She is code-named Avatar. That is Adetutu Jasanya, the young lady that found her dream after her father’s sickness led her to dump the search for a job as an accountant for a job she got with looks and her natural talent. Her looks are sexy. Her body speaks in languages that the heart understands. And her walk and sway seal deals for her on the runway where only the confident sells sophisticated fashion and other brands to millions of people. In this interview with PAUL UKPABIO, Jasanya, who hails from Ijebu -Ode, Ogun State, tells us her journey to the top; the various challenges faced by African models and their limitations.
How did you get into modelling?
I’m Adetutu Jasanya but people know me more as Avatar because in 2010, I was Avatar in the Nigerian Make-Over Show. I was one of the models used for that show. I was on the runway nude with just palm fronds to cover the most sensitive parts of my body.
That went viral online and after that, I was on television and that got me other jobs. I was on NTFS, where I did another runway job with Ankara collections. Galaxy Television beamed that show and since then, the name Avatar has stuck on me as a brand. But it was after a year that I registered the name Avatar formally when Ted, the photographer, who took the Avatar shots, nudged me on to do so. He gave me the idea.
That was how I became the CEO of Avatar Communications, where I am the most senior model and I train young ones in modelling, ushering and event management. That apart, I empower youths in my community. Presently in Lagos State, I have empowered over 300 youths.
When you say empowerment, what do you mean?
Empowerment like skill acquisition; I teach them how to make up, how to be a model; bead making, soap making and so on. Where I do not have such knowledge or skill, I pay trainers who teach them. I started that in Gbagada, then moved it to Bariga. I then started going round to other places. I also do feeding for children. I can just pick a particular community and cook for them just to put smiles on the faces of children there. I love to see people around me smiling.
Where do you get the funds to do that?
I get it from my family, friends and well-wishers, especially those who have known and seen my capabilities in time past, support me.
Why did you choose to be a model?
I can’t really recall but I know that somewhere along the line, I wanted to be a model and while studying accountancy at the Moshood Abiola Polytechnic, I nursed the ambition to become a top rated model. So, I developed the keen sense for it. So, I studied what it takes to become one. I watched television and the videos of models and so on.
I got my break when ISIS Models called for audition. I was there. I was rejected. I was told that I didn’t meet up with the standard. Though I was not chosen but I met a lot of people there through networking. I met successful models and the struggling ones. I got their contacts, got success tips here and there from the successful ones and I stayed in touch with them. I didn’t relent; I didn’t give up. In 2010, I went to another audition and there I was picked and used for Avatar. Since then, it has been from one good job to another. I have been on different platforms, different fashion shows and many runways. I was at the Nigerian Model Achievers Awards, Adire and Kampala Fashion Show, put together by City People. I have done several others.
At that point also, I was on the look-out for international agencies to sign me on. But I didn’t get any. However, I met highly placed people who came here for those fashion shows. They talked to me and said they will recommend me as the kind of model that could work at the international level.
That was how I got an invitation to Ghana for ‘Runway International’. I didn’t go there alone; I took some of the models that I trained here with me. As luck will have it, I got the opportunity to submit my photos for the Dubai Fashion Week in Accra, Ghana. It is the same people that are in charge of the Dubai Fashion Week that are also connected to the Fashion Week in Paris, Italy, New York and London.
I was chosen for the Dubai Fashion Week. That took me out of Nigeria again where I went to participate on the runway in Dubai. I got a certificate for it and that changed my CV too. To survive better on the international modelling scene, one needs a proper international agent, which I hope I will get soon. Offers are coming. I have already been on the runway in South Africa and all that on merit without having an international agent but on recommendation from professionals in the industry, who have seen me at work.
Tell us about the South Africa bit. What were you doing there?
I was in that country because I am the Founder of Gbagada Beauty Pageant. And part of the promise for the winner in 2016 was to accompany me to South Africa for a week tour. While we were there, the pageant beauty queen, Precious Fredrick, participated in a movie, while I took part in a make-up show. And in 2018, I was back in South Africa in June, to organise an empowerment programme, train-the-trainers on make-up, beauty cat-walk and so on.
