Stacey McKenzie (Picture by Reco Moore.)
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When Stacey McKenzie was young, all she wanted to become was a model. And today, the Jamaican national, lives in Canada, is one of the biggest supermodels across the world.
“At a young age I found out about the world of fashion and realised it could be a career. I used to steal my mum’s shoes and take them to school and walk around in them. I used to get lashes for it but I still continued to do it because it was what I wanted. I asked my sister how could I become a model and she told me I had to be able to attract attention,” she explained.
And attract attention she did. Because of her deep voice and unconventional looks, made it anything but easy for her to break into the industry. In fact, she attracted much negative attention and was on the receiving end of hurtful jokes and comments from many, including strangers.
“I used to attract a lot of attention because of how I looked. Not positive attention but negative. I would always get teased and bullied a lot,” she said.
At age 13, she migrated to Canada with her family and thought things would be easier, but Stacey said the negative attention and comments only got worse.
“When I moved to Canada I was bullied even more because I was so different looking. The kids used to tease me a lot and it was very hurtful. But the thing about Canada: I had more opportunities to pursue my dreams,” she said.
She persisted but her journey was anything but easy. By beauty standards, she was a ‘no’. But Stacey decided to work with what she had and tried everything under the sun to break into the industry.
“I would book appointments to go see agents and they would all say no. And I would book them again and go and they would all say no again. And I would keep going back all the time,” she said with a chuckle.
“I found out there were agencies in other countries and there were some in New York, which is close to Toronto. So I saved up my lunch money and took a bus to New York. I had to lie to my mother but I wanted to get there. I was 16 at the time. I was crazy. But I had a passion and I felt in my spirit that that’s where I was meant to be. I used to pretend to be an agent calling on my behalf to get appointments to see ad agencies.”
Her first big break came when she was 20, in Paris, with a man she had looked up to from the time she knew she wanted to become a model.
“Jean Paul Gaultier was my idol and he was also my first big break. When you have a passion for something and it’s in your spirit, nothing can stop you but yourself. What the most high God has for you, no one can take that away from you. People can stall it, but it could only last for so long. At some point you must get your blessings unless you get in your own way,” she said.
Stacey said, though, even after her big break things were still hard.
“It was still rough after that. I started getting more bookings but it was still tough. I wasn’t making any money. Being so different looking, it was only specific jobs that I would book. If I was a pretty black girl, I would be working all the time,” she said.
But nowadays, Stacey is more than accepted. In fact she’s one of the biggest names around and very sought after.
“People used to say that I would never sell a product. I started being accepted in the industry about five years after my career started to pick up tempo. Then in ten years, I really took off. People knew who I was and so on,” she said.
During the interview at Pirate’s Inn in Barbados recently, Stacey said she has been enjoying a lovely career, doing work across the world.
“As a model I do high fashion. Done a lot of work with Jean Paul Gaultier for many years now. I’ve done a Calvin Klein campaign, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, The Face, Elle Canada Magazine, Flair Magazine and so much more. As a TV personality I’ve been a guest on fashion related shows. I’m now a model coach on America’s Next Top Model,” she said.
Stacey was in Barbados on invitation for Barbados Fashion Week and said she thoroughly enjoyed it.
“I was invited to attend Barbados Fashion Week. It was important for me to come because I’m from the Caribbean and I know first-hand what it’s like to not have a lot of opportunities. I feel like I’ve been blessed with a lot of opportunities so it’s important for me to give back. We don’t have it like that in the Caribbean. It was amazing and I was well received. They’re just so sweet here,” she added.
She noted that giving back was a big part of her life as well.
“I also give back through my camp called The Walk Camp. Every summer for two weeks I train 30 girls. I’ve been doing it for six years now in Canada but I’ll be bringing it to the Caribbean and I’ll be starting off with my hometown Jamaica in January. It’s a free two-week day camp. They will have the opportunity to learn from different mentors and will learn hands on how to get into the industry,” she explained.
As for the negative feedback she once received, she says that is no more.
“I don’t get negative feedback anymore. I love my look, my voice and everything that I am. When I was younger I didn’t because of what people used to say and how they made me feel. But I was young. But at 16 I said you know what, the most high God gave me this body and look to work with so I need to make the best of it. As long as I get me and God gets me, that’s all that matters,” she said confidently.
And of course, Stacey dropped some sound and timely advice for young people trying to break into the fashion industry.
“Love who you are and own who you are. You are only blessed with one look and voice, so own it. If you want to get into the modelling industry, you have to have a strong sense of self because you’re going to get a lot of criticism and you’re going to get a lot of noes and let-downs but you can’t take it personal,” she said.
“You also have to treat it as a business and be focused. People think its only fun, but it’s a business first. Make as much money as you can, and use that industry to get into other industries, no matter what it may be. Modelling is very short-lived. Treat it well and enjoy it.” (DB)