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Faith is in fashion

At the beginning of London Fashion Week, model Kelly Jade-Williams speaks with Sarah Olowofoyeku about her experiences in the industry

Knowing God has enabled me to de-mask and fully be myself

ALONGSIDE New York, Paris and Milan, London is one of the fashion capitals of the world. London Fashion Week, in which more than 250 British designers showcase their latest collections to funders and buyers, takes place twice a year, in February and September. Its aim is to promote British fashion globally and it welcomes some 5,000 guests including press, buyers, broadcasters, influencers and industry insiders from all over the world.

This year’s event began yesterday (Friday 16 February) and will run until 20 February, with the London Fashion Week Festival running from 22 to 25 February. Though much of the focus is on designers, in London Fashion Week and on runways and magazine pages throughout the year, their creations cannot be brought to life without the models.

The fashion industry is sometimes criticised for its treatment of models, who can be under pressure to look a certain way, sometimes to their own detriment. I wanted to find out what it is like to work in the fashion industry so I arranged to speak with Kelly-Jade Williams.

When she catches a moment to talk on the phone, she is in a waiting room for a modelling casting, having darted across London from the set of another job. A busy, varied and creative lifestyle is what makes the model feel alive. Kelly is very confident in her work within the fashion industry, and I wonder when she knew that modelling was what she wanted to do.

‘I’ve loved clothes since I was a kid,’ she says. ‘My mum would often let me dress myself from when I was about four years old, so I didn’t always look great, but I was allowed to express myself and tap into my creativity.

‘Then, on the weekend of my 13th birthday, I was feeling as sick as a dog and I’d dragged myself to the shops with Mum to find a dress for my birthday party. We were in a Topshop

in central London, and I got scouted by Models One. I joined the agency and modelled with them for a couple of years. After that, I just kept going with it.’

Kelly has been modelling since. She has also pursued studies in fashion and worked in fashion styling with clients such as body coach Joe Wicks and singing stars Jess Glynne, Tinie Tempah and Jessie J.

In the fashion industry, there is a focus on outward appearance, which can be difficult for young women, but Kelly has found a recipe for success. ‘As a Christian, my faith and my work aren’t separate – they are completely combined,’ she says. ‘My success comes from knowing who I am, and I’ve found out who I am by meeting with Christ.

‘It has been a journey, though. Because I’m mixed-race, identity has always been a weird thing for me. One of the ways in which that showed itself was that for ten years I chemically straightened my hair because I believed the lie that my naturally curly hair was ugly. I used to say I hated my hair, but that was denying who God had made me to be. ‘It was through a process of healing and truly knowing my identity that I’ve been freed from that. I don’t even have the urge to straighten my hair any more unless it’s for a job.

‘When it comes to make-up,’ she adds, ‘I don’t feel the need to plaster my face as I used to. I’ve found that knowing God has enabled me to de-mask and fully be myself even when I’m wearing false lashes or acrylic nails. I don’t feel chained to those things.’

At times Kelly has struggled to accept herself. ‘I still battle with that now,’ she says. ‘I have to believe that I’m good enough and that this is what I’m meant to be doing.’ But she does have a strong sense that modelling work is the perfect fit.

‘I feel I’ve been called to be a role model,’ she says. ‘That doesn’t mean to say I always get it right, though.’

Kelly’s solid faith has enabled her to deal with the criticism that she has faced and some of the choices she has made in her career. ‘I know I’ve done modelling jobs that at the time felt fun and cool, but when the result has come out, I’ve thought: “Oh no! What are people going to think?” But you can’t hold on to those things. You just keep going and growing.

‘I’ve done things which other Christians have frowned upon, but I know I’m meant to be doing this work. And I think it’s often because people in church don’t know how to handle my creativity,’ she says. ‘It can happen anywhere, though – people want to control you or putyou in a box. But I know that Christ promoted freedom. And my response to those people is just to love them.

‘I used to be really sensitive and get upset, but now I know that I shouldn’t be anxious or fearful. I know that I’m being directed by God, and he’ll show me those times when I have got it wrong. However, if people do have something to say, I will take their opinions into account. Sometimes their approach might not be right, but what they’re saying could be helpful.’

Though she grew up in a vibrant Christian home and church environment and always believed in God, it wasn’t until Kelly was 16 that she came to her own realisation that God was real in her own life. Now she feels that she has a relationship with him, and she doesn’t keep it to herself.

‘I’m working on hearing God’s voice more clearly when it comes to the next steps I’ll take. When I’ve made mistakes before, he has been like a loving father who corrects me and teaches me. My heart is constantly being changed – I’m evolving and developing as a woman of faith and in my career.’

Kelly is aware that how she lives as a creative person and a Christian doesn’t always conform to people’s expectations. ‘I do podium dancing, which seems outrageous when people hear about it. Yeah, the outfits are a bit crazy. But when I’m there, I get to speak into the lives of broken girls. I get to pray for them. It’s such a privilege.

‘A lot of my faith journey has been discovering God’s grace and discovering who I am,’ she says. ‘So identity is close to my heart. I want women and young girls to know who they are, and I believe the way we find out who we are is by meeting with Jesus.’

Kelly is confident in who she is and in the work that she does, but she did once try working for a church in a nine-to-five desk job. She soon found out it wasn’t for her.

‘I turned into a zombie, and my friends were asking me what had happened,’ she laughs. ‘It didn’t suit my personality, so I prayed to God that I could do what I love. And that’s the modelling, acting and presenting that I’m doing now.’

Her advice to young women aspiring to become models in an industry that can be tough on appearances is: Be yourself.

‘I know it’s so clichéd, but your imperfections, your uniqueness is what makes you who you are. You don’t need to look like a certain person or try to fit into a mould. When I was younger I got dropped because I was too exotic, but now everyone wants the exotic look. So if your teeth are wonky, keep them wonky. If you’ve got a big chin, leave it alone. Work with it!

‘It has always been in me to work in fashion and modelling. I count every job as a blessing.’

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