Does age really count in modelling? And if it does, in what way?
Age does not really matter for one to become a successful model. I have been following Noami Campbell; she’s one of my role models, somebody that I have been following for a long time and I’m looking forward to meeting her someday. True, when I passed age 21, I was a bit worried about pursuing a career in modelling. But many years after, I found out that Naomi Campbell was in her 30s and she remains a successful model. That was when I upped my game in the career.
Unfortunately, most of the modelling auditions that are done in Nigeria look out for fresh models; girls, who are 17, 18 or 20 and I am older. However, if I don’t tell you my age, you may not know. But the beautiful aspect is that, most often, depending on the product, age doesn’t count for models. But on big runway shows, you have to declare your age. At such times, when I do, if it’s okay with the organisers, I am picked. For instance in Dubai, I declared my age and they screamed wow! It was okay with them. Right now, I am looking forward to the Fashion Week in Paris and Italy.
So, how do you keep your figure and looks?
It is God’s doing. Sometimes, I try to watch what I eat but again, my body is just simply a gift from God. You know, there are some people who don’t need to stress themselves naturally before they could remain fit. I am one of such people. However, I still go to the gym so that I can remain continuously fit. Most of the modelling agencies don’t want fat people. It is either you are plus size or slim, but not in the middle. I was also on the runway at the last Nigeria Fashion Week, which is also one of the biggest fashion shows in Africa. I am really happy about that. I appreciate Mrs. Ronke Ademiluyi for that platform and I look forward to working more with her.
Are you trying to say that you do not eat eba, banga with starch?
The funny part is that I do eat all those foods that you have mentioned. That is why I say that it is a gift from God. I eat them but the figure remains. But also I must confess that when I go out of my way to eat other foods that are not regular with me, I eat them not in the night. After eating them, I don’t stay on them for long, I return to my supposed usual routine, like taking light foods daily. Models should not eat after 6pm. However, sometimes I ignore that rule; I even eat at 8pm. But when I do, I return to the gym and work out.
As a child, did it occur to you that you would one day be a supermodel?
Not exactly. I wanted to be an accountant that goes to a regular office to do additions and subtractions and so on. But after school, I was unemployed; so, I started ICAN, the professional examinations. I did ATS 1 &11 but I stopped due to lack of money because after my NYSC service year, my dad was sick, to the extent that I had to start supporting him. I was forced to go heavily in search of a job. It was when I didn’t get a job that I ventured into make-up business. It was while I was doing make-up for brides and people at shows that I was regularly complemented by my figure. People told me to my face: ‘you are dark and lovely’. Ladies were also telling me that. I was regularly asked if I was a model. That was how the make-up business woke up the model in me. I started getting jobs as a model, which came from trying to support dad when he was terribly sick. I also wanted to be an actress, which I am still working on. I have done a few on-the-surface acting and I hope to do more.
When will you starting having children?
(Laughs) I have a child. To God be the glory, I take care of my son. He is also a model and a dancer. He is in the entertainment industry. For now, I will want to focus on my career rather than having more children. That is because it is not easy to focus on my kind of career while having children. If I meet any man that is interested in me, fine. But for now, I am a single mother.
How old is your son?
He is six years old; he will be seven later this year. He has not done badly as a model. He has done Heritage Fashion Show, another one that was sponsored by Zenith Bank, Blessed Fashion Show, Adorable Fashion Show twice and many outings for different brands. Also last year, he participated in Fashion Finest, organised by Mahogany International. He got an invitation to model in Dubai but because of my show, which clashed with his, he couldn’t go. But we are looking for others.
Is it like you had issues with the father?
