Interview: Hong Kong model Jaye on being a petite East Asian model in the UK

“British East Asian women should be strong, independent and unapologetic individuals”    Nee Hao Interviews Hong Kong model Jaye on being a petite East Asian model in the UK

The growing presence of East Asian models in the modelling and fashion industry is partly owed to the growing middle-class Chinese consumers in the international fashion market. With such a demand for luxury goods, big fashion houses such as Burberry has been concentrating on their sales outside of Europe, even using Chinese models on their fashion and beauty campaigns e.g. Liu Wen, Fei Fei Sun, Sui He, and Xiao Wen Ju. As diversity becomes a more pressing issue to be addressed in the modelling industry, these girls are not only changing the face of fashion but also bring forth the different faces of Asian beauty.

As part of  Nee Hao UK’s interests in promoting British-Chinese talents, Emmanuelle Khoo introduces UK-based Hong Kong model, Jaye.

From Toni & Guy, Dead Lotus Couture, Jon Harris to Hellavagirl, Jaye’s portfolio is not only filled with a stunning array of images but also reveals much of her versatility and passion for creating interesting stories – ones that resonate with her own interests and view. Jaye is quick to venture into unconventional but creative concepts, from channeling the Silk Road nomad, a gangsta kimono rock-chic, the red queen, an alien gladiator and more.

Published in L’Official Khazakstan, Digital Photographer Magazine, Estetica Magazine China, Feroce Magazine, Jaye proves that petite East Asian models are also in demand in the UK fashion industry. In the interview below, the author talks to Jaye on her view on the growing demand for Chinese models, her biggest inspiration, tips to prepare for a shoot, the changing beauty standards of Asian beauty and overcoming the height disadvantage of being 5”3. 

What do you miss about Hong Kong?

Namely, how convenient it is to move about and get what you need! Shops are always opened till late. It is also relatively cheaper to use public transportation if you compare it to the UK. But most of all, I miss the cheaper (but good) food as well as the amazing range of Asian beauty products for beauty addicts like myself!

Who is your biggest inspiration?

Coco Rocha, then Karlie Kloss!

How did your interest in modeling begin?

I started during pre-U when I was experimenting with self-portraiture, editing on Photoshop, and then uploading it to DeviantART.  However, when I came over to the UK for university, I met and collaborated with a group of like-minded individuals. At first, modeling and working on photoshoots as a “team” were very new to us at the time but through our mutual interest in creating new narratives, we encouraged and pushed one another to be better. Although we did these shoots for fun, we were totally serious when we shot them, made and edited the selections. At that point, it felt exciting because we simply were not in the industry; we did not care what we created or how good they were. We just simply created, made mistakes, learned from them, and built on them.

As I began building my modeling portfolio, everything changed when I met Jake [Jaye’s husband who also happens to be a British fashion photographer]. He came along and introduced me to a whole new world, especially when studio lighting was involved. Everything from styling and makeup are taken up to the next level! Initially, modeling in the UK was quite difficult because I was unfamiliar with the industry, and I had personal issues to overcome. But gradually, you build relationships, know who you work well with, and really, this was where my interest in modelling really grew. After shooting with Jake, I definitely feel like I have grown exponentially and began shooting with other photographers.

Also, I partially think it was that insecurity about myself that I started to find myself in front of the camera. I have always believed that I was an ugly child: “my lips were too big”, “I am fat”, “I look too dorky”…etc. But with the amazing styling, makeup and collaborative approach, I think I have become a better version of myself and soon strive to deliver results. That is the motivation for me to keep trying new things. I aim high and have high expectations (as all Asians do!) yet hope to keep myself humble.

As you have experienced the best of East and West, in your opinion, what are the differences between Hong Kong and UK modeling industry?

Although I was not heavily involved in the Hong Kong modelling industry, I do know that they focus on commercial work compared to the UK. You have to be “agency standard” to be hired as a model for campaigns and fashion shows. In the Asian fashion industry, white models are preferred as they represent the international standard look. This is a particularly useful marketing strategy when designers wish to “internationalize” their brand. It may come from a deeply-rooted belief that being white is more beautiful.  

In Asia, you also have to face the Asian standards of beauty which is still having that porcelain-white, poreless skin, double eye lids, heart-shaped face, long hair and regardless of how tall you are, weigh 45kg. Korea and Japan have a strong influence in setting this trend.

However, I do feel that the fitness industry has made a huge impact on Asians where people are finding the fit look attractive.

Meanwhile, the UK modelling industry is keen on using a wider range of models. The industry here favours the weird and wonderful, the ones who stand out, and the ones who have a unique and distinct look. Also, with the rise in social media and millennial models, what used to be “non-agency standard” girls can now be considered models. It is no longer unattainable. Social media has definitely widened the way we define modelling. Instagram is a classic example.

www.LelBurnett.uk

Speaking of Instagram, we really love your modelling portfolio on @jaye.hicks ! Care to share the common mistakes models usually make on Instagram and what they should avoid?

