Name: Lola Chél
Agency: Deco Models
Claim To Fame: Chél has appeared in many high profile beauty campaigns including one for a Black hair staple.
Lola Chél would rather show you than tell you. The international model was reluctant to brag about every step she took towards commercial success to her friends and family. “I don’t make things a big deal,” she told HelloBeautiful.
She had good reason for preferring to plug along without fanfare. The first time that she was scheduled to appear in a regional runway show she was suddenly dismissed by a sponsor who didn’t think her walk was a fit. “That was a little hard to take, but it prepared me,” she asserted. The rejection prepared her to join a modeling troupe, where she acquired skills she would use to land campaigns with beauty brands like IT Cosmetics and Luster’s Pink Lotion.
“I started in a modeling troupe that was founded the same year that I got into college in 2013. And the founder brought that structure to South Florida,” she said. “It was called Eclipse Fashion Society and the alpha chapter was at FIU, which was the school that I went to.” The experience introduced her to the dynamics of “the rehearsals,” and “the fittings,” that are customary in the modeling industry.
“The thing with modeling troupes is that you have to have like his confidence. If you don’t have a certain level of confidence, you don’t really make it too far. And if you make it far, you don’t make it in the front. Uh, I’ve never been a background player,” she continued. After working her way to the forefront of the modeling troupe she began believing she could break out in commercial modeling. “I learned a lot of different skills and I felt like, well, if I’m able to do all this inside of the truth, I can clearly do it freelance,” Chél said.
She began balancing her studies at Florida International University with the coursework of Modeling 101, researching how to break into the industry with no connections. “I signed up for model mayhem. It was free. I looked at all these different jobs, I submitted myself for TFPs,” she said. She spent hours and hours trying “to get freelance work and kind of start to mold myself outside of the troop.” Two semesters later she was able to secure representation. “My first agency was Deco Models. That was a boutique fashion agency down in South Florida,” she said. She kept this step towards success to herself, choosing not to share what she was working on with her family until she was sure it was going somewhere. Chél and the agency evolved together. “I am still on the roster. We have actually grown in a relationship with the owner of, between the owner of that modeling agency and myself to the point where I was actually running the social media.”
Her marketing skills were nothing new. “My high school actually had a marketing program called DECCA,” she said. “So our DECA liaison, uh, was in our entrepreneur track. So she did a class on fashion merchandising. And to showcase that for the seniors, you got to put on a fashion show.” The experience taught her not just how to behave on the runway but familiarized her with some of the other elements of the industry. Later she relied on other early life experiences to steer her career across oceans.
“So I’m really big with intentions and doing things with intentions. So it’s very important for me to say international, because that was a goal that I had when I first started modeling when I actually sat down and said like, okay, like, what do I want to do modeling for? Like, what’s the point? What goal do I want to attain? Working internationally was like really big for me simply because the way my family structure was,” she said.
“My parents instilled a lot of knowledge in me,” she continued. “Specifically my dad instilled in me traveling at large.”
Chél’s paternal relatives prided themselves on thinking globally. “My dad is the one who like got me my passport, My dad’s the one who like took me across countries. So like, I know there’s more than where I’m at and unfortunately as I’m seeing throughout the industry a lot of models don’t really get that concept.”
Chél appears to consider the power of international status to be just as useful as the prestige. “A lot of consumers don’t really understand the necessity of being seen in more than just your market by some people,” she said.
“There are going to be some people in the islands who all they ever see are people of lighter complexion. People lose their hair textures and all the advertisements, because maybe in their specific Island, that’s all that the models, quote, unquote, look like when I work with brands that have products and said market, and I’m able to look like myself with my foresee 4B, 4C hair texture, tight Afro, and I’m exuding what this product looks like on a beautiful person, because that’s what modeling is for you give a different perspective to the consumer. So it was very important to me to make sure that I had an international impact because I understood that not everybody around the globe gets the chance to see themselves inside of print, video campaigns, things of that nature. So that is why it was so important for me to state that I am an international model. And because I did it, I worked hard. I set that goal and I freaking crushed it. And to a point where I became international before I ever left the country to do work internationally. So my work traveled across borders. Before I ever cross borders as a model working in another market,” she continued.
She was able to achieve that goal via a generic photoshoot she did for the parent company of several beauty brands. “They did like extensions and braiding hair and things of that nature,” she said. “I shot for a few of the smaller companies in their portfolio.” She had no idea if the content would ever be printed let alone circulated across continents. But because she was intentional about learning the background of every company she worked with, she knew the shoot presented a huge opportunity to get her face out there even if the parent company was not a household name. She found out about the shoot’s success from social media.
