Eunice Olumide is a Scottish model who has been making waves in the modelling world. Not only is she a model but also an actress, presenter, activist and author of How to Get into Fashion: A Complete Guide for Models, Creatives and Anyone Interested in the World of Fashion – not to mention her new book which will be coming out later this year.
Since her first book, Eunice has been exploring ways to create a more sustainable fashion industry with less exploitation and better representation. Since then, she was selected to be part of the world’s most prestigious and longest-running authors even, the Edinburgh International Book Festival as well as having been asked to contribute to the Loud Black Girls Anthology edited by Booker Prize Winner Bernardine Evaristo.
Throughout her meteoric career, this trailblazer has founder the Olumide Gallery which aims to represent the most innovative and cutting edge talent of our time, activist and campaigner, curated exhibitions, talks and events at the Tate Modern and The V&A, becoming the first-ever Scottish Model to produce an on-schedule BFC London Fashion Week catwalk show to mention but a few highlights.
We recently sat down with Eunice Olumide to talk to her about her exceptional career, the industry, challenges she faces and everything else in between:
So Eunice Olumide, and MBE. That’s huge and congratulations on that. You’re a Scottish supermodel, an author, a presenter and an activist. You have become hugely inspirational for many women, especially women of colour out there. What was it that made you want to become a supermodel?
So, to be honest, I actually had no intention of going into modelling. I got scouted on a number of occasions. And I come from this really big town, a really big part of Edinburgh in Scotland. So where I’m from, it isn’t like a job that people would necessarily even think was real. That sounds crazy. But I really didn’t understand that modelling was a real job and a real career and you could do all these amazing things. So it wasn’t until I was scouted a number of times that I thought I’ll try it and I tried it and it was actually quite a fantastic thing because I am a big campaigner. I am a big activist.
And I do interrogate my industry a lot and that’s why I love it because we’re so open to that. And I do feel that now, although it hasn’t always been the case, that we are certainly at the forefront of diversity and inclusion. But one thing when I was young, that I didn’t quite realize then which I can now see in retrospect, is that actually being a model, it doesn’t matter which class you’re from? What background you’re from? None of that matters, which seems like something that’s not that important, but it really, for me, it was the first time I really felt like all of the insecurities that I might have had from growing up in Scotland about my appearance, it was really the first time in my life that I had been celebrated for my appearance. So that’s really how it began and I was kind of catapulted into this crazy around the world is like, not 80 days, but eight days, thrown in the deep end, do a lot of amazing things.
But it was quite funny because I never used to tell anybody, for the majority of my life, I used to pretend I wasn’t a model. And I know that also seems quite strange, and insecurities don’t discriminate, but I think that a lot of people, particularly from working-class backgrounds, do this thing, which in combination with just being British, we have this really bad habit of self-depreciation. So it was something that even though it was this amazing thing. I felt quite uncomfortable talking about it to people.
So I would say that actual fashion played an instrumental role in my personal development in terms of accepting and loving and appreciating myself. Although in the beginning, it kind of put a magnifying glass on those really serious issues such as colourism, such as a preference for lighter skin, such as a lack of dark-skinned women with natural hair. These were all of the kinds of hurdles and issues I had to overcome as well as many other but certainly, at that time when I first started, it really helped me to think, “Oh, you are okay. There’s nothing wrong with you.”
And it’s funny, isn’t it? Because I sit here I talk to you and I see now, I’m an aesthetic facial surgeon, and you have got that classic Nubian look and you’re just gorgeous. You’ve got the beautiful cheekbones. You have the structure. I look at you and I think, “How could you not see that?” But obviously, as you say, this is all about maturity, is all personal development.
How old were you when you decided to go into the fashion industry?
I started around about 15, 16. But also just following up on what you said, I think all of us as women, I went to this amazing show the other day with Caitlin Moran. And I just think that all of us, not just women, but particularly historically, women, no matter what our background, race, we have this kind of, we’re so hard on ourselves in terms of our appearance. And for me, it’s all about self-love and encouraging other women to love themselves. Because a lot of the time it’s quite unfounded, a lot of the ideas we have of ourselves in our head are not actually reality. They’re our own vision of ourselves. And it’s really important that we’re not so hard on ourselves as human beings, and that we try our best to love ourselves as who we are.
