Nana Keita is one of the beautiful faces in the latest generation of African supermodels. Despite having been around for only a few years, this Malian native has already made waves in the modeling industry by walking for respected labels from Issac Mizrahi to Sophie Theallet and David Tlale. This month we celebrate her accomplishments by honoring her as Ladybrille Magazine’s June 2011 Woman of the Month and also sharing her journey so far in this exclusive interview. In this exclusive, Nana Keita shares her journey as a model, her views on African fashion and fashion designers, and she also offers advice to young female professionals. This is a must-read interview so grab a chair, sit back and enjoy!
NANA KEITA ON HOW IT ALL BEGAN
LADYBRILLE.com: How did you get into the world of modeling?
Nana Keita: (I got into the industry) by accident. Growing up I wanted to become a pilot, an astronaut, or an architect. But one day on a plane to Paris, I (was) approached by an agent to become a model. I was very young so it took about a couple of years to convince my parents (and) in the end they agreed (so) long as I finished school.
LADYBRILLE.com: You have had an exciting career so far- you have met with some of the world’s greatest designers and walked in coveted fashion shows including Lanvin, Manish Arora, Sophie Theallet and Isaac Mizrahi! What would you say has been the highlight of this exciting journey?
Nana Keita: I have so many great memories all so dear to me (that) it’s difficult to pick specific events. I will always remember how Tracy Reese was so kind and picked me to open her show (in) my first season. (Also,) having to meet the incredible Rick Owens and have him be so supportive of me means so much to me, and the amazing Alber Elbaz (who after) meeting me in NY invit(ed) me to Paris to do his show are (all) just priceless experiences that I’m very grateful for and will cherish for the rest of my life. I thank God, my wonderful agents and everyone who’s been supportive of me in this interesting journey.
NANA KEITA ON AFRICAN MODELS AND ITS FASHION INDUSTRY
LADYBRILLE.com: In recent years, the industry has experienced a wave of new African models such as yourself, Ajak Deng, Millen Magese, Betty Adewole and Ataui Deng, to name a few. Why do you think this change has occurred? Also, should we expect you African models to be fixtures in the industry rather than seasonal accessories?
Nana Keita: I couldn’t tell why such change (has occurred), but it goes without say(ing) that I’m happy and excited about it because beauty is universal and shouldn’t be based on the skin tone. I know that we are all doing our best to work hard in deserving to be around for as long as possible, so I don’t think we will be “seasonal accessories” to anyone. Black beauty will always shine and I’m sure we will have a brand new generation taking over what we will leave, I have no doubt there will always be African models in the industry.
LADYBRILLE.com: What do you think about the progress that African male models such as Salieu Jalloh and David Agboji, have made in the industry? Do you think they face similar challenges as African female models?
Nana Keita: Fashion (for the most part is) based on reaching out more to women than men, so there are way more female models than male. Male models have always had (fewer) opportunities than the(ir) female (counterparts) therefore it’s harder for them to breakthrough, especially (in the case of) (B)lack or Asian male models due to the lack of diversity in certain markets. That’s why I’m very proud of Salieuh, David and their likes for their talent, determination, and hard work, and (I) wish much more success to them.
LADYBRILLE.com: Who is your favourite African designer?
Nana Keita: I have a few but I will go with Alphadi from Niger.
Nana Keita: He’s been around for a long time and (has) represented not only his country but the whole African continent around the world. He (has) also (taken) a(n) (additional) big step by coming up with FIMA (Festival International de Mode Africaine) and creat(ing) an opportunity for young African designers to show their talent. (He) also allow(s) the fashion world to discover more (about) the African cultures and designs by bringing them to Africa for his annual fashion shows. One of the things I also like most about him is his humanitarian side as he manages efforts to help (those) in need.
LADYBRILLE.com: You have shown support for African designers by participating in various African fashion shows including Arise Magazine Fashion Week 2011, Arise African Collective and a show by a fellow Mali native, Xuly Bet. From your observations, how do you think we can continue developing the African fashion industry and how do we increase the international profile of our talented designers?
Nana Keita: Yes, I have and will continue to give my support whenever possible. Development is a long process and I believe African fashion is already on the right track. I think the designers can do their part (by) provid(ing) us with great quality garments that are worth spending money on.
And we can do our part by buying and wearing their clothes. In the end no matter how talented a designer, sales are very important for the longevity of the brand. They also need good investors, relevant fashion magazines to promote them better, (and so forth). I also think it’s great to do traditional designs and represent our different cultures, but they should also try (to) always bring something new and refreshing to the table just like all the great designers around the world.
NANA OFFERS TIPS FOR MODELS & AFRICAN MODELS
LADYBRILLE.com: What career tips can you offer to other African models, both in Africa and abroad, looking to break into the international modeling scene?
Nana Keita: My number one advice to anyone is to (first) try and finish school, at least high school. Stay natural and true to yourself, be confident but stay humble, and never let anyone convince you that you are not good enough. It is a (tough) business, so you need to be physically prepared and emotionally strong.
LADYBRILLE.com: Because many girls want to model, they can easily fall prey to people who scam them. How can all the “model wanna be” girls out there tell if they are dealing with a legitimate agency?
