Bolawa Gbadebo, 26, is a Nigerian model from Chicago who recently won the face of Luster Pink. She has been modeling for three years and has a plethora of upcoming projects in the works. Check out our exclusive interview with this talented queen below.
At what moment in your life did you realize you wanted to model and what was the first step you took to make your dreams a reality?
I realized that I wanted to model after my My 23rd Birthday photo shoot I had with Charles Gipson. I was my own stylist, makeup artist, and came up with the concept I was going for the shoot. I enjoyed the whole experience.
You recently graduated from college. Congrats! How do you plan to utilize your Kinesiology degree?
I plan on establishing wellness and fitness centers in America and in Nigeria. I want to provide a place for women to feel empowered about their looks, the whole wellness self care aspect and self love. Back home in Nigeria there isn’t much guidance on what you should eat, how you should exercise and how you should love yourself so I want to create that space. I want to be able to build on the whole aspect when it comes to exercise science- having a fitness group director or a wellness coach, a personal trainer, ETC. They have facilities already, but I want to be apart of that growth.
How did you balance your modeling career and being a full time student?
I don’t know how I did it. It was challenging because I was in a small town area three and a half hours away from the city. I was always booking shoots with different people and I’d be invited to some. Luckily I didn’t have to turn down too many. I was able to make it to fashion shows and as far as photo shoots I’d try to manage and book them on the weekend, because I had classes during the week and I was working almost full time. I found myself utilizing my resources because even though it was a small town, I ended up booking stylists, doing video calls with my friends for assistance and I’d go on social media to look for photographers. It all worked out in my favor because I was able to use those shoots to build my portfolio as a model. It was very difficult, but the big goal for me was to make sure I accomplished getting my bachelors degree.
How did you become the face of Luster Pink? What was the most challenging part of that journey?
So pretty much I found out about the Luster Pink campaign on social media. I was like let me just do it, everyone keeps saying “Bola, you need to put yourself out there more” as far as being apart of campaigns so I decided to be a contestant. I was competing with women from all over the world and from there it went from top ten, to top three then I became the grand prize winner.
The most challenging part about the campaign was knowing I was competing with so many beautiful black women. I never was the type to be arrogant and into myself so me being apart of this competition was the perfect time in my life, because I just cut my hair and my self love was through the roof. But I also realized it’s not all about your hair it’s more about who you are and how you carry yourself. It was just intimidating like wow I’m competing with so many women. But it was natural for me, because I was able to be myself throughout the entire journey.
Besides Luster Pink, what other modeling ventures have you been apart of?
I’ve been apart of Black Women’s Expo, I’ve worked with Revenge Swim, Urban Elegance Supply Co., and I’ve done different fashion shows at colleges and different runway shows in the Chicago area in my college years. When I won the face of Pink they had a photo shoot for us to be on the cover of “Rolling Out” magazine. That’s when I realized “Yes Bola! Everything you did in the past has gotten you to where you are now.” To be able to have a stack of magazines and I’m in the middle of Taylor and Imani, it was nice to see my face on the front cover of a magazine. I have so much further to come especially if I keep putting that same energy out.
Explain how life was growing up in Chicago. What were the pros and cons?
I feel like I was lucky because I grew up in so many different areas and I am the type of person people gravitate toward. I stayed in the southside area, northwest suburbs, up north and the Beverly area. All the areas are different, with different people and different ethnicities, but I learned to stay true to myself and just because I was in a different area I didn’t need to try to fit in or be a different person. Every school and every area I went to I was accepted because of my personality and how I carry myself so growing up in Chicago wasn’t too tough for me at all.
How has your experience been as a Nigerian woman living in the United States?
Me being born here makes things different in a sense. I’m able to see both sides- I understand what it means to be Nigerian and being black in America. It can be very difficult but I am also blessed to know where my parents came from and not everyone is able to say the same thing due to the fact that they just don’t know. I’m very prideful as far as my culture and where I came from. I’m very conscious of any and everything that has to do with Nigeria so I want to be able to educate people when it comes to Africa and being Nigerian.
You previously mentioned that you have a strong support system. Can you give us more details.
My family, my friends, my coworkers, just everybody has been a huge support since the beginning. As far as being the face of Pink, me going to school, just everything as a whole I put my mind to, I’ve always had a support system. I didn’t know how much support I had until I joined the face of Pink, because it was overwhelming and I’m very grateful of how much support I have. I’m not afraid to ask for support, but it’s not like I was seeking it, everyone was just willing to put their all into it and everything was genuine.
What makes you stand out from all the other models in the industry?
Everything that I do as far as modeling I taught myself from watching Youtube videos, being around other models and being in fashion shows. I also stand out, because I’m just not giving up. I’m not a model because I have a nice face or a nice body, it’s really something I want to do. People ask me are you signed, are you this and that and they’re surprised. I’ve learned through social media and knowing what I want to do and how to brand myself and I feel like the way I brand myself is different from other models. I feel like I’m a very humbling individual and I utilize everything that I can to be the best model I can be.
Your look is so stunning. Please tell us what inspired your natural hair journey.
What inspired my natural hair journey was having permed hair for so long and my hair being damaged. I was tired of doing different looks and having different hairstyles like weaves. I was just curious to know what it was like to go through the natural hair journey. I always hear when you cut your hair it’s like you’re a new woman. I turned 25 and I wanted to start all over and I wanted something new so I did the big chop and decided to go blonde too which was out of my comfort zone. Once I did it, I could feel my self love just flourishing day by day.
Where do see yourself five years from now?
Five years from now I really don’t know where I’m going to be at, because five years ago if you would of asked me where do you see yourself I wouldn’t of said “Oh, I see myself being a model” or “I see myself being the new face of Pink”. I see myself having a better relationship with God and following the path that he’s already laid out for me. I basically see myself doing everything I’m doing now but at a better and greater level.
What advice do you have for other women of color who are interested in modeling?
Be yourself, be confident in who you are, be confident in how you look. There is sometimes you feel as if maybe I should look like this or do it this way but with modeling there’s so many different avenues like fashion, commercials or runways, and there’s different looks when it comes to different agencies. But don’t ever have doubt or low esteem. I’ve learned to be comfortable with who I am and just don’t try to fit in, because that’s going to be the most challenging part because there’s so many looks. Overall, love yourself and your shape, size, alladat.