Celai West reveals how she went from model to mogul
Known as the little girl with the big hair, Celai West bursts onto the fashion scene at just 5 years old with print modeling. At 7 years old, she became the youngest model to walk in an adult show during New York Fashion Week. Since then, she has co-authored two books, The Parent’s Guide to Kids Runway and The Parent’s Guide to Kids Runway...for Brown Girls, as well as launched The Chatty Chick, a collection of clever and empowering t-shirts for the whole family.
After contending with hairstylists who didn’t know how to style her afro-textured hair, Celai and her mom teamed up and launched a YouTube channel with tips and tutorials for ethnic textured hair. Celai is often recognized by one of her many videos that have gone viral. Collectively her videos have been viewed over 25 million times. Still, her primary focus is advocating for kinky hair textures in the entertainment industry. She is determined to change the way the industry and young girls view natural hair. Now at 12 years old, this phenomenal young entrepreneur not only hopes to create significant change, but she wants to inspire young girls to love the hair they were born with.
We had an opportunity to speak with Celai about all the amazing things she is doing.
Tell us how you got started.
When I was 3 years old, I was at a skating rink with my parents, and this guy came up to us and he said, ‘I wanna shoot you,’ and we didn't know which shoot he meant so we were like, ‘Wait, what?!’ Then, he said, ‘Oh, I'm sorry. I’m a photographer.’ Eventually, I did a photoshoot with him, and loved it. The rest is history. When modeling slowed down, my mom suggested that I walk a runway show in the area. I did that and a year later, I booked a job at New York Fashion Week.
I have interviewed several young CEOs and I am so impressed by our young generation stepping into the business side of entertainment. Tell us why it was important for you to be a CEO?
We get a lot of emails from parents who’d say, ‘My daughter didn’t like her hair but now that I’ve shown her your Instagram, she loves her hair.’ I really just want to empower girls! To show them that their hair is beautiful the way it is, and they do not have to straighten it. So, that’s why I started The Chatty Chick. Now there are a lot of different people wearing my tees. There are girls with long hair, short hair, red hair, locs, braids—and boys too! So, we decided to expand it for the whole family.
With school and social life, you must be busy. What does an average day look like for you?
I’m home schooled, so I can take my computer wherever I go, and I’m definitely able to balance everything.
What’s your three tips for aspiring models?
Have fun, do your best, and never pay to sign on to an agency.
How did you go viral? Do you suggest this for others?
Actually, I don't know how I went viral. You've got to have tough skin though, because when you go viral, you’ll definitely get negative comments. Over time, me and my mom were able to get past the comments, but you definitely must have thick skin.
What are your three top tips for young entrepreneurs?
Set your goals. Make sure you write them down and look at them every day. Learn your industry and be passionate about what you’re doing. Don’t just do it for the money.
Tell us about being an activist. What does that mean to you and why is it important?
I became a Texture Activist to bring awareness and create change in the fashion and entertainment industries. I push for the inclusion of kinky hair textures in the media as well as better training for hairstylists who are booked to work on sets with talent who have textured hair. I knew that a lot of girls felt discouraged and wanted to straighten their hair because of this. I wanted to tell them they do not have to straighten their hair to be beautiful or to fit in. I also want to push for better training, or black hair stylists; and I want diversity in front and behind the camera, with production.
What would you tell someone who wants to be an entrepreneur?
You're never too young, or too old, to dream big and change the world. Always know that representation matters. Finally, if you’re trying to create a door, make sure you create opportunities for those who don’t have a voice.
Celai West is an unapologetic, rising superstar who calls out injustices and refuses to let society determine her beauty standards. Proudly wearing her curly hair is just one way she has empowered girls throughout the country to see themselves as beautiful. Celai’s confidence and determination at such a young age remind us that the only boundaries we have in life are the ones we create.
Learn more about Celai at www.celaiwest.com.