Idia Aisien decided early on that she wanted to be a journalist like her idol, Dele Giwa. Growing up in Lagos, Idia also realized she had a natural talent for modeling. She was signed to Beth models Nigeria at the age of 15, but decided to pursue her education and earn a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and International Business from American University. Idia finally got her opportunity to work in Journalism with jobs at The Discovery Channel and Fox News. But, after being saddled with fluff stories, Idia decided that a Master’s in International Studies would enable her work in International Affairs and delve deeper into the issues that matter to her. Idia recently graduated with a Master’s in International Public Relations and Global Corporate Communications from New York University. While pursuing her Master’s she interned at the United Nations and she is currently working for the Private Equity firm, Atlas Mara. Idia has managed the tedious task of pursuing an impressive academic and corporate career while building the modeling career she always dreamed of.

Ayiba’s Eyitemi Popo caught up with Idia at the High Line in Manhattan to talk with this Debonoire about her life in the Big Apple.

Eyitemi: Why did you decide to move to New York?

Fashion. Fashion. Fashion.

Eyitemi: How did your parents feel about that?

At first my Dad was not interested in hearing anything about modeling. When I got signed to Beth Models in Nigeria, he said if I got my first degree we could talk about it. Once I got my Bachelor’s degree, he said we could talk after my Master’s [Laughs]

More recently, my entire family has become very supportive. I’ve always said that if God wanted me to do this, I wouldn’t have to lose my relationship with my family because of it. And that is just what happened, when the time was right, they came around.

Eyitemi: How has your experience as a signed model in New York been so far?

I think modeling has changed me because it is very difficult. I have become more confident since I began modeling. You have to have thick skin to make it in this industry. I mean how many people have walked into a room looking for a job, just to hear “your hips are not proportional, you have a funny nose, your complexion isn’t perfect, your eyes are sagging. We don’t want you!” Before I started modeling, I just knew body types to be tall or short, big or slim, dark or light. In modeling, they break you down by complexion, tell you about the asymmetry of your face. It’s intense, but the key is to be positive because for every person that is unimpressed by your look, you’ll have someone who sees your beauty.

Eyitemi: How has it been modeling between New York and Lagos?

It’s been great! It feels like I killed two birds with one stone. My New York modeling career has spilt over and has allowed me walk for most of the top designers in Lagos, so it’s like the best of both worlds.

Eyitemi: What is your dream for your modeling career?

You really want to know?  Since I was 12 years old I have always said I am going to model for Gap. So, I think a huge campaign like Gap or H&M would change everything.


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Eyitemi: What is your dream for your corporate campaign?

I have always wanted to start my own foundation. I have the name trademarked and everything, so I’m ready. I used to think I needed a lot of work experience to start it, but you don’t need to wait to make a lot of money before you get into philanthropy.  My passion is what is important, so I see myself launching something very soon.

Eyitemi: And how will you balance your corporate career with modeling?

The same way I have always done it. I modeled when I was working at the United Nations. When I would have a casting, I would walk out of the building in a suit, jump into a cab and come out in hot pants. [Laughs] The cab drivers would look at me like ‘are you a spy?’

Modeling is a part of me and I don’t think I could ever let it go. I love fabric. I love runways. I love meeting photographers and industry insiders. I don’t think I could ever just stop. I’ll make it work alongside my corporate career.

Eyitemi: What is your advice for young African girls trying to break into the New York modeling industry?

Try your hardest to get signed. It is not going to be easy. We’ve all had to go to agencies 10, 15, 20 times before they finally said ‘Ugh! She is not going to stop coming back.’ If you go the first time with your hair up and they don’t like you, the next time, put your hair down. Being signed is very important because these agencies protect you. There are a lot of creeps out there. I can’t even begin to describe some of people I have met working in fashion. It can be an amazing and very rewarding field, but you can get into a lot of trouble if you don’t do it right. So, try to get signed.

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