Great question! I am still trying to get a hang of it myself! But I think the Number 1 mistake on Instagram is buying followers, then it is posting images that do not reflect your brand. Although my following is not huge, but I get good enough engagement and this is what really counts.

Brands are smart enough these days to ask for analytics and engagement, so if you are going to buy followers to fake it, you have to fake the engagement as well or you will get caught!

Do you think getting jobs as a petite model is tougher than being an East Asian model in the UK fashion industry?

I think the challenges as a petite model is far greater than being an East Asian model! I am actually slightly shorter than the standard petite model height, which is between 5”4 – 5”7. Although I say this, the trick is to always know your angles and your strengths. I usually appear taller than I am in photos because I play to my strengths with mid-body and portrait shots. Although these are tricks-of-the-trade, it will always be a challenge being petite because the fashion industry would prefer taller models.

I think people generally like the “East Asian look” in the West as it is “different”. In recent years, diversity has become a mainstream conversation in the fashion and film industries.

Thanks to the ongoing dialogue, there is definitely more demand and subsequently, competition among Asian models, which is amazing for us! People generally accept this idea of diversity, but ultimately we still have a long way to go. I still think the standard tall, slim, white models would always have the better advantage. That being said, things are definitely changing for East Asian models.

As you have said earlier, opportunities for Asian models are growing in the recent years but negative and cliché stereotypes of East Asian women do remain in the film industry. Do they exist in the fashion industry as well?

Honestly, I am fortunate to have met and worked with people who do not buy into these stereotypes which is amazing! I think East Asian women are constantly challenging these stereotypes by being who they are: as strong, independent and unapologetic individuals. I am also fortunate to be able to choose who I work with. My personal rule is to only collaborate on concepts that I resonate with, and none of which encourages negative or cliché stereotypes. At least, I know I have tried incredibly hard to avoid having any chopsticks in my hair! 

Anyway, I have also seen a lot of creatives challenging these stereotypes by re-presenting them in different and fresh perspectives. I think that is absolutely fantastic when these concepts are done well. Essentially, it is really down to team to really bring the best out of every concept and those who do it in a tacky manner, in my mind, are not doing anything groundbreaking. They are only pressing for the need to reconsider other cultures.

How do you prepare for a shoot?

I always ask to see the moodboard to get the gist of what photographers are after, and see relevant poses.  I always try to remember that I am not recreating the moodboard that I am given, but to convey how I reinterpret it during the shoot.

I also ensure that my skin is as good as it can be before the shoot, being thorough and consistent with my skincare routine, and making sure I get enough sleep before the shoot. I tend to get “in the zone” once I am prepped and ready on set. Then, with the vivid images from the moodboard, I feel like I am able to channel the required mood into the shoot. The trick is to keep moving and try not to overthink poses because that may give an opposite effect!

So you also blog about beauty products and skincare! Would you like to share your secrets to maintaining good skin?

Photoshop, filters, and hydration! There is no one secret to good skin but if you want to know more, I blog at ijustwantgoodskin.com where I share things that work for me. My beauty routine changes from time-to-time but my updates are regular! I upload a new post every Wednesday.

You are such an inspiration for petite East Asian models. What advice would you give to aspiring East Asian models who wish to break into the UK fashion industry?

Ah thank you, but I am far from successful!

Honestly, I think East Asian models (with the height) will have an edge in the industry these days! Other than that, I would say never do commercial work for free, do not let anyone push your levels. Finally, stay humble and stay authentic.

To check out Jaye’s portfolio:

IG: @jaye.hicks

Agency: Model Union  (http://www.model-union.com/main-board/girls/jaye-j/)

Jaye’s blog: www.ijustwantgoodskin.com

Image Credits

 Tae Alvon

Photography: Tae Alvón

Hair: Regina Meessen

Make-Up: Min Sandhu

Publication: Creative HEAD Magazine

Kamal Mostofi

Photographer & Retoucher: Kamal Mostofi
Makeup: Žydrė Žilinskaitė Mua
Hair: Jason Goh
Publication: L’affaire Magazine

JHP

Photographer & Retoucher: Jake Hicks

Hair and makeup: Rachael Kent

JHP

Photographer & Retoucher: Jake Hicks

Designer and Styling: Jon Harris

Hair and Makeup: Jaye (myself)

LB

Photographer & Retoucher: Lel Burnett

Hair & Makeup: Rachael Kent

MDF

Photographer & Retoucher: Marina Dean-Francis

Hair & Makeup: Sophie Moore

Publication: L’Officiel Kazakhstan

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