That actually leads on to the next question. You are an activist, you’re a campaigner, you’re also a presenter, etc. Has your career matched your vision when you decided on the pathway that you are going to follow?
Well, actually, my career is nothing… Like, it’s really funny, because I had these major things I wanted to achieve. And I have achieved all of them apart from haven’t had any kids yet, don’t have a PhD. I’m not a university lecturer. So those are the three things on my list of things to do. So like all the other things that I really wanted to do, which were for me, I really just wanted to go to university, that was like a big thing for me. And I was the first of my family that inspired my mom to go back and retrain and go back to university herself. So I was a big geek, I’m a big reader. Really quite sad. So that was big for me.
So I did that, had my masters at 21. And I actually used the university as a vehicle to travel because when I grew up with my mom like we really didn’t have anything, any way of making that possible. So university, as well as fashion, was my kind of way to travel and see the world. So what happened basically my career which I think has led to this periphery nation, or the fact that I am quite multifaceted, I had an experience where I got dropped by my [then] agent because I didn’t want to relax my hair. And it was literally because a cousin of mine had done it and she’d like, left it on too long. And she got like second-degree burns or not the third degree but a really bad experience. And so I was really traumatized by it. So I didn’t have an issue with straightening my hair. So it wasn’t a political reason. But I wasn’t able to articulate that at such a young age.
So I ended up… Had other agents anyway, so I went back to university and because of what I studied, I then fully understood, how significant my role was as a fashion model? And that they made me really only want to work with brands who had a social, philosophy at their heart, who were into actually serving people, not exploiting people who are cooperatives. So, of course, excellence is never in the majority. So not all companies and brands do that. So it did have a big impact on my career, and what jobs I could do and who would like to work with me? Because as a model, it’s kind of like being an actor, you shouldn’t really get to choose. But I do think that there are certain things which I described in my book, “How to Get into Fashion?” as core beliefs. And it’s really important for us, as women, as human beings to identify what are our beliefs? And what are our core beliefs? What are the things we believe in, which we could vary on?
So let’s say, for example, you didn’t drink alcohol. Your core belief is you don’t drink alcohol, but you might still be able to go into a bar. So it’s really important to think about the things that you really believe in and are important to you, I think when you’re pursuing your career, depending on what your career is? And you just might not have any specific beliefs. But for me, that was an integral part and it really shaped and the direction so coupled with the fact that I’m in a precarious industry, whereby you can’t choose to walk at London Fashion Week, you can’t choose to be the face of some amazing brands, you really have to wait to be chosen and that is very precarious and very fickle.
So you could be like the best model in the world, it doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily going to be chosen for those opportunities, because your face just might not fit. Because I kind of went to university, had all these experiences, studied a lot of things about the world and how politics works? And all these kinds of things that you just shy away from, it really meant that I understood that, “Okay. This is great, but it’s not something to rely on.” So already I’ve got my academic education. So I was really open to also doing other things. So when the opportunity arose for me and I studied, what I studied was really different. I studied metaphysics. But when the opportunity arose back in 2015, and I was approached by these artists, and they were like, “We think you’re amazing, you connect with people,” I really believe that art can transform lives.
And it can be used as a tool to really support people in any state, whether they’re suffering severe mental health issues or mild. So because of that, and my connection to everybody, because I pride myself on being able to interact and support and be around and work with friends and people of every single class, every single background, every single race and religion. So, I ended up opening an art gallery because of it. And so for me, the art gallery is kind of like a joke, not a joke. But it’s like this thing that I do that I have control. And also originally, I really wanted to do broadcasting and make films and make TV shows that were something I really wanted to do.
So I began also doing broadcasting, which got the opportunity to work on some, [that wasn’t easy], it was quite a lot of work. But I got some great shows. And as a consequence of that, I then had a show on BBC Radio, Music Match. And then I did the Sista Collective on BBC Radio five live and worked on some shows that won some great awards. Won a BAFTA. So then, I definitely want to do that.
