Name: Dominique Robinson
Claim to Fame: Robinson had the opportunity model for her idol Tyra Banks when she served as one of the faces of her signature beauty line.
Nearly every woman on the planet has a story about their friend choosing their boyfriend over them but not many of them ended up stranded across the country afterwards. After finally following her modeling dreams to the Golden State Dominique Robinson was shocked to find out that her partner-in-crime was not about that California life. The model interrupted her Year of Return trip with Magic and Melanin to tell HelloBeautiful her story in an exclusive interview.
“The entire process was really difficult because I moved out there with a friend. She decided that it wasn’t for her and she left me there after two weeks,” said Robinson.
“Coming from Jersey, I would always try to get into the New York market, but they would never, um, it would always be like a no for certain things because of my height. I’m 5′ 1/2″, but like in the industry standard is like 5’8″, 5’9″.. So New York was always like a, no for me. I took the time to actually move to LA, even though I wasn’t a signed working model. Moving there, that was my goal to get signed in LA because I knew the market there was a little bit more commercial. I had a better chance of getting signed. And then like I think day two or three, her boyfriend ends up showing up.”
Robinson was allegedly really shocked because the young women had been pretty lucky after traveling to the West Coast. “We did get jobs the first day and I got a job at the Marriott I was able to transfer and then I was also, we both got jobs at Hooters, so I think, and at the same time we were looking for places. So we moved up there and not having a place to live just with each other. My car packed to the full, everything in the trunk, everything in the backseat. That’s how we moved in. It was just supposed to be us working together and figuring it out together. ”
She reported there was, “no communication,” and that “it was weird.”
LA had held a lure for Robinson ever since she traveled there to audition for America’s Next Top Model. “I think by then I had applied for top model twice by then and I never made it. But then I got an email from the actual casting director and this is before moving to LA. She had asked me to come to LA to audition for that cycle and this time it was no hard requirements and everything. So somehow I made it out there. One of my coworkers helped me get a flight and I made it to LA, I didn’t have any money in my pocket. I went and made it to the final round, right but I didn’t make the final cut. So I think that being my first time in LA, that’s what inspired me to move there as well.”
She researched the Los Angeles market online, scouring agency websites to find out what their requirements and protocols were so that she would show up informed. She cozied up to Google Chrome and spent hours, “looking at their boards and seeing what type of girls they signed there,” but admits, “I was very, very green before moving to LA.”
“Then once I found out she was leaving me and kind of like changed everything and like I was just like I didn’t know what I was going to do,” she added.
Robinson reported that she did know that she was absolutely not heading back East. She proudly stated that she was not even considering it, “No, not at any point.” She had not made the decision to leave on a whim and had smartly scheduled her move to match the arrival of a significant direct deposit she was expecting.
“I went out there with very little money. I knew I was getting a check for a job that I had did in New York right before I left. So I was expecting like a good amount of check, like a good sum of money.” With her friend opting out her their arrangement it was needed.
Robinson made a friend during her first trip to LA so she was not trying to navigate her new surroundings completely on her own. “I kept in contact with my friend Monique, who I met in LA after Top Model,” she said. Eventually through contacts she developed online and offline by being honest about her circumstances she heard about someone who was renting a room in their condo.
“So that’s how I found a place to live. That first year in LA was really rough. There was some nights where the, the apartment was, the room for rent was really expensive for what I had. And I only stayed there for three months and I couldn’t afford it anymore. So there was times where I was subletting in other places, trying to figure it out. Some nights I would sleep in my car and then like go to the gym in the morning and take a shower and get ready for the day.”
Robinson’s style did not suffer the same struggle as her bank account. She approached getting dressed defiantly, shining in the face of what she was going through. Her commitment to presenting her best self to the Los Angeles market turned out to be worth it.
In New York she was constantly being turned down. Here she was actually sought out. “I remember going into Wilhelmina three times and they never ever signed me. A year and a half after living in LA. I was out at an event and a scout from Wilhelmina came up to me and asked me if I’m a model.”
She credited her personal style for catching the scout’s eye. “I think it was a combination of like what I had on though, how my hair was at the time. She was like, ‘Oh, this girl is a model.’ Because when you go into like open casting calls, I think the norm is like when girls look these things up, you’re like ‘Oh, I must wear all black, I must wear all black.’ But I think LA is a market that they, they like personality and like I think because of my outfit and like my style, my personal style, that’s why she came up to me.”
