Modeling, like fashion design, is in fact a real job with its own challenges, time constraints and skill. Tina Masese is known more for being a model, however, she in fact studied fashion design and so is a master of both worlds. We sat down over green tea and a double macchiato to discuss her career, her experiences, the industry and the wealth of institutional knowledge she brings with her.
Modeling, design and fashion all blend in, she tells us. “The one thing I like about modeling is that you get to wear new clothes that no one has worn before. I have met some great designers who then gift the models the clothes that they wore.” Tina Masese’s journey into modeling began when she was 17 years old having been scouted by an agent from SAGE modeling agency in Kenya whilst studying product design and specializing in fashion design at the University of Nairobi. Under the pupillage of SAGE, she says that this “is where I learnt to walk in heels for a year. I am completely flat footed so I had to learn, which was hell. But now, having worked for a while, it has become easier.” Tina worked with SAGE for a short while and in her third year of studies decided to opt out and focus on her studies because of the workload.
Although she would have wanted to study fashion design from the onset, the numbers of students in the course were too few then. She however states that “there is a growing recognition for fashion design to be added in the curriculum but it is not yet at the international level where you get a combination of theory and practice.”
Tina has worked in several countries of which her favorites are South Africa, Italy and the US. Her favorite event, due its professionalism, consistency and standards is Swahili Fashion Week. In most cases, these were competitions where models were scouted and sent to represent their countries. Once done, a model could decide to work for a particular agency. There are harsh realities in modeling in different countries, especially the fashion capitals. “For me, it was not really about the glamour, money and perks and secondly, the racism is bad out there.” She recalls a friend of hers from Uganda who went to Milan to work under an agency that discriminated against her and never got jobs. Tina Masese wanted nothing to do with Milan and so left.
She preferred New York when she got the opportunity to go there as an exchange design student from the University of Nairobi to participate in conferences in different states and learn from the best. During her free time, she would walk around Fashion Avenue and be inspired.
Tina Masese went to the casting session for Africa’s Next Top Model and saw the huge potential for modeling in Kenya. She however states “in Kenya, people see modeling as an easy way out from an ordinary job. They don’t see modeling as a real job. Some think that being a model means being skinny, tall, sleeping in, waking up to go take some photos, get on a billboard, get paid 500,000 and be in the papers.”
“We need a council where everyone is serious and not for profit. When the newbies come in, they will change things.”
For professional models like Tina, despite the rise of fashion events in the country, she does not participate in those shows due to poor payment and treatment. “We have our rates, for example for 2 hour shows, we don’t take anything less than 10,000ksh.” Most models, she further adds, unfortunately get paid a measly 1500ksh – 3000ksh for the whole night. It’s truly sad, she adds, that is appears that most of these events are personal fundraisers seeing as though they get sponsorship, designers pay, models are not paid and the guests pay.
Additionally, the number of cliques that exist in the industry for both designers and models saddens Tina Masese. “I sometimes look around and wonder, it is such a small industry, with huge potential, we don’t need this.” She further adds that these cliques bring more division and unhealthy competition despite the need to come together as one and build a cohesive strong industry. “There is a lot of territorial conflict between the old and new designers. We need a council where everyone is serious and not for profit. When the newbies come in, they will change things.”
Tina Masese also warns upcoming models to know their rights and how much they should be paid. Models should not accept 25,000ksh for a billboard when they should accept nothing short of 300,000ksh. In Kenya, the trending careers include DJ, Fashion Designer, Stylist, Blogger, Photographer and Model. Being a model, photographer or fashion designer is a serious job despite how fancy it looks. There is a lot work that goes behind the end result, she states. For aspiring photographers, Emmanuel Jambo can truly teach someone what it all means and the work involved, she adds.
There is more to being a model than meets the eye, Tina tells us, and there is a lack of true understanding of what that means in Kenya. For example, people need to know the different categories such as runway, commercial, high fashion which all have different requirements and work ethic. “Everyone want to be a runway model because it seems glamorous yet what they don’t realize is that runway models don’t get paid much. Adverts pay better and this applies internationally so a combination of both is important.”
“Chasing fame and limelight is not necessarily good for you. I just hope that things will get better in the industry.”
Tina adds for example that in South Africa, there are strict regulations with models that determine which shows you can do. Internationally, the competition is even fiercer so being tall, skinny and a pretty face will only take you so far, she states. Models in Kenya also do not realize the importance of working out. Victoria Secret models workout to get the bodies they have, it doesn’t just happen. “There needs to be a true understanding about the industry, the modeling work and the seriousness of it.”
Tina Masese strives to work ethically both as a model and as a fashion designer. For her collection, Tina designs clothes, shoes, bags and some jewelry. “I have been obsessed with prints. I really like cotton and it’s the best way to go. For prints, it works perfectly because I love bright colors.” Tina’s brand is called Tropical Muse and is an embodiment of color and print.
In her journey in this industry, Tina Masese has learnt the art of lying low, observing and learning. “Chasing fame and limelight is not necessarily good for you. I just hope that things will get better in the industry.”
Find out more about Tropical Muse: click here.