But I was kind of being pushed more into the celebrity red carpet. I love that. But because of my background, growing up in western hills, which is, I would say it’s a typical British Council state. Although if I’m being really honest, it’s probably worse because of the statistics of life expectancy, mortalities like one of the worst places in the UK. So because of that, my experiences, I do prefer more investigative staff, doing things that really help people, exploring important questions. I love presenting. That’s great, but I really love broadcasting. So I think that’s what led me down that path. And oh, I forgot! I still need my own TV series and movies. So those are two things.
It’s just remarkable. Now, you are the founder of your own art gallery. I really wanted you to tell us more about that, you touched upon it in your last answer, but tell us where the drive for that came from?
Well, as I said, that was kind of like fashion was quite accidental. It wasn’t really part of my original plan of becoming a university lecturer. It was actually… I had this amazing artist who was extremely established Blue Chip, and they’re like, “Listen, I’m gonna help you, I’m gonna support you.” And they kind of did three-quarters of the work then they did the usual artist thing, and out of all the things I’ve ever done, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
You just don’t appreciate how much work goes into a space with the pictures on the wall. It’s so much work. So it’s been amazing. I mean, I’ve not only had my gallery. I’ve curated for the National Museum of Scotland. I’ve worked with the British Museum. I’ve worked a lot with the VNA. I was honoured as a VNA Dundee Design championship, which really meant a lot, and still does to me. So, one of those kinds of things I’m quite proud of, but I think a lot of people kind of say, “How you started?” They’re kind of like, “You’ve done a lot of things.” And I have this idea, which is, human beings innovate out of necessity.
Yes, true. That’s very good actually.
I think that because of my circumstances like I didn’t have any extended family, my mom didn’t have anything. So it really was a sink or swim situation, it was either you work really hard like you’re treading water 24/7 and you smash everything you do or you just don’t make it out.
Absolutely. There were nobody opening doors for you. You are self-created, hugely accomplished. Eunice, you touched upon your book as well, which is, “How to Get into Fashion,” a complete guide for models, creatives and anyone interested in the world of fashion. Did you find it easy to get your messages across to the younger generation? What would anybody read in that book through a fictional narrative?
I think that the book is actually non-fiction. I think it’s been really successful. I mean, I wrote the book out of necessity, because our industry is quite unregulated on our side unless you have a good agent. And there’s so much smoke and mirrors, for lack of better words, if you’re really an outsider. I had personally witnessed and observed and met people who had suffered exploitation trying to get into the industry. And there was this one situation where I was DJing at Topshop on Oxford Circus.
And this couple came in and were like, “We really want a model.” I was like, “If you come back, like next week, because I still have several hours to go, I can talk to you more.” So sure enough, they came back the following week. And it was actually the guy. And he was like, “I’ve signed to an agency. It’s amazing. It’s like 2000 pounds.” I was like, “What!? 2000 pounds!”, that set off alarm bells, instantly in my head. So I was like, “Let me see the websites.” I looked at the website. And I said, “I may not be right. But I don’t think that this is correct, because agents don’t charge you money, fashion charges money, they sign you because they think they can make money from you. It may be a talent agency, perhaps an actor’s agency, then it would only be a small fee, like maybe 100 or between 100-200 pounds maximum, would be for your websites and so on.” So I went back to the place because I really insisted and it turns out that the place had disappeared.
So I really just wanted to write the book so that didn’t happen to people. And you can prepare people for what’s going to happen? And explain that, like, you can have your beliefs and you can stick to them. However, these are the, don’t want to use the word consequences, because it sounds quite strong, but it’s reality. But that’s not to say, that you can’t make it as you are. But it’s much better if you know those things, I think, before you go into, also, it’s natural to deal with rejection, which I think is really important, as well as all the other amazing jobs within our industry that many people don’t know about.
I actually think that’s not just a book for people that want to get into the fashion industry, but actually, just a book to inspire others that are just trying to make it in their industry full stop.
There is talk that you’ve written, and authored a second book?
I am working on my second book, it is done. I may add a little bit to it. It’s supposed to be totally secret but you guys are the first to know.
So, that’s very exciting and I hope that it’ll be out for Christmas. It was supposed to be out but obviously, the whole COVID I see it as if it wasn’t a big deal. Everyone knows it was, I’m not going to go into that because I feel like we need to keep positive after that. So, just slightly delayed, hopefully, for Christmas, ideally, it would be a good time.
