I've had the pleasure of working with Melissa on several occasions and she's one of the most professional models I've had in front of my camera. Having worked for brands like Disney, Microsoft and Herbal Essences, her experience is obvious and she's extremely dedicated to her profession. We were chatting a bit about what it was like for her as a mixed-race model in the primarily blonde beach babe fashion scene in Melbourne in the early 2000s and I decided to interview her:
Tell us a bit about yourself!
I started modelling when I was sixteen. My parents and I had an agreement that I would finish schooling and then go from there.
I never planned on modelling longer than two years, as I loved studying and wanted to become a pathologist, but once I graduated I had the opportunity to work overseas.
I took a gap year (a year in between high school and University) and never went back!
Can you describe the fashion landscape in Australia when you started modelling?
When is started the modelling world was immensely different to what it is now. That doesn't necessarily mean it's easier for mixed race and diverse girls now, but it was incredibly hard back in the early 2000's.
In terms of fashion, Melbourne – where I grew up – was always about pushing boundaries and trying new things. Couture and high end designers were willing to take risks, but the commercial market relied on the typical standard of “blonde surfer girl” to sell clothes in Australia.
To be honest, I never noticed it until I got into the industry, but once I saw it, I realised no one was representing the multiculturalism that Australia has.
What were some of the challenges you faced as a mixed race model in Australia?
Clients were reluctant to risk casting a mixed race model. Only international clients (especially those from Asia) seemed to want to see all types of models in their campaigns.
When I started, I was one of a handful of minority models on the agencies books. We were all kind of lumped into one section of “other”, and I would sometimes get to a casting for a fashion show and they would say “We've already cast a black girl, or an asian girl for the show, so you don't need to walk for us.”
It was crazy that they thought could only have one minority girl in their show, and the rest looked like carbon copies of each other. It's really great seeing catwalk and fashion in general, really embrace diversity and use woman that represent a lot of different races.
One of the other issues was never being Asian or white enough. I was that in between, that they couldn't figure out where to place. After spending a lot of time working in the Asian fashion markets, I realised how much of a commodity being Eurasian was to the right audience. It's funny because not many people used to associate the Asian markets as prestigious to work in, but being Eurasian it was such a lucrative and wonderful experience. For the first time I felt truly appreciated for my mixed race background, and people were always fascinated by how my parents met, and what my upbringing was like.
When you came to work in North America did you notice a difference in industry attitudes?
North America has definitely been at the forefront of changing things. They're very pro-diversity which is awesome. However it's interesting that some companies talk the talk but don't walk the walk for longer than a season.
I find the pressure to be a sample size is a lot harder here as well, Australia was very relaxed on that front, and preferred that models looked healthier rather than gaunt. But again, that's also changing here, the commercial market has been moving towards models that are strong, fit and healthy, which is a great thing!
Do you think things have changed since you started modelling, both here and in Australia?
Definitely. Instagram and social media has changed a lot of things, both for better and worse. Models are booking less off their portfolios and body of work, and more off how many followers they have. It's kind of sad seeing a model who's worked for years and has a great work ethic and really knows how to pose, lose her job to an instagram girl who doesn't know how to pose and ends up frustrating the client and photographer. It's not all instagram girls, but there's something to be said about being accountable to an agency, and having them guide you and groom you up into a reputable model.
For better though, the people buying the products can voice their concerns. I know companies that have changed their entire advertising structure to include models of all demographics, to suit the audience they're selling to. It's been really great that way, seeing the change happen so quickly.
Do you have any advice for mixed race models trying to break into the industry?
Don't be disheartened when you don't book a job. Take the little wins as they come, and celebrate other diverse models booking, because we're all in this together.
Also don't be afraid to create your own content, now is the age of putting your personal thoughts out there, whether that be in blogging, using instagram, vlogging on youtube or creating your own brand.
Follow Melissa on Instagram