But I also honestly have to say that I no longer feel like justifying myself for my job. Just because I'm studying doesn't mean I'm a better model than others who aren't studying. Modelling is a very time-consuming and exhausting profession that must also be seen as such a profession!
© Grace Epolo
I was honoured to be part of the Vogue Hope series. In this series, the focus was on the importance of sticking together and this is important in overcoming problems. That is exactly what I would like to see in this world in the future. I am convinced that most of the problems in this world would disappear if we all understood that life is not a competition between oneself and one's fellow human beings, but that we exist as a community in this world, and in the end, we only have ourselves. We are a large community based largely on interaction, communication and, if so, love. Just like in a herd of animals, we couldn't live without each other. We are dependent on each other; you can see that very well in times of Corona. How much we miss the hug of a loved one, how we entrust our entire life to doctors, nurses and researchers, how the cashier in the supermarket becomes an important person, just shows how much we need each other, so why don’t we allow these feelings of community and love? Would there be poverty if everyone had this thought within them? Would racism still be a problem? Would there still be such a thing as hostility towards religion? I do not think so.
When George Floyd was killed and the Black Lives Matter movement became more and more present on social networks and other channels, I felt really bad. I cried a lot at the time because I dealt with the subject very intensively. Racism was nothing new to me because I am a young black woman in Germany and I know that a lot of (white) people still have a subconscious aversion to blacks, which is characterized by prejudice, but so much violence, injustice and seeing hatred of people who look just like me drained me mentally. So, I did what I was able to do at that moment: I tried to use the small reach I had to educate people and get them to do something about it too. Although I cried a few times while writing the speech, it was a very liberating feeling to finally and actually be heard. A lot of people skip your posts on social networks, but for a brief moment when I gave the speech, it was all about the incredible pain that I felt, as well as the whole Black Community. Just to be heard was a very nice feeling. Even if the law has not changed very much in the United States or Germany so far, I am firmly convinced that young people in particular, who use social media a lot, have listened, changed their own views and recognized that racism is actually a huge problem in our society. I think that was also reflected in the United States elections.
© Grace Epolo
Since I haven't been a model for that long, I can't really tell whether the number of inquiries has increased for me personally, but I know from many girls that this was the case with them. What I always do before booking is, that I first look at the customer's Instagram account and see whether it is diverse. Can you see Asian, black or other models who are not blond with blue eyes? If so, then I'm happy. If not, I'm sceptical, but on the other hand, I would also like to give “the benefit of doubt”. The client may have hired a new casting director to ensure that it becomes diverse. What I always enjoy, however, is not only to see models who are Asian, black, Latin, etc., but also to see that the photographer, the make-up artist or the hair stylist is black, asian, latina / latino, etc. This shows that it's not just about image, but that the customer actually believes in diversity and wants to reflect that with its employees.
You don't need to be known to make a change. It was my biggest fear at the time that nobody would know me anyway and that nobody would listen to me anyway. But then I realized relatively quickly that it's not about how many people you can drive to change, but that you can drive at least one person to change. Even if your only follower is your best friend, she will see it and possibly tell her mother, who will then tell her friend, who will then tell her children and so on! If you are really convinced of this topic and want to make a positive difference, then nothing will stop you! Just do it and trust your effect!
© Grace Epolo
I have to honestly say that while giving my speech, I didn't even think for a second about what a future customer might think. I don't worry about such things because to me, the Black Lives Matter movement is not a political issue, but a human rights issue. If the customer is scared off, then I don't want to be booked by this customer either. My whole life isn't about what a customer might think of me. I do what I think is right and stay authentic.
Modelling is a job like any other. You always have days when you don't feel good, but then I just try to grit my teeth and do my best. If, I feel very bad physically, then I'll say that too, and fortunately the customers have always understood that. Often, it just helps to be aware that the pictures and videos are snapshots and that I don't want to see the picture or video later and want to recognize that I was having bad that day. So, I try to hide it in front of the camera and treat myself during the breaks, by taking time for myself to talk to a loved one on the phone, to listen to music or to eat something.
© Grace Epolo
I try to remind myself every day that modelling is just a job and that this job doesn't define me in any way. I often say to myself that I am beautiful the way I am, even if the customer doesn't book me, that I also have many qualities that the customer will never know about, and that there are much more than only my looks. My love for myself is unconditional. I don't love myself for my job, but for who I am.
© Felix Birkenseer
Grace Epolo was part of our campaign 2020 and we were immediately mesmerized by her strong personality both in front of the camera and behind the scenes. We are extremely proud of her personal and career development. A special thank you to Bettina from Modelwerk and Grace for making this interview possible. We cannot wait what the future holds for Grace and wish her all the best. We love you!