Updated: Nov 12, 2020
NEW ERA with : MICHELE ACHIENG OPIYO
Photographed by Nick Scaife. Styled by Marina German. Words by Charlie Newman.
Makeup directed by Christabel Draffin and applied by Michele Opiyo
2020 will be a year that marks the history books for many reasons. We are experiencing a pandemic of historic standards whilst simultaneously writing new history books for the future, welcoming diversity and equality for all. For the majority of us work has been a write off this year but nevertheless our minds have still been challenged and expanded. Covid-19 has demanded we pause to think on what really matters and the Black Lives Matter movement has forced us to question and examine how we live our lives, paving a way for a new and improved future.
Michele, you have been modelling for 1 year and 4 months. What has been a career highlight for you?
In the span of one year I was able to work with top designers, magazines and top brands like Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, Tommy Hilfiger, Zara, Mango, Elie Saab and others. I also got my first cover at M.O.S.T Lifestyle Magazine.
What do you enjoy about modelling most?
It allows me to be myself. I get the opportunity to express my personality, feelings, emotions and artistic side. On top of that, travelling, meeting remarkable people and the independence that this lifestyle provides are big pluses as well.
Travel comes hand in hand with working in fashion. Where has been your favourite place to travel to? What would you recommend our readers do/see/eat there?
I have been to quite a few countries, but the ones I remember most fondly are Madrid in Spain because of the warmth and hospitality of its people, and Poland, which struck me as a great and inexpensive country. It felt so much like home. I remember eating Nigerian Jellof rice for the first time, and it was an amazing experience.
If you weren’t modelling what would you be doing?
I would be working in the Hotel and Hospitality industry, where I worked before I was scouted.
This is your first shoot back, how does it feel?
Actually, it’s my second one after 3 months in quarantine and it feels great. I couldn’t wait to work again.
Where and who have you been quarantining with?
I was quarantined alone at my apartment in London. I was on my own for 2 months, but in permanent contact with my family and friends. During this time, I was happy and fulfilled. Later, another model joined me at the flat. It felt great having someone else around.
If you could choose one famous person to quarantine with, dead or alive, who would it be and
I would choose Lupita Nyongo. She is an icon I have heard about and looked up to since I was so little. Her example motivates me every day to keep on working hard and fighting for my dreams. Every time I read or watch her it feels like seeing my aspirational reflection. She leaves the footsteps I follow.
It’s very easy to get bogged down with the negatives of Covid-19, but what positives have you taken from this period?
This period spent in lockdown here in London has made me witness so many people come together as a community in support of the NHS and each other. It’s been a gratifying occurrence. Besides, I also enjoyed seeing the drop in pollution and the animals reclaiming the world we live in.
Lockdown has afforded us the time to pause and reflect. What have you learnt about yourself over these past few months?
I learnt that I am happy and in peace by myself, and capable of motivating and inspiring other people. I also discovered that I can be a great cook and a decent dancer.
What are you most looking forward to post lockdown?
I want to get up to speed with work again. I also plan to visit my family and friends in Kenya. Some other things I want to do are (in no particular order of preference): visit my dream countries, touch many more lives for the better, and meet up with and hug people again.
Only 9% of people would like to return to their former lives pre lockdown. What changes would you like to put in place in your life post-lockdown?
I love and enjoy my job, as I am living my dream. Some aspects I would like to improve upon are:
doing a better work at monitoring my diet, believing more in myself, working extra hard, and excelling at supporting my family.
On the topic of change, the Black Lives Matter movement is rightly changing the world one march and petition at a time. It’s been a momentous couple of weeks with a lot to process. How did this make you feel?
I was so emotional about it, since it’s something that has been happening again and again. In previous occasions you would only see black people protesting about it, but this time it’s been different. It has been beautiful to see all races coming together protesting for change. I felt a slight relief, and I think that the future will be great. The next generation will be at a better place.
The fashion industry may be celebrating diversity but it still has a long way to go. From your own personal experience and knowledge, where would you like the industry to improve and change for the better?
I think there is room for improvement on providing adequate care on set for the models. It would also be great if there was a better knowledge of black skins and black hair textures. So many times I have to use my own foundation, that could be improved. Besides, I think that casting directors selection should be conducted based on one’s ability to do the job, rather than filtering based on the skin colour. I believe that there should be more body shapes on the runway as well. Let’s talk and do more for equality.
Often the best way to implement change is through educating ourselves and inspiring others. Do you have any stories or people you would like to share with our readers?
I would like to share some thoughts about my mum. She has raised me and my 3 siblings through adversity, all by herself, since my dad died 12 years ago. She lived in the streets of Nairobi with no shelter for many years. She struggled, worked hard and persevered to provide a home for her children. She worked hard washing people’s clothes. She was smart enough to get a better job but she never got the opportunity to go to school. She never had anyone to support her through life. Against all odds she prospered, and she took her 4 children through education. Now I am a graduate. She continues supporting my 3 siblings throughout school and now they are about to finish. She is a gift, a blessing filled with hope and a bright future. She taught us to believe in ourselves, to always fight for our dreams and for what’s right. She tells me every day that she is proud of me, but I can’t wait to make her even prouder. She is the true definition of a superhero to me. So that’s the short story of my lovely Mama.
Michele appears courtesy of PRM.