Eunice, you are a passionate activist and your biography is pretty immense. On top of this, you have supported many charities and movements as well. So personally, what is the most memorable campaign that you have done and can you tell us why?
The memorable campaign, I think it would probably be if it’s for, I opposed was really good, fun, and was fantastic and was amazing and everywhere, I will probably go for something more real like maybe Tom’s or the Bodyshop, just because their campaigns are all about kind of saving the world type stuff they really. So Bodyshop was in our hand’s campaign. And it was really launching when they launched their cooperative farmer’s campaign where they give correct pay instead of exploiting them. That was amazing. And Tom’s is great too, because every time they sell a pair of shoes, they donate a pair of shoes to someone in need, which I love.
Your skin is absolutely flawless. As someone who is in the fashion industry, and there is a lot of pressure I feel on young girls not even in the industry, isn’t there? To look a certain way. I think that social media platforms have played a huge role in that. And I just wanted to know, have you ever felt the pressure to constantly look and I’m talking about physically good, putting aside the mental aspects of that, but coming from a fashion background, do you feel that pressure to constantly look good? And if so, how do you deal with it and what is your advice to others that might not be as inherently strong as yourself?
Well, I think for me, I’m not strong. I think it’s really based on where I grew up was so real. And I saw so many, really not good things in a lot of people suffering from alcohol addiction and drug addiction, incarceration, broken families, etc. So I think when I got scouted, I was a big sports person, always wearing really unattractive clothing, like baggy jeans. I’ll just be like baggy jeans, I’ll have maybe some air force, like a hoodie. Because I think I’ve always been natural. I have never worn makeup. And I’ve always had natural hair.
That’s probably why I was scouted. And this is what I always say to young girls is why the book so important is if you are interested in a fashion contrary to popular belief, like, it is really important that you are makeup-less, you’re more likely to be scouted if you don’t wear makeup because then the agent or the broker can actually see what you look like and then going into fashion because you do need to go to castings, you do need to go to jobs without makeup on.
Again, it’s not like, but it’s really annoying because no one ever on TV, learning to do makeup, I look really, really bad because I just don’t know how to [do make]. Funny. But I just think that because of how I grew up, it’s not that I don’t care. It’s almost like a defence mechanism. I’m like, let’s not get too into this because this is something that someone could use to put me somewhere. So I have like these little things. So like when I’m getting ready, I never like to spend more than like, say, I’m not gonna be honest, because it’s gonna sound so bad. I can extend the time.
And I wouldn’t spend more than 30 minutes getting ready for any occasion, that’s including the shower. So in my head, when I go onto the red carpet, or when someone gives me a compliment. Subconsciously, I’m like, “Oh, I got ready in 10 minutes,” So it can mean so much more because I didn’t actually put that much effort in. That’s just a weird thing that I do. But I think the most important thing about life is you’ve got to be… Three things. One, you’ve got to love yourself for who you are, and your natural self, which is hard.
Maybe what might be easier is to be unapologetic, so you know what it doesn’t matter. My faith is, if it’s not life and death, don’t worry about it.
Try and understand that as we live in the West where there’s like one of the richest countries in the world, like we have, like exogenous and endogenous diseases and illnesses in life. So a lot of the problems that we have are what I call First World Problems. So, you know, there are people even in our country who are born and they only have one leg or they don’t have use of their arms or they have a really serious condition. And I’m not gonna say I get upset because I overstand but I feel like it’s quite ungrateful. That’s another way to look at it for you to be so unhappy with a perfectly good body with all your limbs are functional and you have everything you need.
It’s like, if you really think about it, it’s quite crazy with the body dysmorphic that we have is crazy, quite notorious. Not crazy. But I’m not gonna look at someone else and judge them, I saw people like young girls that got one dress a year and that one dress was kept immaculate and they were so happy. Then you come back to the West and we have more clothes, we buy clothes, we don’t even wear them. We’re unsatisfied. So it’s really about not, this is the word I am making up right now, catastrophizing, not over-exaggerating, trying to be realistic, trying to think about reality and understanding that, what you’ve got is makes you unique to everyone else.
