MODEL VOICES: In Quarantine - Babajide Alao
By TADHI COULTER
As the world dealt with the ramifications of COVID-19, many industries had to make adjustments. The economics of Fashion were able to be sustained in certain respects, but some models - the clearest casualty of an abruptly halted ecosystem - have had to be a little more resourceful during this time of recovery. We catch up with a few from multiple agencies for their perspectives and experiences during such a strange time.
TC. What has been your greatest “in quarantine” life lesson since the COVID-19 pandemic?
Babajide Alao. Not to be in a haste, to just slow down and be patient, you know. I practice that religiously...since the beginning of COVID, it’s been a time for me, personally, to dig deep inside, within myself, to try to analyze things from a different perspective. That’s the kind of person I am. I love to solve complex problems and to think about things. That’s what I’ve been doing, thinking about how to make things better in terms of my life, my business, my relationship with other people, my spouse and my family, and also my relationship with God. These are the 4 to 5 fundamental things that’ve gone through my mind during this COVID season. My business expanded last year as well, so I’ve been making some progressive moves during this time.
I prayed about it all before quarantine. I knew these were the next stages in the business. But I didn't know how soon they were going to appear but I was preparing myself for them before quarantine. Being a person of faith, I’ve always learned, ‘Don’t slack!’ to be prepared for an opportunity. I was listening to a sermon, I think by Myles Munroe or someone and the person said “It's better to be prepared for an opportunity and not have one than to have an opportunity and not be prepared for it.”
TC. How has your modeling been impacted "in quarantine"?Babajide Alao.
Quarantine forced many of us [in fashion], especially models, to reflect on, “What is modeling”? From the outside looking in, modeling looks so glamorous, right! COVID really sparked my fire to finish school. One day modeling is here, the next ‘No job!’ or nothing because everybody's afraid for their life--of literally dying from COVID. I did fit modeling at Parsons and FIT on regular days to make extra income. So that stopped, too, just because of COVID. At that point, I was just like, ‘Wow, like modeling is really, you know, just an industry.’ But for some people, it's a lot. But for me, personally as a model, I was like, ‘I need more than this’! That was before the brick and mortar; that was before the farm. If the modeling was there, I don't think I would have had time for the farm, or even to think about the brick and mortar, to be honest. So when that happened it really forced me to say, ‘Uh-uh!’
and my business has helped me better answer, ‘Well, What makes you more than a model’? Even though I love modeling and am grateful for every opportunity I get, I see the business as my child. Similar to a mother, especially--not abandoning her child for anything in the world--I feel as though my business is my child and it is something that will always come first, comparatively. My mom has always told me, “Money always comes and goes, so don’t put all of your hope or trust in it.”
In 2019 we had a food cart at Rockaway Beach, NY, a beach town where the food and restaurant industry really picks up in the summer, and that winter until January of 2020, we were running things out of one of my friends' restaurants, like a weekend popup a few times a month. I had so much planned with the food cart but due to COVID and a lot of things happening here in the city of New York with all the offices being shut down, it wasn’t possible to have [the food cart] there in the summer of 2020. But it opened another door to a brick and mortar, which was something at the beginning I feared.
Also during that time, I was able to use the resources that God had given me to transform the food cart into a smoothie and juice cart. With some of the money God had blessed me--through the business and my personal account--I was actually able to donate our services to the first responders, like the nurses, doctors, fire fighters, and police officers who were at the aqueduct test site for 3 consecutive weeks. It was so amazing to be able to do something, and every time we came at the end of helping, I thought about ‘How am I going to pay the rent’? ‘How am I going to do this and that’?
And at the same time through COVID and reading the bible, just taking time to really exercise my faith, that was just the point of testing. That was just my test, a point for me to exercise my faith, you know. Like everyone says ‘Walk by faith and not by sight’ (II Cor. 5:7) but then, even though everyone saw businesses closing down due to COVID, the brick and mortar was an opportunity for us to still have the business. We got a lot of customers and employed people who needed a job, as well as got a farm, actually. So the restaurant was a double blessing. Through the restaurant we now have a farm. So now we’re pretty much farm-to-table. In the summer we have a summer menu, and in the winter we do both, a winter and summer menu. The winter menu has more hearty options like candied yam and a variety of soups, which takes a lot more effort and energy to make.