Nana Keita: A real agency MUST have an actual board with working models and bookers. And you DO NOT have to pay anyone to get signed into one. And of course NEVER sign a contract without reading and understanding it first.
LADYBRILLE.com: (Speaking of that) bookers are a big part of a models life. Explain their role and what they do?
Nana: It’s a team, we work together and we make things happen together. There will be no model without bookers and vice versa. A booker is like a mentor who will guide you to the clients that might be interested in your look to represent specific products. They are like an “intermediate” between models and clients. In another word, they are the people behind the scenes working hard to keep us busy and relevant. When they are really good then I like to call them agents, those are the ones who help “build” a great model with long term/solid successful career.
LADYBRILLE.com: Managing your finances to me, as a model, is very important. Share with our model hopefuls how models get paid, the dry season and how to save their monies when they get in?
Nana Keita: First the booker sends you out to castings, and if you book the job then the agency bills them (the client). After the client pays, the agency takes out a percentage for their work and the rest is yours. To save money, you shouldn’t spend more than you earn of course, and keep tomorrow in mind because life always challenges us with ups and downs. If you can, it’s good to put some money on the side and not spend it all.
LADYBRILLE.com: What advice can you offer to young African female (models) about properly balancing their career goals with their family life, relationships and other personal commitments?
Nana Keita: I think you should just look at it as a job and at the end of the day when you go home; it shouldn’t be taken there with you. One can be a model and be many other things, it all depends on your own commitment level and determination to make things work. Just focus on your priorities and be correct with people around you.
LADYBRILLE.com: Do you have any pet projects that you are currently working on or hope to work on that relate to Africa?
Nana Keita: Beside my humanitarian work . . . I have a couple offers (that) I’m (currently) meditating on but I haven’t made any final decisions as I’m working on my career as a model and still have a long way to go.
But of course, like I said above, I’m always ready to support not only my country but our continent in any way possible. There is a lot to be done where I come from and God willing, I intend to be part of that change.
NANA KEITA LETS HER HAIR DOWN AND SHARES HER HOBBIES!
LADYBRILLE.com: How do you spend your free time? Are you still a huge fan of video games?
Nana Keita: I like reading, some of my favorite authors are Aime Cesaire, Amadou Hampathe Ba, Sophie Kinsella, and the kid inside me still likes comic books such as Asterix and Obelix, Les 4 As, (and so forth). I dream of building a library in my house one day.
I also like cooking, which can vary from African dishes to French cuisine, all depending on my mood; [l]istening to music, I don’t really have a favorite genre and my i(P)od is full of music from around the world, but I’m a big fan of Jay-Z, Coldplay, Africando, Dalida, Beyonce, Salif Keita, Viviane Ndour (and so forth) and sometimes I just play “coupe decale” and dance for hours!! I also like hanging out with my friends, and yes of course, playing video games too. (Smiles)
LADYBRILLE.com: Hmmm . . . speaking of food, what is your favourite African food?
Nana Keita: A lot!! But I’ll go with a dish my grand mother makes so well called “Widjila” made of lamb meat in a rich sauce of diverse spices from the North part of Mali. It’s served with very soft traditional bread. Delicious!!
LADYBRILLE.com: Can you make it? (Laughs) We will come over for dinner.
Nana Keita: Of course!! I can step off the runway and get in the kitchen anytime!! (Laughs)
It will be difficult to make that particular dish here in the U.S because it’s not easy to find all the right ingredients, but I’d be glad to have you over for a “tasting session” whenever we’re all in Mali at the same time.
LADYBRILLE.com: How do you define a brilliant model?
Nana Keita: One that is outstanding at their job, a great role model, and able to easily shift from one market to another with the same quality of work.
LADYBRILLE.com: What about a brilliant woman?
Nana Keita: A woman with strong character and convictions, faith, humility, grace, good manners. A hard worker who is not afraid to stand up for what’s right, able to stand strong on her own and yet does not try to be “equal” to men. I salute them all around the world as they are pride and inspiration to me.
LADYBRILLE.com: What does it feel like to join the Alumni list of Iman, Saran Kaba Jones, Teresa Clarke and other brilliant women as Ladybrille’s Woman of the Month?
Nana Keita: I’m very humbled and have so much respect for every single one of them and hope one day to reach their level of accomplishments. I also thank Lady(b)rille for the support and consideration towards (me) and (I) wish the magazine much success.
LADYBRILLE.com: What is your plan B, after modeling? Will you design like Alek Wek & Liya or go into beauty business like Iman?
Nana Keita: I’m into architecture so most likely that’s where you will find me. . . but I do hope my career (will) one day measure up to theirs, as I respect them all very much.
LADYBRILLE.com: What should we expect to see from you in the next few years?
Nana Keita: Only God knows what’s next, but you can be sure that I will do my best to make a difference. I wish to reach a higher level in my career as a model and touch as many lives as possible by hopefully becoming a UN ambassador (which will enable me) to dedicate my entire life to becoming a voice to (those) that unfortunately don’t have one and (also) help bring hope and joy to as many souls as I possibly can.
First published June 2011