Updated: Mar 18
Photographer: Nestor Correa Photography @nestorvisions Model: Monica Riley @monica.slade.riley @EMG Models Makeup Artist: Yeimy Canales @just_ye
Happy to have you here, Monica. Tell us your story, how did you get started modeling, and where is your home at the moment?
Thank you so much for having me here today!
I have loved fashion my whole life, and it is really why I was ever interested in modeling to begin with. I used to buy fashion magazines like Vogue and Elle as a girl, and I loved cutting out pictures of the clothes and making collages out of my favorites. I was always begging my mom to go shopping and we used to watch every episode of America’s Next Top Model together. I would watch and wish that I could be one of the girls on the show. I wanted to be a model, but I never felt confident enough to really put myself out there and pursue it. I did not really know where to start or what I could do to become a model anyway, so it just seemed like an unobtainable dream.
My modeling journey began in 2018.
I was shopping with a friend of mine who works for a fashion company in LA, and she was talking about their fitting model and how they were looking for another girl to work on the days she could not be there. I half jokingly told her I could do it! She said to me that she thought I probably could, but they only hire models through agencies. Her confidence in me got me to think that maybe I could really do this. So, I took some photos and applied to any agency that I could find for fit modeling in LA.
Time went by with no responses, and then one day something incredible happened. My inbox had an email from Rage Models, and they wanted me to come in to meet and take measurements. When I went in to meet with them, they thought I would be good for both fit and print jobs. I was ecstatic, I could not believe it!
I signed with Rage and later booked my first job as a fitting model for Forever 21. It was fun and consistent work, and I loved getting to see the behind the scenes process of designing clothes. In the summer of 2019 I found out I was pregnant with my son. I stopped modeling, and it was a little bittersweet because I thought that it was the end of my modeling career. I was so excited to be a mom, though, and was already very proud of myself for what I had accomplished so far.
My son, Rorik Riley, was born January 2020, and I have never felt a love so fiercely in my life. He is my greatest gift.
A few months after his birth, the country went into lockdown. I spent that year taking care of my baby and focusing on my new life as a mom, but I had that passion for modeling and the fashion industry still inside me. In December of that year, I saw on Instagram that EMG Models was scouting. I decided to take a chance, send in some digitals, and hope for the best. I was shocked when I got a message back that they wanted to meet me in a FaceTime interview. I could not believe it, and I was so nervous. The interview went great, though, and I was signed with EMG @emg_models in January 2021. It was tough coming into the industry in the middle of the pandemic, but I was determined to not let this opportunity go to waste. This was one of the moments where I felt like God was showing me how all things are possible through Him.
I was beginning to book work again with Rage Models at the beginning of 2021, and it felt really good to be getting back into fashion again. God had other plans for us, though.
In August of that same year, my husband, son and I left California and moved to Connecticut. I was sad to be leaving my home, my family, my friends and to be leaving Rage Models behind too, but I knew it was best for our family. I was also staying hopeful that this move could possibly lead to more opportunities with EMG.
We now live in Stonington, CT. It is the same town where my husband grew up. I am only 3 hours away from NYC and the fashion opportunities are tremendous. Since moving, I have done more for my modeling career than ever before. Rage Models also set me up with their sister agency, True Models. So, there is a possibility for me to continue fit modelling in NYC as well, which is incredible. I truly feel so blessed. Everything happens for a reason, and if I had been told years ago that this is where I would end up, I would not have believed it.
Tell us more about yourself. What else do you do next to modeling?
Besides modeling, I am a full time mama to my sweet Rorik. He is the best. I love experiencing life though his eyes. Motherhood has taught me so much about myself and about life. It has been a journey, but I feel so much stronger and more confident now than I have ever felt before.
What do you love most about being a model? And, what do you least enjoy?
I love modeling. I feel so lucky and appreciate the opportunities I have been given so much because, I never could have imagined any of this happening. I love being a part of the process that goes into making a really great photo. I have met some really talented people and I love how a shoot brings creatives together. It is just really great to see what happens when other artists work with each other and focus on every detail coming together to make something so uniquely beautiful.
What I enjoy the least is that it is very uncertain. Work is not guaranteed, and you never know when your next booking will be. Not having that consistency is a bit stressful.
What is the most challenging being a model?
It is definitely a grind in the beginning. Just because you are signed with an agency does not mean that you will instantly be booked and busy. It takes networking, effort, and timing. It is also so important to building your portfolio with the right photographers. You really have to take modeling seriously as a career and invest in yourself to succeed.
I think it is also a challenge to fight this facade that modeling is so easy and that models just stand there and do nothing but look pretty. It is a lot more work than it looks, not every job pays well, and you face so many rejections and criticisms throughout your career. You grow a thicker skin for it, but it does not change the fact that it is tough to be told ‘No’ again and again. I try to stay positive by telling myself that statistically, every rejection is just a step closer to an opportunity.
If you could change something in the modeling world, what would it be?
I would really love to walk in New York Fashion Week, but I am 5’8” and most models are at least 5’9” or taller for shows. I know that there are some shorter models on the runway, for sure, but as a whole It would be really great to see even more inclusivity.
What fuels your imagination and provides you with inspiration?
I am inspired all the time by what is around me, so what inspires me is always changing.
Creativity can happen whenever and wherever you are.
What keeps you excited about life in general?
I am looking forward to more remarkable experiences. Life is exciting because there is no way to fully plan for it. I believe that all my hard work is leading me somewhere as long as I keep moving forward. I am on a new adventure right now, building my new life with my small family in a different state, and I cannot wait to see what happens next.
Looking back, how has modeling experience changed your personal/professional life? Have you grown more comfortable with yourself since you have started?
I definitely feel more confident with myself. I have learned to advocate for myself better, and I am really proud of myself for making it this far.
I have leaned so much about the fashion industry already, and I know there is so much more I can learn and experience.
What kind of life would you like to have?
Life goes by so quickly. I feel this now more than ever as a mom. Years seem more significant to me now that I am watching my son grow so quickly. I am trying to experience life as it comes, not expect too much, not plan too rigidly, and be grateful for the many blessings I have. My hope is for a joyful, ambitious and purposeful life that brings glory to God in whatever I do.
What are the achievements you are proud of most today?
Well, first and foremost, having my son is my proudest achievement in life.
As far as modeling goes, I am so proud of myself for sticking with it no matter what. If I had not, I would not be where I am today. I know my 12-year-old self would be so proud of me now.
A quote by Mel Robbins that kept me going and still keeps me going is,
"The difference between people who make their dreams come true and those of us who don’t is just one thing: the courage to start and the discipline to keep going.'
Where can our readers keep up with your work and get connected with you?
You can follow me on Instagram: @monica.slade.riley