And to me, women are like, a meadow of flowers, no flower is the same. Every single flower is different. And you might like lilies. I might like daisies. You might like roses. I might like this. So life is really about that and all humans are completely different and unique. And actually, that’s what makes us special and amazing. So I think starting with trying to be realistic and then be unapologetic – own it. And then thirdly, just like even if you don’t like the way you look or whatever, you don’t need to think about that all the time, you don’t need to lament on it, it’s more important for you. So, for example, I feel like when you go shopping, I have like two closets. I have like my work, general activity closet, sports stuff. And then I have my feel-good closet.
So basically, instead of going to a showoff and buying like clothes, where you’re like, “Oh, I look great,” buy clothes when you put them on, they make you want to dance. It might sound crazy but buy those clothes. Because when you put those clothes on, you’re still gonna have the energy and hold on to that energy. Bring that energy. If you bring great energy, people are not looking, they’re not even thinking about what you look like. To me the only thing more attractive than I suppose aesthetics is like a joyful, engaging person. Those are the kind of things I think about that.
You’ve answered the question already because my next question was going to be, wellness, what does that mean to you? How do you look after your mental wellness? How do you achieve that work-life balance?
I think to do things that are to you is either embarrassing or a bit crazy sometimes. So I have a BMX, which I built. And I often take my BMX, I go to the skatepark, and I feel odd at first and like, “Oh my god! I’m like a dark lady on a BMX, in a skate park.” So you get that feeling of, “Oh, I’m not sure about this.” But then when you do, it’s really amazing. It’s really fun. And people were like, “Oh, this is great.” And sometimes I borrow my friend’s children under the guise of babysitting, I go to the trampoline world. I go rock climbing, like really just do things that are really fun. That’s like a really important thing.
What advice would you give to the younger generations who are interested in pursuing a career in the fashion industry, I’m not going to generalize this into the arts because I think that doesn’t do it justice. So in the fashion industry, for those potentially wanting to go into broadcasting, those that might want to think about having a career as an author, your top three tips?
Understand your core beliefs and what’s important to you so that you don’t do anything to compromise that because no matter how much money you make or how successful you are, that could be something that undermines everything that you’ve achieved. I think, don’t be afraid to learn about a variety of things. So in the book, I talk about many different industries such as being if you’re a lawyer, you could be a lawyer for fashion or being a fashion buyer or being a photographer, there are so many different types of photography.
Fashion, advertising, creative director or producer, all of the different things available because then you’ll find what really suits you. A lot of the time people see people doing something and they want to do that thing, but they haven’t actually thought about, actually what they would be best at. And I think finally, I really think that you’re… Because I’m quite conscious, I’m always trying particularly to find companies and brands that are not only conscious but will appreciate you.
So that you can maybe be part of a team as opposed to just a cog within a massive organization. I think you’ll be sometimes learning a lot more from being with a smaller company, whether that’s an agent for a model or whether that’s an organization, sometimes you’ll get more opportunities, more hands-on approach, if you’re actually with a smaller company, rather than just thinking, say, you want to be a model, “I want to say to this agency because they’re massive,” but you could get lost whereas maybe a smaller agency, you would be the best, and they would work with you more.
You mentioned or you touched upon this earlier on, when you spoke about your book, “How to Get into Fashion.” And I think this probably goes hand in hand with this question. So I’m going to cheekily say to you that you touched upon given advice for how to deal with rejection. Do you want to just give us nuggets on how to deal with it?
I think that well, it really depends on what you want to do. But certainly, in the fashion industry, I think that never have any expectation, go in with an attitude where you’re happy and comfortable with yourself, regardless of the outcome. I think, obviously, in the book, there’s a whole chapter and I go into it quite extensively. But also understand that a lot of the time, they have a really specific idea of what they want.
So just because they don’t choose you, it’s not because you’re not good enough, it’s just because that’s not what they’re looking for. But always be positive. And always be ready to… If you have the opportunity to take initiative. So if you have the opportunity in your shoot, and the photographer is not directing you, then just do your own thing. That’s really important. And I think lastly, familiarize yourself with your industry.
So read magazines, read the magazines you want to be in, look at what’s being written, look at the possess that models are doing and learn from that.
That’s fabulous advice. And the last question. You have just recorded a TED talk. When and where can we expect it?
So that should be out really soon. It’s TEDx Warwick. So, if you just check out their Instagram, you should get information on there.