“I know people who travel often because I travel often, so I got a DM of somebody took a photo of my face on one of the packaging,” she said. Her level of research left her confident that the pictures would be used in a manner she agreed with, a valid concern for up and coming models. “I actually hesitated at telling my parents that I went freelance,” she said. Part of her reaction was caused by her family’s perception of a relative who had posed for some photographs they they didn’t approve of. “I saw how my family reacted, but when I looked back at it, she…it really wasn’t modeling,” she said. “They weren’t a fan of that. And so I can vividly remember that,” she said. “And I was like, Ooh, I don’t really know how they’re going to take me doing this because I’m like the quieter person inside of my family.”
Chél herself didn’t disapprove of what her family member had done, but it didn’t sit well with her that her choices had been made from a lack of information instead of a place of empowerment. Witnessing the situation embedded a “subconscious point,” in her. Later that point allowed her to prevent others from going through the same thing.
“If that’s what you love to do, that’s like, great. You know, if that’s your thing, I always tell models. If that’s your thing, like, I don’t do boudoir, but if that’s your thing live in that truth, but just do it and get paid. Like Missy said, ‘Ain’t no shame Ladies do your thing/ Just make sure you ahead of the game.’ Like I believe that! And I see it too many times models are getting the short end of the stick. Oftentimes it’s every time, unless you are literally trained and you are surrounded by people who have industry standards.”
Chél began sharing information in partnership with her first agency before establishing her own coaching practice Model University.
“So I think what really drives me on that front is having lived through it,” she said. “There was nobody from the modeling troupe that was doing things in the industry. That’s not how that works. It gives you a nice club to be a part of, it gives you some confidence, but doesn’t necessarily give you the tools, quote, unquote, that you need per se to Excel inside of the industry after college. So having lived through that, not having any guidance, trial, and error, dealing with shady people dealing with trying to get paid, dealing with, trying to get paid for something that they said they were going to pay you for knowing what’s going to get you all of those things,” she continued. “I know firsthand like that, you want help. You want to reach these goals, but because there’s nobody that you can like physically reach out to.”
“I started modeling officially in 2013, I didn’t get signed to 2015. That was two years that I had to figure it out, really sit down and figure it out,” said Chél. “I figured out a way to master it,” she added.
Once she got that sense of mastery she felt confident sharing what she had been up to with her family. “I got my first campaign with a company that they knew, it was a rap! Like the support was always there, but those things let me know how proud of me that they were,” she said. Her family rushed to pick up every copy of the Luster’s Pink Lotion ad as they could, excited to see her representing their natural hair product line.
“But when they saw that, like I didn’t just do it on a local level, Like I’m actually out here getting bigger jobs. I’m appearing everywhere companies that they use- use me. It was a different reaction.”
Making her family proud was one of her goals and as she expanded her coaching practice she helped others identify theirs. “Whatever your goals are, write them down, understand how that’s gonna play into the rest of your career. Go back to that,” she recommends routinely. “I’m always telling models my three pillars, set your goals, find your niche, find your market. Those are the three pillars to how every model should start.”
She suggests that models take the time to look into a coach’s background before committing. “Do your research. You wouldn’t just sign up to go to medical school without researching,” she said.
“A lot of people jump into something because they think it’s easy. And somebody told them they were tall and pretty. Do your research. I champion that to my models all the time. I’m still gonna help you, but I want you to understand, you need to do your research before you say you want to do all these things. When it comes to picking a coach, make sure they’re aligned with you. If you know that you want to be a state side, domestic model and you want to do runway, don’t get a coach who works in a completely different country, who does only parts modeling. Do your research. Look at what that coach actually has done in the industry. Look at the people that they have worked with, asked those people. How was your experience with this coach? Just as much as I want you to research this industry, I want you to do even more research on a coach because this person’s going to guide you to the goals that you want to achieve in the industry. And if you don’t know anything about them, they can tell you anything. And if you don’t know what you want to do, you’re going to believe them and then you get deeper into a cycle that’s not beneficial for your success. Do your research on me, ask people who’ve worked with me.I have no problem with you doing that because I know what I’m doing. I know what I’ve done. And I know the results that I drive.”
And if you’ve ever driven by an ULTA or been to a beauty supply store, so do you.