Yes, we did. We had a good union between us and the relationship broke up because of the misunderstandings we had. His family was jealous and envious of our happiness. So, his family intruded. They saw me as being the one controlling our home. So, they came in and before long, the union broke up. They are the ones that destroyed my home not him. Even after the break up, we met at different shows. I saw it in his eyes that he wanted to come back to me; more so as he has a child with me. But there was nothing I could do. What has happened has happened. We were no longer together. I just had to bear it. And since 2014, I have been taking care of my son all alone.
That means he is in entertainment related industry?
Yes, he is.
So you are a model, and your son is a model, does that mean that if a man wants to come into your life now, he has to be a model too?
(Laughs, then thinks deeply) It doesn’t follow that way! Anybody that will support our career will do. It is not easy. I guess to see a man who will first of all support your career and then support that of a son. So a man coming into our lives at this time must have some size of love to understand and support us. He will have to love me and love my son as his own.
Does that mean you are not in any relationship right now?
No, I am not in any relationship.
I guess it’s best known to me.
Nudity seems more common now than before. What can you say about it knowing full well than nudity seems more controlled in modelling than acting where you can be required to act X-rated scenes?
In modelling, you can still be made to open up. But in modelling, there must be a reason before nudity is required. The product may determine it; maybe a body cream that you are selling or bead; like I did a particular work where I was selling beads. It was a nude job. I was trying to make people know that people that are wearing waist beads are not witches. Bead wearing has always been with us traditionally. I love culture and I have worked with a lot of cultural ambassadors around the country.
Nudity is not something to be out rightly condemned. It could be used to pass a message as a model. In acting, even when you are naked, it is not as if you are naked on the street or you are wearing just pant and bra, it is not as if you are walking on the street in it. You are wearing it to act. So, even in the movies, total or partial nudity is for communicating a message. As humans, we cannot continue to cover up things or keep lying to ourselves. There are things that have to be open and communicated.
How much do you expect to be paid for nude jobs?
For me, in acting I wouldn’t want to go totally nude because even though I would be passing a message, it has limits to what I can do in acting. But when it comes to modelling, I know that I am selling the product of a brand that would not want their image to be tarnished. It’s unfortunate that here in Nigeria and perhaps some other African countries, a nude model is likened to a prostitute. It’s again unfortunate because it doesn’t count as such abroad. I mean in developed countries, which means that we are still backward. I believe that if you are doing what makes you happy, its fine. Models are not prostitutes.
How did your family react when you modelled nude?
My family tried to get at me. I told them to let me be; that I see joy in what I am doing and I am using it to promote brands. I have got more contacts for works internationally than before. My family wasn’t supporting it until my only brother called me from the UK and asked why my family was complaining about me. So, I told him what I had been doing; that I am not into prostitution but growing a career. And he asked if I can find a future with it and if I am happy with it, I replied yes and he told me to go ahead with it; that he will talk to the family. That was how they left me alone to face my career.
I guess models have their fashion sense too, what’s your fashion sense?
My style is low hair cut (laughs). While in school, people used to call me ‘Agbani Darego’; that was after the beauty queen, because of the low hair cut which I used to spot. Later on, I started plaiting my hair. When I did the Avatar photo shoot, I had a big mass of hair but was pressed down with gel so people didn’t notice.
It came out like low cut. It was sensational. So that really struck me that the low hair cut is just my natural thing. So, that has stuck with me but I can come out in wig or other hair looks if it is a show that I am modelling that kind of brand. At other times, I could go with skin hair cut or dye the little hair on my hair to white or any colour that suits my feelings. Then also when I go out, I am always fully clothed. No showing of any body part or wearing transparent clothes. Also I prefer large earrings to the small ones. Large earrings work for me because I am usually on low cut; it brings out my small face.
Do you have an advice for up-coming models?
Yes, whatever you want to do in life, do it. The advice is not just for young people but for anyone. What’s your dream? Go for it. Don’t listen to craps from anyone because once you do it and make it big, it’s those people that will turn you down that will still celebrate you. So, the struggles begin from within and you must win within before you can win out there.