comes first, modeling’s second. Before my restaurant, my school came first, my studies. Since COVID, actually...since all of the classes are online, I enjoy taking them online more than just being in the physical building, to be honest. Being online gives me that freedom of like being 100% focused, you know! I’m finishing up my degree in electrical engineering. This is my last semester. I started thinking about getting the degree when I was in high school. I went to a technical high school, where it was both tech and trade focused, where I actually had to do the physical work of an electrician. So that’s where my passion for [the field] grew at that time. You know, when God calls, it’s a different thing. I grew up in a household where my mom was a chef. She used to work at the American Embassy. My dad is a computer engineer. You know, I had both of my parents, and growing up I was kind of like more in touch with my dad’s side, but then when God is like, ‘Hey, you know, do this,’ I started thinking about the food industry. We cook our food in a healthier way. Instead of frying the fish, we roast it [the salmon]. The same goes for our chicken, and we marinate it. All of the seasonings we use for our food are imported from Nigeria.
TC. Has the fashion calendar being affected by the pandemic changed the way you think about booking runway shows, higher-paying campaigns or projects?
Babajide Alao. I haven’t been working as much as in previous years, but I’ve had residuals come in from different jobs I booked prior to COVID, and God takes care of the rest to be honest. So that’s the thing, each year I pray to God, ‘I wanna book some campaign,’ you know, and God always comes through. It’s either 2, 3, 4 or 5, and God comes through. Since my modeling career, I’ve never gone without a year where I haven’t booked any campaigns, and those are what really pay. I manage my funds. I’m a business owner. I can’t mismanage money like that. I manage, budget and invest. Those are a few things I do to keep my income; I also work for other catering and promotional event companies to have extra sources of income.
I haven’t really done fashion week and stuff once the rates started dropping--it wasn’t worth the effort, energy and expense it takes to do it. I mean at the end of the day, even if I get paid $100.00 or so to walk a show, I still have to pay my agent 20%, the Uber or Taxi rides to and from one show to the next. Once you add all of these things up, you’re left with lunch money [he laughs].
When booking higher-paying jobs and campaigns, however, the money I make from them serves a greater purpose. It goes into the business, the business of being in a position to be a blessing to the workers because they’ve been able to make money and take care of their families. People need jobs. I employ people, and through me, they get to pay their rent, their phone bill, you know, that's how I see it. I see modeling as a way of giving back, as a way of helping to create more jobs for people who really need them. You know, I can't put my business on the backseat to go help a bigger company or major corporation accomplish their dreams at the expense of my own. Every time I get booked for a job, I see it as an opportunity to invest in my business, which serves the community and is a blessing to others.
TC. How has tech such as Zoom, FaceTime, WhatsApp, Duo, etcetera played a role in your daily life or casting experiences "in quarantine"?
Babajide Alao. It’s efficient, to be honest! Like when I have a job and instead of traveling into the city or to the location it’s efficient. Just to be able to send a reel to the client or just to do a video conference call really has worked out for me, personally, because then I can talk to clients face-to-face and they can get a sense of my personality. When you’re in the waiting room and then, you know, like you’ve been there for 2 or 3 hours before you can actually talk to the client, your energy kind of gets a little bit down. That’s what really happens because you’re running from like 2-3 castings, so you can get thrown off from one casting to the next, having to do different things. If the previous casting, for example, didn’t go well, it can throw you off for the next one. The video chat or call and everything has been a good form of communication. But I haven't done any photoshoots via a video call.
TC. What have been some of your favorite go-to items to wear and groom yourself "in quarantine"?
Babajide Alao. I like to feel comfortable and look nice. I iron my jeans [he laughs]. Some days I’m like, ‘I’m gonna do a little extra today,’ so I’ll starch them. Other days, I could care less. When I wanna be serious, I put a little more starch...when not so serious...less starch. I wear a lot of active wear styles and fits. I enjoy wearing my Doc Martens boots. That’s like my winter go-to boot right there. They're really comfortable and I just like the material. In the summer, for my farm wear, I wear denim Levi’s overalls. As far as grooming products, I don't have much facial hair but I use an electric shaver because the [single-to-triple bladed shaver] causes razor bumps. My facial hair hasn’t grown out much because when I can see it start to grow I shave it off before that 5-o'clock shadow.
TC. What’s on your bucket list, “post quarantine”?
Babajide Alao. First on my “post quarantine” bucket list is to work on my restaurant, and everything else would be a bonus from there. I enjoy using the resources that God gives me through my business to impact the lives of other people.