- Written by Super User
Jemimah Waititu's daughter, April, has been modeling since she was eight years old, and four years later, she is still at it. Introduced to the industry by her mother, who was looking to find an outlet for her energy, April is now enjoying the social and monetary perks that come with job.
Enter the world of child modeling; something that was once considered a preserve of the wealthy and privileged, but now making forays into the Kenyan middle class, as children become regulars on runways, billboards, television spots and print advertisements.
Child modeling, around the world, is split in two specialties, runway and commercial.
Runway modeling mainly entails displaying clothes and related products on catwalks and fashion shows.
Commercial modelling, on the other hand, revolves around advertisements on broadcast and print platforms.
Modeling agencies in Kenya try to focus on either of the two categories, although most have placed emphasis seems on commercial modelling.
This is the case for iMandy Models, who with a database of 200 child models, are keen on supplying advertisers with great talent to use in marketing their products.
“Runway jobs are scarce and most of them happen in seasons, mainly during school holidays,” Ian Maina, the director of iMandy Models, said.
Children can begin modeling as early as six months for commercial products. For runway modeling, the recommended age to start is five years.
“It is easier to train children from five years onwards for runway acts. Younger kids will struggle to understand the concepts of runway modeling,” Ken Musyoka, director of Touch Models Kenya, said.
Yet runway modeling for kids, although rare in Kenya, still serves as a good platform to get children noticed for commercial jobs.
For instance, Musyoka and his team signed some of the children in their portfolio from the runway shows at the Mtandao Festival.
But what are the qualifications needed for one to make a successful child model?
Contrary to popular belief, modeling is not about looks-the personality of the child is more important in getting them booked for jobs, professionals say.
“The number one thing we require from everyone is confidence. If the child experiences stage fright, we can teach them how to overcome it. But they still need to have some level of confidence, ” Musyoka said.
This strong personality is one that Waititu noticed in her daughter, April, from a young age.
“ She is a vibrant and outgoing child. In school, she even does solo verses and songs,” Waititu said.
April’s entry into the industry was not planned, although it was an easy call. Waititu, herself a model signed to Touch Models, learnt that Musyoka needed children for his portfolio immediately after taking her daughter for a professional photoshoot. It was, therefore, easy to introduce her to an industry, whose inner workings she understood well.
Musyoka says that getting into child modeling is quite an easy process.
“At a minimum, you are required to have professional photos. These photos are uploaded onto our online database, which makes it easier to find them,” he said.
The registration can also be done by uploading professional photos onto www.touchmodelskenya.com. An annual fee of Sh500, which is payable by Mpesa, is required to confirm the registration.
After completing the registration, comes the hard part, which is getting the child a job.
“Clients approach us looking for child models at least once a week,” Musyoka said. This does not, however, mean they always get what they are looking for. Sometimes the children still have to go through auditions even if the client likes them at first glance.
“Often the children do not understand that an audition doesn't mean that they have landed a role so when they do not get it they end up getting disappointed,” Musyoka said.
The duration a child takes to land a job depends on the type of modeling and the availability of jobs. “Commercial modeling jobs are easier to come by than runway opportunities,” Musyoka said.
One of the greatest benefits of child modeling is the monetary gain.
Musyoka says a child can earn anywhere between Sh5000 and Sh125000 depending on the client.
The financial gains can, however, bring out the worst in parents who end up taking advantage of the children.
“We once had a case where an aunt brought us a child without the consent of the parents, who only found out after seeing the child in an advertisement,” Musyoka said.
Despite having a ground rule that no child shall be signed onto their agency without the consent of an adult, most agencies admit that it is challenging to verify an adult's true intentions.
But Waititu says that not all guardians are after their children's money and some actually put the earnings to good use.
“After my daughter did her first shoot, I opened a junior account for her,” Waititu said.
Waititu added that educating her daugther on money helped her gain financial discipline as well as keeping her level-headed.
“Telling her how much she earns and teaching her the importance of tithing has helped instill the values of responsibility to her,” she added.
On balancing between school and modeling, Waititu says her daughter has adapted easily.
“She doesn't do it (modelling) that much. It really is not that intense and I have never had to pull her out of school. The auditions, and events like the Kids’ festival in which she has been a host severally, happen over school holidays or weekends, and do not clash with her school work."
According to Waititu, child modeling may not be for all children “but if they have the personality for it, then it can a great outlet for their talent.”
“If you honestly think that they are talented, then go for it for it, but don't let it be a means to pursue your own dreams,” she said.