Name: Aleka Ward
Agency: EMG Models
Claim to Fame: Ward has appeared in NYFW presentations for Aliette, Shun Oyama Tokyo, Bailuyuu, Hamon, Xunruo, Amnesia and more.
Aleka Ward began her fashion career pursuing design but when classmates began asking her to model their creations she reconsidered. “It was like, wow, like, okay, I’m really enjoying this, actually liking it more than, you know, fashion design,” she told HelloBeautiful. Instead of focusing on sketching techniques she would be sitting for fittings and practicing poses.
“I wasn’t good at drawing, but I knew I liked fashion,”she continued. “So I was like, okay, like this might be an avenue for me.”
Ward started modeling, connecting with other models and photographers in Atlanta at free events called “powershoots” where creatives could show off their skills. There she was able to “get connected with makeup artists and hairstylists and designers.”
“I started building my portfolio from there,” she explained. “Hundreds of models, hundreds of photographers would be there. We would have them like once a month.” Some of the people she met there would reappear on her journey to walking the runway for some of the biggest names in ready-to-wear. “We were nobody like just starting out and like, you know, figuring everything out,” she continued. “I never really paid for shoots.”
Ward researched visual trademarks of models she wanted to emulate so she could present herself similarly. Her ultimate goal was getting signed in New York City. She asked makeup artists for increasingly natural looks. “I would look online and like Instagram and things like that, Pinterest, and be like, okay, I want to shoot these types of pictures. Like, these are the types of girls that are assigned in New York. So let me try and shoot these.”
Ward hired Marcus Ezell, who would go on to be a noted fashion photographer, to take her updated digitals with money she earned at Forever 21 in Lennonx Mall. She claimed Ezell was only asking $100 before he had fully established himself as a talent but she still saw it as a huge commitment. “ I shot my digitals with him for a hundred dollars. Keep in mind. I’m like 19, I don’t have any money.”
“I was like, all right, let me take a leap of faith,” said Ward. “I was making like $8, $8.25 or something like that,” she continued. “But I put it together. I invested in myself and I got the digitals.” The images proved Ward chose correctly. “This is the picture that got me discovered,” she said proudly.
Her time with that agency was short lived but the signing made her career, “I was only signed with them for like three weeks and then they randomly emailed us and said that they closed down.” Ward was quickly picked up elsewhere because of the attention the agency’s closing drew.
“I think it was just like a setup for like God to like, you know, get my face out there and get me in the door because I’ve been going to like castings, open calls and things like that. And nobody would sign me, but as soon as like, I got signed with them and then they released me because they closed down, then like all these agencies, like maybe like four or five agencies are like, like emailing me or in my DMS, like, ‘Hey, we heard your agency closed down. Like we would love to sign you. We’d love to have you in.’ And so, yeah, I just think that was just like the set up for me to really be seen.”
Encouraged by the momentum Ward was ready to move to New York. Her mother insisted she explore the city before relocating. “She was like, you need to go and visit.”
“Literally my first time flying was on 9/11,” she said. “That ticket was the cheapest. I had never been to New York. I had never flown when I was just like, you know what I’m going. So I literally went on my own.” Ward stayed in an outer borough and commuted into Manhattan for castings despite not knowing how to get around the city. “I bought my ticket that day. I flew by myself and I just came and I was just like, all right, like I stayed the first time I came, I stayed at Jamaica Queens. I’m in New York by myself and I’m in Jamaica, Queens and Airbnb. Right. So I just got a little room in somebody’s house.” It was another example of her “hopping out on faith.”
At the time the choice seemed basic but looking back she realized “that was very bold and courageous.”
“My first season was September, 2019 and I booked eight shows. I booked eight shows and I walked eleven times and it was crazy. My first day I had three shows my first day on top of like fittings and field castings and even the second day and the third day. So it was chaotic running around and I didn’t get to enjoy the moment, but now that I look back on it, it’s like, wow, you’re actually living through what you’ve been praying for. And what you’ve been asking for.”
Ward shifted towards campaigns where there’s more time to reflect. “It’s more relaxed, your measurements aren’t so strict or restricted, and you get paid more,”she said. They also allow her to reach the everyday passerby. She wants her images on billboards to be an example of what can be achieved through persistence for Black girls considering modeling. “I’ve been modeling since 2013 and I’m just now, you know, getting somewhat to where I want to be,” she said.
“I just want them to see me and know it’s possible. It might take us a little longer, especially because of the color of our skin. But if you’re serious about it, if you’re persistent with it, then it’s definitely going to happen for you.”