Name: Halimat Shokunbi
Agency: MA @yaniimodels | @ethosmodels | LA @thelionsla
Claim To Fame: Shokunbi has appeared in Elle, and Nylon. She also used her melanin to heat up a major beauty campaign for Estee Lauder.
Halimat Shokunbi watched television on her free mornings like any other kid. But instead of switching away from commercials promising a chance at fame she soaked up every drop of information. Soon she would be convincing her mother to drive her to nearby cities in their native Texas believing she saw glimpses of her future between segments of “Adventure Time” and “Phineas and Ferb.”
“In Texas, there would always be like these little Disney channel commercials that would come on and be like, ‘Oh, if you want to be on the next Disney channel show call this number or go to this casting or do that. So I would do that,” she told HelloBeautiful.
It was through castings that she learned of a school that would help her polish her approach. “I enrolled myself in a student school in Texas that was like for models,” said Shokunbi. She took well to the tasks the for-profit school assigned but the tuition didn’t sit well with the family’s finances. “It was really fun, but I had to pay a lot of money and my mom kind of got tired of it,” she said. Not wanting to discourage her daughter, Shokunbi’s mother told her that if she focused her energy on school the family would revisit finding a way to support her dream of modeling.
Shokunbi finished high school and enrolled in the University of North Texas a school known for its “artistry.” She made friends with aspiring journalists, other models, photographers and videographers often working together on test content. She worked when she wasn’t in her criminal justice and psychology classes. She was at work when her first modeling opportunity arrived in the form of a random typo.
“I was at work one day. I worked at a seafood restaurant and I just got a random email from like a New York fashion week page,” she revealed.
She informed the sender that she was not the potential they were trying to reach and then shot her shot for a modeling gig. “So I emailed the person back and was like, ‘Well, I’m not a sponsor, but I would love to be modeling in your fashion show,’” she said.
The sender replied with instructions on how she could submit her photographs and measurements to casting and Shokunbi was convinced she was being blown off. “I knew for a fact that was like probably a throw away email and they were never going to pay attention to it,” she said. Her assumptions didn’t stop her from making the effort. She sent off the required information and completed her shift at the Shell Shack.
Surprise gripped her days later when a New York area code flashed across her phone’s home screen. “This person called me and was like, ‘Hey, you’re really persistent,’” she said, “Send me some of your pictures again, show me a walking video,” she recalled being instructed by the man on the phone. He invited her to come to New York before the end of the conversation. “I did what he asked and he flew me out within the next month to come and walk in his fashion week show.” Shokunbi researched the show and its producers before taking off for Manhattan. “I was just like, um, this doesn’t seem…this is too good to be true,” she said.
“I went and did my vetting resources. I looked him up on Google. I looked him up on Background Check. I was around like let me make sure this person is who they say they are and come to find out he was.” She took things a step further to ensure her safety. “I contacted some of his models as well to make sure it was a legit page and he was like a legit person,” she said. She was pleased with what she found. “I went ahead and went to New York and walked in his show.” She successfully appeared in the show but her relationship with her contact didn’t land where she wanted it to.
“He signed me and then I never got signed to an agency,” she said. “I just thought I wasn’t good enough to model in New York. I just thought ‘Okay, I’ve been with this guy for like maybe a year, so I’m not getting any agencies and it like seems like nobody’s interested in me. So what am I doing? Wasting my time in New York. So I left New York, came back to Texas. I opened up a little boutique in my college town.”
Her relationships with her fellow students had helped her create content to promote the online boutique she started to help finance her trips back and forth for castings. As far as social media was concerned she was model material, despite her insecurities.
“I was still enrolled in school in Dallas, but I was in New York for maybe like three to four weeks at a time, every two to three months,” she said. She dropped out and opened a brick and mortar location when it took off thanks to the skills she learned through her friends. “I just thought I knew what people needed. I knew the events that were going on, so why not just open up a physical location,” she said. She invested into her business but she still kept her eye on what was happening in the modeling industry. She was at the store when she saw a casting announcement for Pat McGrath’s makeup line. She wanted to try modeling again but she was unsure so she called her mother for advice.
