What do you do and what's your official job title?
I'm a Model Coach and Branding Specialist. I use this as a multidisciplinary description to cover my background, experience and skill set across branding, graphic design, marketing, communications, social media strategy, business consulting and life coaching. I've worked in business for 20 years, the Model/fashion industry for the past 12 years, and with teenages for nearly 20 years as well. All in various roles as a mix of employee, consultant, contractor, or volunteer. It's been quite a journey to reflect on the eclectic career path I've had across 3 continents! No one day has been the same.
Take us back to when you were first starting out. Did you study to get into your chosen field, or did you start out with an internship/entry-level role and climb the ladder? Tell us the story.
The job roles that I have worked in and currently work in didn't exist when I was in school. There was no such thing as 'social media' let alone needing to be a strategist. It was also unheard of to be a 'Model Coach'; those titles were left to the top fashion agency owners and bookers of the 80s and 90s.
I actually wanted to be an archaeologist when I was growing up. I loved anything about ancient history, forgotten time periods and heliographics - you can't half tell I was an 'Indiana Jones' enthusiast and I shared this passion with my Grandmother who had travelled extensively in her life.
By high school I'd fallen in love with art and all my subjects leaned towards arts and humanities. Being 'a creative' in my family is not something that was or is considered to be a legitimate career path so I struggled for many years to find something that I wanted to do when I left school. Graphic Design was a new concept when I graduated high school however not offered in the Northern Territory (where I grew up) it was only offered as a TAFE course. I studied a Certificate IV and Advanced Diploma of Graphic Design whilst consulting in my own business; offering multimedia, web design, publication layout and numerous other branding projects to my clients. I wanted to work abroad and discovered the 'standard' in the US and UK markets were 'you have to have a degree.' In Australia your portfolio was sufficient. I then completed a Bachelor of Visual Arts, majoring in digital design and photography, in record time (I condensed my study from 3 years to 18 months) and took my talents to Washington DC and London for the preceding 2 years.
For a decade I worked in various industries as a multi-hatting creative whilst also working a parallel career as a Model. Transitioning back into the workforce full-time after 3 years of raising my daughter I upskilled by gaining an Advanced Diploma of Business and an Advanced Diplomas of Leadership and Management.
From my eclectic work experience together with combining my qualifications and life experiences into one role, is what inspired me to create 'The Model Masterclass' where I now teach business skills to aspiring Models who want to get into the fashion industry and thrive.
What challenges/hurdles have you faced getting to where you are now? Can you tell us about one in particular?
There are immediate stereotypes that I've faced from people when they find out I work as a Model or a Model Coach. It goes one of two ways. Judgement or curiosity. I prefer curiosity. When I'm asked questions it's great to educate on what working as a Model actually entails, the kind of work I do and have done, relay some crazy or funny stories from previous shoots or campaigns and clients I've worked on. Some of the time they recall my face or smile from a campaign which is great.
Before I worked out a very strategic way to diffuse the 'judgement' types, it used to really be a challenge. These were the type of people who would make a statement, and it would then be on me to justify or explain. Or they'd pass a judgement of me, without knowing me, and it was then on me to explain my existence to them. I've worked out that these are not my people, I don't owe them an explanation or justification for anything, and their body image insecurities are not my fault. When you meet them with empathy and compassion, 9/10 the conversation goes well and they switch to 'curious' very quickly. The times it hasn't, I make a call 'this person is using my height, shape and look as a reason they hate themselves, walk away.'
What do you want people to know about your industry/your role?
For people who want to get into the industry, this is for you. Modelling is 20% looks and 80% business. If you want to enter the industry to have your physical appearance validated, you're going to leave after a trial period burnt out wondering why you never got famous or landed a luxury brand ambassador role. It just doesn't work that way, and your desperate energy is a deterrent for any client or Agent. When you're starting out you need formal training, guidance from an experienced industry professional and a lot of the time that's hard to source. It's one of the many reasons why The Model Masterclass is a world first in online education and training for Models, so you can be anyone from anywhere and learn everything you need to know to start out or level up the right way the first time.
For people who consume products and services that use Models, this is for you. Models and the modelling industry exists because of consumption. To say 'we don't need models because XYZ' is to eliminate the 4th largest sector on the planet. Modelling is a profession, a job, and one that takes time to learn and master. It's not a benchmark for how YOU should look. If pictures or perceived lifestyles of Models affect you, it's perfectly ok to find more content that is best suited to you. Where I see body shaming online, both the too thin or too big commentary, it's not healthy either way. Models are humans just like you and I, and we should all treat each other with the respect we deserve.
What's the best part about your role?
Representation matters! I am so thrilled to see much more of that in advertising and marketing material in today's market. I recall a social media post from 2011 where I said "I'm so happy to see diversity in my industry" though this discussion really only hit the media from 2020.
I love, as a Model Coach, that I'm able to work with people from all walks of life, ethnicities and genders. These are all people who previously wouldn't have had the opportunity to get into the industry without my guidance, training and support and I love being that person for them. It's what I wished I had started out with. The best part about my role and what I now offer through The Model Masterclass is the ability to help my younger self.
What would surprise people about your role?
I worked out very quickly that, even starting Modelling in my early 20s, I was gaining more work and more opportunities because of my ability to connect with people and work effectively in team environments. It's very natural to think that a Models' success is purely based on their physical appearance and youth. This is actually not the case. I've won many Model Castings and Model jobs from more youthful, taller and thinner models over the years, including those from top tier fashion agencies, because of my business skills, how I communicate and carry myself and how agile I am on set. In other words, I'm candidly myself, easy to get along with, helpful and know my place. The industry really doesn't have time for high maintenance, overly demanding, malicious Models; which are all traits of amateur Models who permanently stay that way. Professional Models, especially those with extensive portfolios and many years of industry experience, know that longevity and success comes down to humility, effective communication and team work.
What skills have served you well in your industry?
Empathy. My ability to firstly see this trait of mine as a blessing to utilise it, has been my number one go-to for success in business and Modelling. It's the foundation for effective communication, conflict resolution, negotiation, mastering small talk and selling yourself. There are 7.8 billion people on this magnificent planet, we are each unique in many ways though it also serves you well to remember you have to get along with others to level up or truly succeed.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to be in a role like yours one day?
Be authentic and don't contribute to the white noise. There is so much to celebrate and love about the creative space across the globe, from Sydney to New York, Milan to London, though being unregulated and largely 'the wild west' as a result, youth safety should be your top priority. Being another scammer, a person out to make a quick buck, is not what I consider to be legitimate in this space. Come in, stir the pot, and make a real difference.
What about a practical tip?
Gratitude is such an underrated sentiment. Pay a compliment where it's due. You're a Model who's Agent just gave you a Casting: thank you. You landed your first brand - thank the people who help you get there. You read an article, or took a course, and were inspired to take action towards your goals - reach out and let them know the impact they had on you. These things, and many more, I teach in my online course "How To Become a Model.' It's so wholesome when I see my Model students do this. I know they'll go far.
Kate Heussler is a businesswoman, Model and Coach. She founded The Model Masterclass to educate and train the next generation of Models entering the fashion industry, equipping them with the business and social skills they need to have a thriving career.
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