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Sinead Bovell Breaks Conventions, Ceilings, and Expectations

Sinead Bovell is seriously doing it all. As a management consultant turned model turned entrepreneur, it’s safe to say that the 28-year-old Canadian native has strayed slightly from her intended career path. Bovell is known as the “Model Who Talks Tech,” finding a unique convergence at the corner of business and creativity.

 

She founded the organization WAYE, which strives to bridge the gap between Millennials and Gen Z. Her influence reaches from speaking out on women’s rights to speaking in front world leaders at the United Nations conference this summer.

 

She is also the girlfriend of Mark Anthony Green, Style Editor for GQ and fashion influencer. The couple stopped by Savannah this weekend for SCAD’s annual WordCast event. In the midst of panels and discussions, Bovell found time to sit down with the Manor to discuss risk taking, technology and the future of humanity.

 

Tell me a little bit about your childhood.  

I really liked growing up outside of Toronto. It was always sort of the city I aspired to be in. The community I lived in was very small and progressive. I like to say it was vegan before everyone else was. Looking back in retrospect, I do sort of realize cultural and social things that the community should’ve had or could’ve used. But for the most part, it was a really good place to grow from.

How did it shape the decisions you make today?

In terms of creatives and creative paths, neither really existed where I’m from. Canada, in general, is a bit more risk-averse. I was expected to get a structured job with a normal title. So that shaped the decisions I made for the majority of my life. At 25 I landed my dream job as a management consultant, and I finally realized that this was not the person that I wanted to be. I don’t necessarily regret that I did all of that but I’m also glad that I stepped out of it.

 

Yeah, I think that’s so important to recognize the value of the good and bad parts of your life. Everything really does happen for a reason.

Totally, yeah. You have to trust the timing.

 

In a world that can be so racially polarizing, what was your experience growing up as a multiracial person, specifically where fashion and beauty are concerned?

I think growing up if you’re not around many multiracial people, you tend to sway to the side of the race that is more present around you. I grew up in a predominantly white community. I didn’t see a lot of other mixed people or black people in general, so it’s not like I strived to be white or anything like that but that [white culture] was the more influential side. It was the side of me I wanted people to see that I fit in with. It was only until thinking about it retrospectively that I realized “Oh, I really did struggle with being mixed.” I looked different than everyone around me so I wanted to minimize my differences. That meant doing things like straightening my hair or whatever else I could to fit in with my surroundings more. When I got to Toronto my diversity spectrum expanded and inspired me to start to accept different sides of myself. But it really wasn’t until I became a model that I not only accepted my identity but celebrated it.

 

That’s really amazing that you were able to find yourself in the midst of a disparate environment. Do you also think some beauty branding also estranges people who are mixed?

I think brands are getting better. Like when I was growing up, the cosmetic brands in department stores were either way too dark or too light for me. I always looked strange if I wore makeup. But I always wanted to fit in because my friends were wearing makeup, so I would just pay the price and look strange. I think now brands are taking a big step towards inclusivity. At first, I think it was maybe just a trend but then brands realized that they were missing a huge part of the market by not catering to everyone. That being said, hopefully, inclusivity is here to stay. When there is a gap in the market it allows for an entryway for new brands. We’ve seen that in brands like Fenty beauty, who are genuinely trying to cater to other ethnicities.

 

On the topic of recognition for minorities, can you talk a bit about your role as an activist for women, specifically your role in the Model Mafia and the “Me Too” movement?

Model Mafia, to describe it more formally, is a movement and a force that is taking a minority voice and making it the majority. It’s about amplifying the type of change that needs to be made in the industry— and in general— because fashion is one of the most influential industries in the world. Being a model is a responsibility because of the platform you have, so speak on what’s right. So, we’ve sort of come together as a force to expose things like race, inclusivity, women’s rights, all the things that need to be advocated for.

Sinead Bovell wears the Mulberry Silk Button-up from Thread + Onion.

That’s really amazing that you were able to find yourself in the midst of a disparate environment. Do you also think some beauty branding also estranges people who are mixed?

I think brands are getting better. Like when I was growing up, the cosmetic brands in department stores were either way too dark or too light for me. I always looked strange if I wore makeup. But I always wanted to fit in because my friends were wearing makeup, so I would just pay the price and look strange. I think now brands are taking a big step towards inclusivity. At first, I think it was maybe just a trend but then brands realized that they were missing a huge part of the market by not catering to everyone. That being said, hopefully, inclusivity is here to stay. When there is a gap in the market it allows for an entryway for new brands. We’ve seen that in brands like Fenty beauty, who are genuinely trying to cater to other ethnicities.

 

On the topic of recognition for minorities, can you talk a bit about your role as an activist for women, specifically your role in the Model Mafia and the “Me Too” movement?

Model Mafia, to describe it more formally, is a movement and a force that is taking a minority voice and making it the majority. It’s about amplifying the type of change that needs to be made in the industry— and in general— because fashion is one of the most influential industries in the world. Being a model is a responsibility because of the platform you have, so speak on what’s right. So, we’ve sort of come together as a force to expose things like race, inclusivity, women’s rights, all the things that need to be advocated for.

 

I think that is so awesome. When you have a platform, it is so important to use it for the right reasons. How did you get involved with that group of models?