“I was like, ‘Okay, let me call my mom. Cause that’s my best friend. I was like, let me call her and see like, just throw that idea out at her,” she said. Her mother responded with encouragement. “She was like, well, ‘I’d rather you go this one time. They already want to see you. I’d rather you go to this one time, fail at it last and then figure out that it’s not for you anymore, than to be calling me everyday like ‘Oh, what if? what if I went? What would have happened?”
She took one more shot, unsure about where it would lead. “I went ahead and submitted and they asked me to come to New York in the next two days for the casting.”
The airfare for the trip was out of reach for the small business owner. “I had to pay rent for my apartment and my store the next month,” she said. “I didn’t have the money at the time. And I know my mom didn’t have the money at the time.”
When her mother withdrew her from the modeling school she had told her. “Whenever you get older, you can tap back into it.” Now she was proving to be a woman of her word. She appealed to family and friends on behalf of her daughter’s dreams. “She asked people around and she got enough money to give me a ticket.”
Shokunbi made the most of her mother’s efforts. “I closed the shop and I flew to New York, like the next day only packed a backpack full of clothes. The casting was going to be like on a Tuesday, the shoot was going to be on a Thursday. And I would have been out by that Saturday, Sunday.”
Her failed business relationship with her temporary manager led to her staying for months. She had taken some spec photographs that he hated that another representative loved. “Without him, I wouldn’t have known what my potential was in New York,” she said. Within hours of her posting them she got positive feedback and a request to sign with new management. Her new representative was a Black woman. She felt comfortable working with someone she felt she could relate to.
“Her credibility was just there,” she said. Her belief in their new partnership made her stay in the city. She didn’t have clothes or a place to stay but she did have a contact from the first time that she took a shot at succeeding in the city. “I stayed in a promoter apartment that first week because my friend was at one,” she said.
Like many transplants, Shokunbi had no idea that many of the beautiful women lounging on the banquets of New York night clubs night were doing so in exchange for room and board. Nothing about her life had prepared her for the everyday oddities of Manhattan.
“I was like, Oh Like, that’s a thing,” she said. “My nightlife in Texas was like college parties,” she added.
Once her friend assured her that the practice was common and all that would be required of her was to show up and look pretty at the hotspot dujour she felt comfortable enough to stay long enough to locate a home base she could operate out of. “When I saw that, I was like, wow. Now I see why all these clubs be filled with these pretty women, like y’all not coming out every day of the week, just for fun.”
Her second gamble paid off quickly. The Pat McGrath casting took place on March 28th. By April 4th her new rep had found her a major agency. Within the year she was headed to Milan. “I was on option for the Gucci show, the Fall 2019 show, so they flew me out to Milan,” she said. She found an agency there and explored the city while she booked jobs. She later picked up another agency in Los Angeles and began making plans to return to entrepreneurship by creating her own clothing line. Every step forward was a reminder of her mother’s insistence that she give her dream another shot.
Shokunbi approached getting signed, making club appearances, attending castings, choosing fabric samples, networking with agents, designers and other models, and traipsing around Europe as just another part of her job. The small backpack that slung from her shoulder at the Pat Mcgrath casting contained her uniform.
“The first six months I was there, I was wearing the same clothes every day. I kid you not like I was going to the club in a black tee shirt, black jeans and these chunky boots which was for my casting clothes. I didn’t bring no sneakers, no slippers. I was literally, I had like maybe like five to seven pieces of clothing, like actual clothing. I was coming home, watching my code by hand, drying them over the rack, waking up the next one year early, going out to the clubs at night.”
Today as she plans for the future she is grateful for the support she had and the struggles she endured.
“It was definitely an experience, but I’m thankful for it all.”