From kickstarting her modelling journey at the age of 18 on the hit show, The Face—under the mentorship of top model, Naomi Campbell—to now having her own line of hats, The Afiya Collection, Afiya Bennett is one to watch out for. Apart from gracing the covers of several luxury brand campaigns, the Brooklyn-born supermodel has expanded her career as an entrepreneur, a host and an actor, scoring big with her appearance in the sci-fi thriller, Anon starring Amanda Seyfried and Clive Owen. Being an active participant in charity events, the multidimensional personality aims to be an inspiration for women of colour and models of the next generation.
In our chat with Afiya Bennett, we spoke to her about her accolades, what she has learned from her early days in her career, tips for aspiring models, goals, and more.
ELLE: Apart from modelling, you’ve done so much more in your career. How do you feel about your achievements when you look back at everything you’ve done?
Afiya Bennett: I am very proud and astounded by my journey. I don’t think that when I started this journey, I knew what to expect, but I knew I wanted it to be great. I knew that for the first time, I felt that I had found a niche where I belonged.
ELLE: What are some of the memorable moments from your career?
AB: As I continue to build my legacy, moments that are always the most memorable for me are ones that connect to my childhood. For instance, one of the most memorable moments in my career would be when I landed my first billboard in Times Square. As a native New Yorker, being in times Square has a greater connection to who I am as a person because I felt like “this is my city.” Pounding these New York streets is a part of the reason that I am who I am today, and seeing myself up there made me feel like this journey is all worth it. It gave me the motivation to continue to push towards the woman I am destined to be.
The second most memorable moment was my campaign for Nine West. Growing up, it was my mother’s favourite shoe store, so this campaign was definitely hit close to home. My mother and I have so many memories of going there and picking out shoes for her, that it left an imprint on my childhood. Being able to be the face of a brand that was a part of several bonding experiences between my mother and me definitely made my mother proud, and there’s no greater feeling than that.
ELLE: What’s the one thing you learned from your days on The Face?
AB: I remember being on the show, and there was a running challenge — and for some reason or another, I could not get how running was supposed to look. And I remember Naomi pulling me aside and saying, “There will be times that you will be on set with a photographer, and a photographer will tell you ‘That’s not it’. He might not say ‘change to this,’ but he’ll say that what you’re doing is not it. And you’ll have to change.” So, what that means is sometimes Plan A is not always it. This experience has put me in the mindset to always be coachable, always be open to learning and receiving knowledge, and not be afraid to shift gears.
ELLE: What inspired you to start The Afiya Collection?
AB: Inspired by a business trip to London, I was drawn to the style of the military hats that were worn as luxurious fashion. These military-style caps not only represent fashion and style but also remind women that they are strong, powerful and virtuous. Since then, we have expanded to many different styles of hats, but the message remains the same.
ELLE: One beauty advice for our readers
AB: One piece of beauty advice that I would give is that true beauty comes from the inside out. For me, that means maintaining my nutritional health, exercising, drinking water and staying mentally and emotionally balanced, and most importantly being a good person. Lastly, don’t forget your hydration facials and your beauty sleep, no one likes puffy eyes before a big shoot.
ELLE: What are some of the tips you’d like to share with budding models?
AB: To budding models, my first piece of advice would be to always believe in yourself first. No one is going to be your greatest fan more than you. My second piece of advice would be to study your craft. Learn who are the greatest photographers, designers and creatives. Lastly, I would tell them to learn or create a niche. The great thing about the fashion industry in 2020 is that it is far more inclusive than it was many years ago. There are now plus-size supermodels and Trans models as well. The industry is no longer as black and white as it used to be, and if there is no greater time to create your own lane if you don’t fit, the time is now.
ELLE: What is your ultimate goal?
AB: I would like to add to the list of amazing women of colour that have opened doors for the next generation of models. My goal is to be able to utilize my platform as a model to branch out into greater opportunities. I think that it is so important to be multidimensional. The world has a tendency of putting women in boxes, and it’s time that we reclaim that power and say, I am a model, actor, host, entrepreneur, and so much more.
ELLE: What are some of the things you are looking forward to in 2021?
AB: For 2021, I am manifesting my first beauty contract, launching my Youtube Chanel and podcast, diving back into the TV realm and writing my first book. 2020 has definitely swept the rug from underneath all of our feet in so many different ways, and I’m looking forward to creating a new sense of normality. As I continue to grow as a model and build my brand, I ask myself how can I use my gift to give back to the little girls that reach out to me. So for 2021, I am going to write my first book dedicated to little girls interested in diving into the fashion industry.
Model: Afiya Bennett; Photographer: Caleb and Gladys; Stylist: Marti Arcucci; Hair: David Kemp; Make-up: Soo Park; Agency: Women Management New York, 1st Look Models.