Raising Gabi: the Life of a Modeling Teen

The creator of Ebene Naturals, Fayola Nicaisse is a business woman and a bit of a philanthropist. She is also the mother of Gabi, 15, who models for companies such as Macy’s and H&M. What does it take to be a teen in the modeling world? In this interview, Fayola (single mother of two!) talks openly about raising Gabi.

MJ: You had a successful career as a supermodel. Tell us about it.

F: I would not say that I was a Supermodel.  I did model.  I worked with some of the top photographers of that time who are still up there, such as Bruce Webber and Ellen Von Unwreth.  I shot for Italian Vogue, Seventeen Magazine, YM, and was featured in catalogs for Broadway, Dillards, Folley’s, JC Penny, Target, etc… I’ve done music videos and commercials.  I’ve worked in Miami, Dallas, NY, London, Milan, LA, and Chicago.

I modeled for 5 years and made nice money. I quit at my breaking point.  Not the smartest thing to do, but my father was diagnosed with colon cancer and I let go of a $50,000 contract to go work in Johannesburg, South Africa, to stay home with him.  I did stuff on the side from time to time, but my heart was no longer in it after that.

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Gabi, at 12

MJ: Now your daughter is a model as well…

F: Well, my now ex-husband is a fashion photographer.  Gabi did her first job as an infant.  They needed a baby sleeping in a crib.  That was easy enough.

I really did not want Gabi modeling until she was a little older and could understand the business.  I was hoping for her to start after High School like I did, but one day, as I was packing, Gabi found a box with some of my modeling work and started to ask to model too. Three years after that, I did not have a choice.  People were constantly approaching us and saying that she should model, which made it hard to keep her mind off of modeling.  She really wanted to do it.  So, I sent some of her pictures in to an agency that specializes in kids and has been around since my modeling days.

She’s 15 now. I let her model part time to get the just of the business.  Modeling does not really become serious until she reaches about 16 or so.  Education comes first.  After High School, I will then allow her to take a couple years off to pursue modeling full time before attending college and see where it takes her.  That is what my parents did with me.

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Fayola & Gabi

MJ: How does your child handle both her schooling and her modeling career?

F: Modeling is part time for us right now.  I made that very clear to Gabi and her agent.  As long as she keeps her grades up, she gets to model.  We pick and choose jobs that we think are worthwhile.  She does not go to every casting and does not take every job offer.  If we did that, Gabi would miss too much school.

Gabi works for Macy’s and H&M mostly.  She has done stuff for Toys R Us, Foxx Clothes, and some others, but we try to keep things limited right now because of school. I guide her and communicate with her agent regarding her schooling schedule and days she is available and days that she is not.  Since I’ve been in the business myself, I know how things can get.  My role is to keep my child grounded and focused on what is important.

MJ: How do you manage your business and your child’s career?

F: It can be challenging.  Juggling everything between my business, my son’s school schedule, Gabi’s school schedule and modeling jobs, plus being a single mom, you can only imagine.

We all have to coordinate for the jobs that she does take on.  I have to find someone to pick my son up from school if the shoot is going to be an all day thing.  I bring my laptop with me to stay on top of emails, etc…

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Fayola’s beautiful children

MJ: What do they look for in a child model?

F: Of course you have to be photogenic, have something unique about you, but personality and professionalism are big in the modeling world.  Beautiful kids and young adults are not one in a million.   Unless you are a Top Model, your personality will make or break you; and even then, you are easily replaceable as well.

MJ: How does she stay fit and healthy?

F: Gabi has the same body type that I had at that age.  She can eat a cow and get away with it.  I don’t put any restrictions on her diet.  I teach her and her brother to make the right choices.  It’s a way of life for us.  We eat pretty healthy at home.  My son did not realize that sugar can also be white until three years ago when someone served me coffee and put two spoons of what he thought was salt and advised me not to drink it.

Gabi is like any kids her age.  She and her brother take martial arts, swim, play basketball and football with their cousins and friends,  rollerblade with me on the weekends, etc…  We are a pretty active family.

MJ: Pros and cons of being a modeling child mom?

F: So far, we are just getting our feet wet.  Not making too much of it.

I guess pros can be the fun trips that we have taken together.  The modeling world exposes you to things that you would not ordinarily see or experience.  For example, we once took a private boat to an abandoned island and shot a catalog. How often would you get to take a boat to an abandon island?

On another shoot, we go to hang on an alligator park and took boats through the swamps, I was scared out of my mind, she and her brother loved it.  Cons are trying to make it work with your own schedule.

Back in my days, I hung out with Robert De Niro, Wesley Snipes, Martin Lawrence, etc….  Some of my old modeling roommates and fellow models are big TV stars now like Shemar Moore, Greg Vaughn, Austin Peck, Brook Burns,  ect…

MJ:  What advice would you offer parents who would want their children to be models? What should they watch for?

F: Parents who wants their kids to model should be very involved in their kids career and socializing in the field.  Modeling can go to your head and you can get involved in some pretty crazy stuff if you are not grounded.  Imagine you are 16 plus years old and all of the sudden, you are making at least $1500 a day, travel by yourself all over the place, you eat at the best restaurants, attend all of the best top parties, drivers take you wherever you want to go, you meet a bunch of celebrities, etc…

If you do not have guidance, you can end up like many I have seen.  The modeling world is not always glamorous.  It can be ugly.  I’ve seen all types of things in my days, things that before modeling, I’ve only seen in movies.  People party hard.  Very hard if you know what I mean.  The crazy stuff does not happen on the shoots.  They happen at the parties that you get invited to by some clients, other models, etc…  You have to pick and choose your parties and know when to enter and leave a party one of my agents and fellow model told me.  Not all of them were crazy out of control parties, but some of them were.  I’ll just leave it at that.

I was very lucky that my parents raised me to make the right choices.  If you want your child to model, raise them to have their heads straight on their shoulders and make the right choices.  If your child is easily influences, modeling is not for them.

Sounds a little rough, but that is my advice in a nutshell.

MJ: Is there anything they should be concerned about? How should they choose a modeling agency?

F: A modeling agency will never ask you to take classes or pay outrageous amounts of money for a portfolio.  They may put you in contact with photographers to get a nice head shot and other pictures that they can use to get you jobs, but that is about it.

Plus for kids, it’s different.  All kids need is a nice headshot.  I shot Gabi’s head shots with a little point and shoot camera myself.

Watch out for photographers that want thousands of dollars to shoot.  Watch out for people that make you sign contracts that gives them right to use your pictures however they want.  A good agent is essential and very important.

Here you have it! Fayola’s  advice to working moms about realizing their dreams, nurturing their families and balancing work and life? “Balance is very important.  I am still learning to balance it all.  It is very difficult and challenging, but it is what we do.  Our schedules are hectic to say the least.”

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