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What it takes to be a billboard model

Allan Kiremerwa

Runway Biz: So many people believe that all it takes to be a model is height and physical appearance, but as we learn from Allan Kiremerwa it takes a lot more if you are focused on taking this up as a serious career.

Allan Kiremerwa has been a runway and billboard model for five years. He attended Namboole High School and Crane Media Institute. His defining moment came in 2015 when he was named the upcoming male model of the year at the Abryanz Style and Fashion Awards (Asfas). According to the 27-year-old, one must have the heart to accept and bear rejection if they are to succeed.

What is the lifespan of a male model?
Five years on the runway. Though, it can be much longer for billboard models, depending on what look the client wants. Honestly, by five years you should have figured yourself out. Some guys are lucky that in their second year on the runway, they are scouted by international modelling agencies. Others, though, do the local gigs and after five years, they have nothing more to add to the industry.

You have already done five years.
I wanted to stop last year, but I still have the passion for walking the runway. I studied journalism, so I want to first make a name in modelling before I join radio.

What drew you to modelling?
Broadcast journalism is showbiz. I love showbiz. I love things that put me out there, so it was easy to enter the modelling world. I love the spotlight. When you are on the runway and people are cheering you, it is the second best experience in the world. It is unexplainable.

Were you into showbiz right from your childhood?
It caught up with me in adulthood. As a child, I dreamt of becoming an electrical engineer. As I grew older, though, I began watching fashion shows and realised modelling was something I could do.

What has been your most successful campaign?
On the billboards it was the Obulamu campaign. I acted as a virgin, saying, ‘I am proud to be a virgin.’ It felt good seeing myself on billboards and seeing myself on TV. Then, in 2015, I enjoyed walking the runway in Rwanda. It was an all-expenses paid for trip.

Can one make money from modelling?
There is enough money, although you cannot look at the runway for survival. Some models walk for free at the beginning of their careers because they want to get runway pictures. Later, they might get paid Shs100,000 per show. I earn Shs150,000 per show. The pay on the billboards, though, is much higher. I managed to set up a wholesale business from what I earned from the Obulamu campaign. I have also just entered into a car sales business.

There is an impression that to be a male model one must be gay. How true is that?
I don’t know why people think that way. Maybe it is because we wear makeup and are well groomed, unlike other men.
It is true, though, that there are many gay people in the industry.

Is it an exploitative industry?
There is exploitation, especially when agencies are booking jobs. I have seen models who put in a lot of work and are paid little while their agencies take a huge percentage. However, they ask if you are comfortable with the money, so you cannot begin crying foul at a later stage. My agency, Gala Model Management (GMM), though, does not exploit its models.

Are your parents comfortable with your profession?
At first, they did not know that I was a model because I am a very private person. However, when my brothers saw me on billboards, they told our parents. My father has never made a comment on my profession. He just decided to keep quiet. On the other hand, my mother was happy. She asked for my portfolio and keeps the pictures in the sitting room, showing them to every visitor.

What attitudes must one have to succeed as a male model?
Be courteous and humble to everyone. You may be good-looking but if you do not treat other models well, they can tarnish your name and sabotage your chances. If the models are not happy with you, then the casting agents and trainers will drop you.

Do you have to be a ‘sissy’, as well?
That is something one chooses to be and it is to your own advantage. I do not like fighting because I fear damaging my face. Our jobs come unexpectedly; what if I am called when I have a swollen face? The fight might go viral yet as a billboard model you sign contracts with clauses about maintaining the image of the company.

What is the worst thing about being a model?
I guess it is the rejection. It has happened to me twice. At a fashion week, I went through the auditions and they even took my measurements but never called me back. The second rejection happened in 2017 when a Nigerian designer was showcasing suits. We were cast but when the designer came, he made us line up and chose those he wanted. He left the rest of us standing there and continued with his work.
Out of anger, one of the models swore never to wear a suit again. Those things hurt but it is part of the industry. You have to get used to it. I later learnt that the designer wanted very tall guys so I did not fit the look. When he returned in 2018, he selected me because he wanted models with wide shoulders.

Do you get to keep the clothes you model?
No. We cannot even afford them. Sometimes you can talk to the designer to make you a cheaper version of the clothes.

Who inspires you?
Marlon Teixeira, a Brazilian model. He is among the top five models in the world.

Where do you see yourself in five years?
I want to continue being a billboard model. I also want to be in radio, although my two attempts at seeking entry into broadcasting were frustrating.
Two of the male media personalities I approached demanded for ‘something’ before they could connect me. I was shocked at their demands, so I have put searching for jobs on radio on hold for the time being.

What counts…
In this industry, your looks speak for you. If you are not handsome, do not bother because you will get frustrated. You have to be in shape and the most favoured are the V-shape or Y-shape. I do not diet but I work out four times a week. You also have to be at least 6ft tall, though a 5.11ft you might get lucky if you are really cute and have the body.

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