The image of what she was wearing is seared into her mind. “That specific day I had on like a cream jean jumpsuit and my hair was braided in cornrows to the back hair on my face. Very like, tomboy chic.”
Impressing the scout was just the first step. She still had to convince everyone else in the office she was worth investing in, which required switching up her look, something many models are asked to do by major agencies.
“I went in with my natural hair and I met the entire team. It was good, but they were like, okay, can you come back with long hair?”
Models who come from privileged backgrounds can easily leverage their financial security to secure the beauty products needed to meet agency requirements. For independent models with a lack of resources that’s not so easy. She pointed out that many aspiring models “go into debt,” attempting to finance their fledgling careers.
“So then I had to figure out how I was going to get like long hair. So I ended up getting this girl to make a wig for me to go back. Two weeks later, they met me, I had the long hair, I took some more photos. It was like a good three weeks to a month process. But then they finally got back to me and they were like, ‘Oh, we want to sign you’.” Ironically, after all her scrambling, they went back on their initial request telling her during the signing, “We like your Afro.”
Getting signed to one of the biggest names in the industry cost her a few coins but it also provided her with a huge confidence boost.
“That was like probably the best day of my life because at that point it was just like, ‘Wow, I can do this. Someone sees what I see in myself at my height. So I knew that like as long as I kept going on my journey that I was going to make it because I got this far and now I’m signed to like one of the biggest agencies in the world.”
They may have been one of the biggest agencies in the world but they were just a step on her journey. “That was November, 2017 and I booked my first job in December, 2017 about a month and a half of being with them. And then 2018 came and I didn’t work for the first few months of the year. But then as soon as like Springtime came like May, 2018 I started working really, really well and it was just amazing.”
One of the many gigs she booked was for Bank’s beauty line, a full circle moment as the two had built a friendly rapport on Instagram where Banks admired the pictures Robinson posted in an effort to get the attention of scouts. “She’s my all time favorite model because of what she did for the industry. Just growing up watching that and her being my source of inspiration because I come from like a broken home like my dad didn’t live with me, he lived in Jamaica, my mom battled with drugs and being a single mother.”
Banks showed her what was possible. She wanted to provide the same sense of possibility to other hopefuls so she started a movement called Too Short For What to inspire other models who had dreams bigger than their stature.
“I have a, you know, a good group girls who really believe in themselves and me as well and they just respect my journey and they love me for, you know, trying and not giving up. So that’s what I’m about right now, Too Short For What. Because I think it’s really important that even though the industry is trying to change and say they’re changing. I also sometimes believe that it’s a trend and they’re only doing it because, ‘Oh, this client did it so we have to do this.’ I do feel like height shouldn’t be a beauty standard.”
Banks inspired her to speak up about the need for body diversity in terms of height on runways. “It’s kind of piggybacking off of what Tyra does, how like beauty has no height, no size is, but even though it’s out there, there’s still no models on the runway who are under 5’6″. And I think it’s just as important as having a disabled model on the runway. It’s just as important as having a darker skinned girl. Height has nothing to do with who I am as a person.”
Connecting with people by building a platform is a valuable tool in her profession. “I do believe that modeling, you have to inspire people, you have to represent people, It’s not just about making a pretty picture.”
She is using the research skills she honed before moving to Los Angeles to expand into territories shorter models have often not had access to.
“I’m still signed and living in New York, but in a couple of weeks I’m actually going to Korea and I’ll be there for three months doing the Korean market and trying to build a stronger book.” Her resolve to strengthen her book comes from being held back from runway opportunities even after booking several major campaigns and editorials including Ulta Beauty and Cosmopolitan UK.
“They still don’t see me as that fashion girl,” she said, a tinge of separation in her voice. “I just book a lot of commercial clients “I’m working with different Asian clients because the editorials there are really strong. And then hopefully I come back to New York and they see me as this girl and they can, you know, put me out for different jobs now.”
She hopes that sharing her experience and pointing out the possibilities for shorter models will motivate hopefuls who might have counted themselves out.
“I think it’s really important for people to know that because one, I’m a dark skinned black girl when the industry is majority white. i’m shorter than the average model. And if I can make it, anybody else who continues to follow their dreams, they can also make it. And that’s not just fashion and not just modeling, but across the world.”