Muhammed is a model who has not only won modeling awards here in The Gambia but has also won prizes abroad. Muhammed began walking runways in 2016 and has been on the rise despite the various hurdles that litter the fledgling fashion industry of The Gambia. He had modeled on several renowned runways in The Gambia including Fashion Weekend Gambia which is arguable one of the biggest fashion events in The Gambia.
In early 2019, Muhammed represented The Gambia at the “Future Fashion Faces” competition in Turkey, where he won the grand finale “Future Fashion Faces World 2019” among other prestigious awards including “Best SwimWear” and “Best Fashion”. However, the story behind the spotlight was not a pleasant one according to Bah as he faced a lot of challenges before leaving for Turkey. Muhammed faced so many financial difficulties while in Turkey that he had to sponsor himself with the support of his family. In an exclusive interview with The Chronicle, Muhammed spoke about the challenges in the Gambian fashion industry especially for male models and those aspiring to be models.
The model told The Chronicle that he had to cover all travelling expenses himself even after approaching relevant bodies to sponsor his trip to Turkey earlier this year.
“The organizers sent in the invitation and I went and got all the required documents, attached them to the application then submitted my packet. After three weeks of waiting, I was issued a visa to travel to Turkey. Then I submitted and paid the fees to be issued a model card from the National Center for Arts and Culture and I was given the card alongside sponsorship letters that I had to distribute to companies” says model Muhammed.
“I went to all the GSM companies and big companies, almost 15 companies in total. None of them responded until the last minute and I was told that their budgets were tight. I was shell-shocked that here I was representing my country and I am unable to get a company or organization to sponsor me and not even department of arts and culture could help me. I had to pay for my own air tickets and other expenses which totaled about one thousand Euros,” he added.
Male modeling is one of the most lucrative jobs in some parts of the world, however, that is not the case in The Gambia as there remains several obstacles according to the model. Muhammed outlined some of the major challenges faced by most male models in The Gambia which include societal perspective of male modeling and of course how models struggle to earn a living in the growing Gambian fashion industry.
“It was not easy but for me I had an open-minded mom and when I told her modeling is what I wanted to do, she was okay with it. She told me, ‘as far as you love doing it, I have no problem with it’. Then I said to myself if that anyone says negative things about my chosen vocation, I will not care since my mom has already accepted it” says Muhammed.
“The fashion industry is not growing and if all the big designers and organizers are sitting right in front of me, I will say it’s not growing because the respect is not growing, the payment is not growing and the industry is not growing, especially for men. The demand for female models is higher than that of male models, and male modeling is very hard here but we are sustained by the dream of making it and following that dream, he added.
Muhammed further urged designers in The Gambia to design more male clothes as these will sell well too. He went on to say organizers and key players in the fashion scene should respect models as its their career. “It’s not nice and okay for someone working for you and you are not paying him well and you don’t respect him. If you don’t respect me and are not paying me well then what is the benefit?”
“Companies should invest in models by giving them space on billboard advertising and not use their own staff who are not models. That is how it is usually done in other countries but here in The Gambia, you will only see a few professional models on billboards. That is one way for us models to earn a living as we cannot just depend on fashion shows and designers.”
Muhammed Bah has been staying in Turkey ever since the competition ended in March 2019. He is now pursuing his modeling career and up to the publication of this story, he models for a Turkish brand based in the UK and he does not intend to come back to The Gambia anytime soon. He said he will only come back home if he gets a contract or to invest in the fashion industry to help and contribute to the careers of upcoming models.
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