…It would definitely have to be what I’m already doing, which is teaching everyone that they are perfect as they are, and they don’t need to change what they look like. God made them perfect just the way they are.
As a part of my series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Celai West. Celai West, pronounced “sah-LAY”, is a quirky 11-year old STEMgirl who is making waves in the fashion, runway, vlogging and acting industry, all while proving you can never be too cool for school. She changed the industry standards when she became the youngest professional runway model to walk amongst an all-adult lineup in NYFW, at just 10 years old. West can regularly be seen walking the runways alongside some of the best supermodels in the business. Celai began print modeling when she was five, doing runway shows when she was six, started acting and became the CEO of her own t-shirt line, TheChattyChick.com, at seven, walked in NYFW for the first time at eight, had her first viral video at nine, earned her second viral runway video, and co-authored her first book at 10. Now that she’s 11, she will become the youngest show producer to produce a NYFW show this September with The Industry Fashion Show. Celai has worked with major brands such as Target, Walmart, Amazon, Gap, Disney and Allstate and was the leading lady in Willy Williams’ music video “The Voodoo Song” that has been viewed over 18 million times! She also appeared in “I Am My Own Mother” which was selected to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in 2018. Celai West was recently featured on Vogue Italia and Good Morning America, has appeared on two news channels, one talk show, 10 magazine covers, and published in several magazine issues and newspapers. Many of her images, as well as videos, have been shared on social media in viral numbers, including two viral runway videos that have been viewed more than 20 million times collectively. Please be sure to check out her Press page. After several unpleasant experiences with stylists who were unknowledgeable on how to style her hair while on set, Celai and her mom teamed up to create their own hair tutorials. They expected to help show styling and hair care techniques for ethnic textured hair, but were pleasantly surprised to find that their videos were a hit and over six have received viral numbers. West looks forward to continuing to break barriers while working hard in the classroom and prove that models ARE indeed smart too.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Well I was born in Sacramento, CA ,and I am the youngest of 6 kids, but I’m the only one who does what I do.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
So we were at a skating rink when I was 3, and this guy came up to us and said, “I gotta shoot her!”. We were like “WHAT?!” but then he said “Oh! I’m a photographer!” *giggles* So when we did the shoot, I fell in love with it.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Well, when I was 7 and modeling slowed down a little, mom saw that there was a local fashion show and asked me if I wanted to do it. We figured it would just be something we did in our free time. Well, my second time walking in NYFW, I was 8 and it was at Madison Square Garden. I walked out, and the crowd went crazy, and mom was like “OMG! WHO IS THIS KID AND WHO TAUGHT HER THAT?!”. We still haven’t figured out how I learned how to walk like this. I just woke up and taught myself how to walk.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Hmm, well I wouldn’t say it was a mistake, but my first time walking in LAFW, I was wearing a tube top thing — and on the way back, I thought it was gonna fall down…ON THE RUNWAY! So I hurried up and pulled it up. Luckily it didn’t actually fall down but that taught me to make sure I check my outfits BEFORE I walk out so there are no “wardrobe malfunctions.”
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Well, i am the Runway Coordinator for The Industry Fashion Show (TIFS) and I’ll be producing my first NYFW show this season. I’m really excited and nervous about it because I want it to be a great show with great designers, great models, and lots of people watching it.
I’m very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
Well I think it’s really important to have diversity because we don’t all look the same and there are different kinds of beauty — so if you only show a few types of beauty, then other people who look different won’t feel beautiful. I think you can learn different things from different people, and also because representation matters. I don’t see girls that look like me (that have my type of hair) on TV or in ads that much but when I do, it makes me feel happy.
From your personal experience, can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do help address some of the diversity issues in the entertainment business?
Well, honestly, I think it would be nice if all hairstylists learned how to do all hair types. When I’m on set, most of the time, the hairstylist can’t do my hair and it makes me think the company won’t book me again if my hair turns out crazy — and that’s probably why I don’t see many girls with kinky hair on TV or in ads. But I’m hoping that our hair tutorials will show people how versatile our hair is and teach them how to style it.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Hmm, let’s see….
- I wish I knew how much they wouldn’t like my hair. Sometimes the hairstyling will be like “*sigh*” when I walk in or sit down in their chair. I love my hair and I’m not changing it.
- I wish I knew how mean people on social media could be. Sometimes they make some really rude comments, but mom and I have a good sense of humor about it.
- I wish I knew how much I would love this. Like when I first started runway, I had no idea I would love it this much! I guess you don’t know until you try it.
- I wish I knew how uncomfortable eyelashes were. Omg, I always can’t wait to rip them off as soon as the show is over. They just feel….weird. Pretty, but weird.
- I wish I knew how cool it would be to travel all over doing what I love AND make money. Or to get booked to stay at home in our pajamas and make a hair video. It’s so cool to do what you love and make a little change doing it.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Well I think self-care is really important to help you balance stuff. Mom gives me lots of time to just chill by myself and maybe watch TV or YouTube videos because those things help me to just rebalance. I love going to the movies too, so time with my family helps me rebalance also. So I’d say to just find something that makes you feel really good and do that when you feel stressed.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
It would definitely have to be what I’m already doing, which is teaching everyone that they are perfect as they are, and they don’t need to change what they look like. God made them perfect just the way they are.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Yes, it would definitely be my mom because she’s always the one who’s with me for all my work stuff and she keeps me safe. She also gives me lots of good information and inspires me to do my best all the time. Plus, she takes really good care of my hair, and she takes care of my social media, which can be a lot sometimes.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Oh! Mom has one that she tells me all the time. She tells me to “Walk in my purpose…fearlessly” and that means to keep letting God work thru me and to trust Him and stay on my path, fearlessly.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
Definitely Liris Crosse. I call her my “model mom” because she always gives me great information and not just model stuff either. Like, one time, we had a long talk about how important having character is and about “friends” and stuff.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
My handle is @celaiwest on all my social media, and you can find me on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr and LinkedIn. I also have a website, www.CelaiWest.com
This was very meaningful, thank you so much!