Kamilaroi woman Sharlette Townsend is the founder of the Aboriginal Model Search and is passionate about empowering Indigenous people.
“In everyday life you don’t see that many indigenous models on the front line of fashion,” Sharlette said.
“By running this competition it is obvious just how talented, not only the contestants that made the finals are, but every contestant we have seen come before us,” Sharlette said.
Sharlette has spent a year searching the country for the most talented Indigenous people, with 100 contestants to sashay down the catwalk at Rydges World Square in Sydney.
The event is sponsored by two leading talent management agencies; Bettina Management and Viviens, along with swimwear company Indii, Lifewear, Eco Tan, and Moana Barroso Photography.
“After speaking with leading modelling agencies, and showing them the contestants that we have found so far, they seem to be very impressed and surprised by the amount of talented people we have discovered, particularly in the remote parts of the country,” Sharlette said.
Anyone aged 8 - 30 is able to apply for the competition, regardless of gender and contestants have been divided into two age group categories of junior and senior.
“The competition assists young people within the Indigenous community discover a higher sense of self belief."
Contestants receive a professional runway class detailing how to walk, talk and present themselves – useful skills for everyday life and all careers.
Also included are three professionally edited photographs for their portfolios, which are sent to two leading modelling agencies.
“The competition assists young people within the Indigenous community discover a higher sense of self belief, self-confidence, and self-esteem by showing them techniques and tools to assist them with public speaking, which helps them with confidence boosting, and how to display themselves in front of a crowd.” Sharlette said.
NITV spoke to some of the contestants in the lead up.
Brought up by her single mother, contestant Jaycee-Rose Towers is the oldest of 4 children at just 10 years old.
She suffers from an undiagnosed knee condition, a heart condition, and costochondritis –inflamed cartilage around the rib cage.
Her heritage is Aboriginal and Chinese. Her sister who was also selected to compete has autism.
“Our life isn’t always easy, but my mum gives us the best opportunities,” Jaycee-Rose said.
“When mum first mentioned the Aboriginal Model Search I was excited as. I want to be a model and personal trainer when I’m older.”
When she spoke to NITV she was on her way to Kmart to get some final things before she heads off to Sydney from her Newcastle home.
“We’ve got to pack our stuff and put our dresses in a box so they don’t get ruined,” Jaycee-Rose said.
One of her dresses for the show is going to showcase her mixed heritage as an Aboriginal and Chinese girl.
“I’ll be happy even if I don’t make it through. I’ll just be happy I made it through to the next round,” she said.
Kamilaroi woman Kaitlen Dodd will be driving from Dubbo with her mum to participate in the competition.
After already walking for three designers in the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, Kaitlen wanted to push herself further and applied for the Aboriginal Model Search.
“I’ve just been building up my portfolio and Model Citizens were looking for models to model for their collection, so I applied and they got back to me, then I was lucky enough to model for some of the others,” Kaitlen explains.
She hopes the experience will lead to her finally being be signed by a modeling agency. In the meantime, she has been studying Certificate III in Child Care.
As for her dress, she will be wearing something that represents both her culture and family, designed by Indigenous designer Leanne Kennedy.
“[Leanne] asked what I was thinking about wearing. I wanted something that represents family because that’s what I’m about. She found a dress that would represent that in my culture,” she said.
18-year-old Torres Strait Islander woman Kelsie Mahon said she was both excited and nervous to be heading off to Sydney for the show.
Currently living in Toowoomba, she is studying a Certificate III in hairdressing and working casually at a local hairdresser. She hopes the competition will help her build confidence.
“I’m very shy so I don’t say much, any of that. I’m just humble who I am and what not I’m not going to be overly loud or an over the top person. Hopefully being humble will make me stand out.”
As she prepares to leave she has been looking to her mum for advice ahead of their flight tomorrow morning.
“I’ve been kind of getting my stuff ready, all my clothes, going through and having a chat with mum about what it could be like, what could happen,” she said.
“I’ve never done anything like this before.”
If fact, Kelsie says it was her mum who initially came to her with the idea, and so she agreed to try out.
“Mum had a look at it and thought it’d be pretty good and help me gain confidence. I had a look and thought yeah I’ll give it a go.”
“It really has helped my confidence. It’s good to represent who I am.”
Kelsie has done a few fashion shoots in the past and enjoys the work, wearing nice clothes and showing them off to people.
“I’d love to pursue career in modeling. I do quite enjoy it. It opens a lot of doorways and it’s a great industry a lot of opportunities come out of it,” Kelsie said.
Meanwhile, for 9 year old Kittana Peronchik, participating in the Aboriginal Model Search is just one way she can showcase her many cultures.
Kittana’s mother is Cambodian and Chinese, and her father is Aboriginal and Czechoslovakian. She is proud of her cultures and very excited to show everyone who she is.
“I’ve got an Aboriginal dress. It’s brown and in the front it has a little thing... the front is the pink part and means bush tucker and has frills with layers, and the brown part is walkabout,” Kittana said.
“It comes out like a princess dress.”
She first entered the competition because she was being bullied for being too studious. Her mum thought the experience would give her confidence, while building her skills in public speaking.
“I’ve been practicing walking and my speech all day all day,” a very excited Kittana said.
“I watched Australia’s Next Top Model and America’s Next Top Model to help with the poses and how to walk too. I’ve been practicing for a few weeks.”
When asked if she was all ready to compete, her excitement bubbled over.
“Yes I’m ready! Bring it on like donkey kong!”