The founder of it, Cameron Russell, an awesome model and human, posted about this meeting on Instagram and a lot of people showed up, like 300. Then, a solid 200 of us kept up with the group and kept meeting. So, now we’ll meet, especially when there is something significant going on that we need to discuss. Cameron actually did advocate for the “Me Too” movement, where she sort of unveiled some of the stories of sexual assault victims in the modeling world on Instagram. It caused a huge unraveling of truth about what actually happens in the industry. That’s what the organization is all about.

 

Wow, that is so amazing and so necessary. It’s so uplifting to hear about models who are advocating for change in the industry through their influential platforms. Your platform, or brand, is the “Model Who Talks Tech.” What are your thoughts on personal branding? What’s your advice on building a successful (and authentic) personal brand?

Personal branding, branding in itself is just a fundamental of business. You know, how do you stand out? How do you get people to buy into your product? What makes you different from the competitor? Whether that’s your personal brand or brand for a product, it’s about having the thing— the skill set, the product, as well as the unique differentiator. Personal branding is just being able to articulate your competitive advantage. You have to have a skill set, something you are bringing to the table. But you also must have that added layer that only you can speak to. I think that is the fundamental principle of personal branding.

 

What would you say that is for you?

I think for me, on like a more obvious level, I’m in a world of creatives and bring a corporate background. That in itself is something different and something you don’t really come across. I leverage my background in business to move through this industry. My goals were always more business focused but now I have this platform from this other life. It’s all about building a brand from the intersection of two different things.

 

What opened your mind to starting this personal brand that is so unprecedented?

Well, I was always very interested in the future, more so once I started to do my MBA, and my mind was opened to it. I was always geared more towards business from a more traditional angle— the elements of business that already exist. My shift towards entrepreneurship and creating my own message started once I entered this creative field of modeling and fashion.

So, you quit your job as a consultant at 25 to enter this “creative world.” What was that like?  

Crazy. Literally. I spent my whole life going towards this specific job. Everything from having a perfect GPA to a perfect resume. I really went after it. Once I got there and got offered the position and everything I thought I wanted, I realized this is not actually anything that I want. It was kind of a meltdown because I felt so trapped and my resume seemed to speak only to one thing. I was scouted by a modeling agency and just thought maybe that was the ticket or the sign that I needed to just leave. I had no idea what I was getting myself into but at least I had a chance to sort of start again. Quitting was terrifying, but it was the best thing that I ever did.

 

Thank you so much for sharing that. I think at that time in anyone’s life it is so difficult to discern who you actually are compared to who you thought you were supposed to be.

Exactly. When we grow up we think only what exists is possible and that’s not the case at all. I think if you guide yourself with at least “who you want to be,” instead of “what you want to do” it will keep you in the right direction.

 

Modeling obviously led you into that “right direction,” and now you operate your own non-profit WAYE. Can you tell me a little bit about it?

Yes, I was always passionate about the future and technology. I obviously loved business for my entire life. However, it wasn’t until I left the business world that I found this other world of people that weren’t paying as close of attention as me to some of the technologies and things that will fundamentally change the way that we live. So that’s sort of the inception of WAYE. How do we build a workforce that is sustainable in the digital future? It is sort of bridging the gap between Generation Z and Millennials in this new wave of what life will look like going forward.

 

So I take it you’re optimistic about the future?

Very much so. Too many people think about the future based on the movies that we watch, and that is one very small, potentially negative, side of something that is probably going to be only positive. Technology has only helped us in every lane: healthcare, travel, communication. Tech accelerates our evolution. When innovation is accelerating, it is hard to keep up, so that’s where I like to come in with WAYE and show what the future is going to look like. From there, we can figure out how to build a job and a lifestyle, something that is going to stay relevant, in that digital future.

 

So, in terms of fashion, what is the role of technology and innovation? Where do you see the future of fashion in relation to these things?

I think tech’s largest contribution to date is the acceleration of communication, and the fashion industry is so dependent on communications. Tech will allow us to communicate the messages that we think are important. We are buying the fashion that we see, so tech will influence the type of fashion that is manufactured. As far as tech being incorporated into the clothes themselves, there are scientists developing clothes that can wash themselves or fabrics that have a memory. I could go on for hours about tech-based clothes; it’s so interesting… I think we are going to see the intersection of tech and every single industry at a complete 90-degree angle.

 

Do you predict a similar acceleration in trend forecasting and turn around?

I do. The life cycle of everything is decreasing because there is always something new. The only thing that may stop that is when we fully comprehend the effect it is having on the planet. Single-use plastics and wearing clothing once— that is actually the wrong way to live. I think that knowledge will slow things.

 

Knowledge is so accessible right now that change cannot be too far off. Do you think there will be a breaking point between the two that will permit necessary change?

Yes, because history has shown that is always the case. Once our generation ages and changes what we will, the future generation will have a whole new set of things that they think are important. I think that what we want to see be improved or equalized will be, but I think humanity and human life as a species are continually evolving. It is dynamic and is going to keep changing. In terms of the specific things that we find negative right now, there are a lot of things in politics and culture that we find scary. However, there are also people doing a lot of awesome things that we don’t really give credit to. For example, when I was at the UN a few weeks ago, to hear people with a great platform and power talk about things on the right side of history was very reassuring. I think we become surrounded and completely absorbed in the bad, but at the same time, I think there are more people who are working in the right direction. It’s just a matter of bridging those resources and leadership and then everything that we want to see will happen.

Written by Kat Sours

Photography by Nick Thomsen

Styling by Nick DiGulio

Clothing courtesy of Thread + Onion

Updated with corrections