By Ann-Marie Mesquita, Staff Writer
HARTFORD — Windsor native Adaora Akubilo works hard to maintain her career in the rarified arena of the fashion industry.
As a Sports Illustrated Model, the 20-year-old Central Connecticut State University student has a strict workout regimen and a strict diet to help maintain her statuesque physique because, she said, she’s not naturally thin.
So the Nigerian-American tries to keep up her exercise routine by running twice a week and practicing Pilates, also twice week.
“I do have to work out hard to maintain my body,” Akubilo said in a telephone interview on Friday. “I’m in a business that hires you based on how you look.”
The import of Akubilo’s looks resonates on many levels. Her smooth and seemingly poreless, ebony, skin on the pages of Sports Illustrated and other magazines is an anomaly. Some observers say the modeling business lost its diversity after fashionista Bethann Hardison closed her modeling agency in 1996. Today, industry observers criticize the runways, the magazines, the modeling agencies and advertising for lack of diversity. Hardison said that models of color mostly “disappeared for a whole decade.”
And that’s why this is, well, a big deal—even after models such as Roshumba Williams in 1992 and Carla Campbell in 2006, both of whom are dark-skinned black women. Akulbio knows she’s a role model for many African-Americans girls whom, she said, can learn to embrace their own beauty.
Perhaps that is what a John Casablanca scout sensed about Akulbio when she spotted her at Windsor High School several years ago. Hartford Director of John Casablancas Tina Kiniry said that it wasn’t just about Akubilo’s look.
“It’s her smile and personality. It’s a certain aura about her that really makes her stand out in a crowd,” Kiniry said. “And she’s pleasant to be around.”
The 5’11” beauty was also a part of a SI‘s swimsuit model search contest. She took a few minutes to do a Q and A with The Hartford Guardian. See below.
HG: Tell us what its like being a Sports Illustrated model?
AA: Being an SI model has given me public recognition. People know me by name because SI promotes the model. Being an SI model also gives me access to exclusive events and gifts, and the privilege of traveling to the most remote and exotic world destinations during shoots.
HG: Talk about your first gig as a model–was it local?
AA: My first modeling gig was a runway show that I booked through my CT agency, John Casablancas. I remember being excited and wanting more looks so that I could get out on the runway and strut some more!
HG: Which schools did she attend?
AA: I attended Windsor High School and Central Connecticut State University, where I received a B.A. in English. I was studying to become an English teacher.
HG: Did she pursue her career from the Greater Hartford area? Or did she move to New York?
AA: I started my modeling career in CT at John Casablancas. I moved to NYC after college to pursue it full-time.
HG: What does she eat?
AA: I eat whatever I am in the mood for. Nigerian food, salads, pizza, pancakes, smoothies…I try to chose healthy options more often and avoid stuffing myself with the junk ones.
HG: What kind of struggles, or set backs have you had so far?
AA: The struggles I’ve had is handling rejection. Several agencies rejected me (and some of the same ones more than once) when I was trying to find representation in the city. Being away from my family when I need to travel over an extended period of time is heartbreaking.
HG: What is your goal after SI?
AA: My goal after SI is to continue modeling and to launch a business of my own eventually.
HG: What advice do you have for girls who want to be successful models?
AA: My advise to girls who want to start modeling is to really have a strong passion for it. Work really hard and put in the time and commitment that is required. I encourage girls to love themselves, to be confident, and to not take it personal when they experience rejection. Rejection is necessary for growth and besides if they get all the jobs they will be burnt out and their career will be over quickly!
HG: Where should we look for her next: movies, videos, TV shows?
AA: To know where to see me next follow me on twitter @adaoraakubilo and Facebook.
HG: Tell us more about growing up in a Nigerian household?
AA: Growing up in a Nigerian household has exposed me to a rich culture full of inspirational traditions. I have a strong sense of self-identity by knowing my heritage, values, and morals. I was taught to value education, to have a strong Christian faith, and to work hard.
HG: Any parting thoughts to our readers?
AA: Modeling is not who I am it’s just what I do.