Pursuing her dreams and giving back to youth

Stacey McKenzie is a fashion model and the founder of the Walk This Way Workshops and The Walk Camp. Photo by Sandra Hercegova

Canadian fashion model Stacey McKenzie spoke at non-profit Never Apart’s Legend Series

“You have your passion, your dreams and your goals. Even if they are telling you no, keep going for it, because you never know where it’s going to lead you,” said Canadian fashion model Stacey McKenzie.

As a young girl living in Kingston, Jamaica, McKenzie said she never thought “in a million years” her dream of being a model would come true. She was bullied and made fun of because of her looks. However, her ambition, determination, drive and self-love led her to success.

In 2015, Vogue magazine named her one of the top five Jamaican models that have changed the face of fashion. She is also a model coach and mentor on the hit reality show series America’s Next Top Model and Canada’s Next Top Model. On Jan. 25, McKenzie was invited by the Montreal-based non-profit Never Apart to speak as part of their Legend Series, which hosts interactive panel discussions with inspirational guests.

As McKenzie walked on stage in her black stilettos, beaming with positive energy, the crowd applauded enthusiastically. She began by sharing how she pursued her career and the struggles she encountered along the way.

“Do you know how many people and designers would tell me ‘Hell no’? Tons,” McKenzie said. Among them was British fashion designer Alexander McQueen. According to McKenzie, he did not initially want her to model for him, but eventually changed his mind and hired her. “Don’t let them forget you. Keep going, and let them see you,” she said.

Throughout her talk, McKenzie highlighted the importance of never giving up. She described how she would go to castings and callbacks she wasn’t invited to. In fact, that’s how she got her first Calvin Klein campaign in 1995.

“I was never sent to the casting, but I was like, Richard Avedon is going to see me today,” she said. Avedon, a renowned fashion photographer, spotted McKenzie arguing with a security guard in front of the building where the auditions were being held. “I was trying everything under the sun to get in there,” McKenzie recounted.

When Avedon asked who she was, McKenzie replied: “Mr. Avedon, I am here for the callback.” He told her he had never seen her before, to which she responded: “Well, you are seeing me now.” To her surprise, he brought her inside. When Avedon asked her what she wanted, McKenzie said: “I want the campaign.” He gave her a 10-year contract on the spot for the Calvin Klein campaign, alongside fashion model Kate Moss.

“If I would have [waited] for my modelling agency to send me to some casting where they wanted black girls or light-skin girls, I’d be starving and I would have never gotten that Calvin Klein campaign,” she said.

Aside from modelling, McKenzie has also become an activist and youth advocate. She is the founder of the Walk This Way Workshops, where she teaches aspiring models about all aspects of the industry. McKenzie also created The Walk Camp in 2013, a free two-week summer camp where she invites 25 to 30 young girls from different communities in Toronto to meet mentors from the fashion, entertainment, arts, business and education industries. Each girl is paired with a mentor who shares the story of how they got to where they are today.

“I’m super excited about it. All of this started because I had to do everything myself,” McKenzie explained. “I didn’t have someone to guide me, to mentor me. I never had that, and I’ve always wanted that. I met a few models in my journey who didn’t have that as well, and I was shocked.”

According to McKenzie, the girls at the camp are from neighbourhoods where these types of hands-on experiences and opportunities are not accessible. McKenzie said her goal is to teach the girls to love themselves.

“I want them to be empowered and to accept who they are. I want them to be inspired and to go after their dreams and goals with confidence,” she said. This is exactly what McKenzie has done herself. “I never thought I would be able to give back,” she said. “It’s the ultimate [feeling] for me.”

Photo by Sandra Hercegova

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