I remember sitting front row at Toronto Men's Fashion Week watching Austen Dor's FW18 runway when Nini Amerlise came out, strutting down the runway with power and poise. It was my first time bearing witness to her catwalk and it was unforgettable.
Since her emergence's as a supermodel in the Toronto fashion scene in 2014, Nini has made monumental strides. From winning Supermodel Canada in 2017, to being featured on CTV, Toronto Mens and Women's Fashion Week, Global TV, Glamour USA, and so much more, she's disrupted the Toronto fashion industry proving there's nothing she can't do.
But Nini's life wasn't always as glamorous as her internationally recognized portfolio might convey. Before her time in the limelight, she endured intense bullying and years wrestling low self-esteem and depression. Through her struggles, she’s learned to love herself and inspire and motivate those around her going through the same battles.
Last week I had the privilege of sitting down with Nini to talk about her start in the industry, what keeps her motivated and what she envisions for the future. From watching her on the runway to talking to her in person, I've learned she's the epitome of a selfless, wholesome and strong woman that I think everyone can learn something from.
NJ: It’s been a really big couple of years for you! Aside from being featured in numerous publications and TV segments, in 2017 you won Supermodel Canada, congratulations! What was it like leading up to that moment? How did it feel to win?
NA: I can definitely say it was one of the most surprising and unexpected moments in my life. I went into the competition for personal growth outside of my comfort zone. I wanted to learn how to interact with my peers better, understand how to translate my emotions during shoots and be better connected with the environment around me. These areas were my weakest points growing up because I felt rejected and insecure, however to face my fears was very liberating and wholesome. To win the competition was a whole other ball game that I couldn’t be more grateful for. I realized that I now have lives to inspire, fueled with a vision that transcends beyond my own capacity and existence.
NJ: Where did it all start for you? How did you get into modelling?
NA: I always enjoyed fashion, as a child I would dress up in my mother’s clothing and get photographed by my elder sisters for fun. However, a desire to model wasn’t evident in my mid to late teens, as I was trying to find out who “Nini” really was. The intense victimization of bullying consumed my mind on a constant basis, blurring my focus in school which led to poor grades and a misconstrued view point of my identity. Nonetheless, 2014 sparked a change, I saw a casting call online for the face of African fashion week and I applied. Even though I didn’t place in the competition it was enough to ignite a new flame within.
NJ: Since you began modelling you’ve grown so much, becoming internationally recognized and featured on so many platforms, what would you say keeps you grounded in this type of industry?
NA: I would definitely say my faith in God and my amazing mother who have been by my side as a cheerleader, has kept me grounded. When I reflect on scriptures in the bible, it shows the importance of inclusion and how to treat people with unmerited love. We never know what people are going through, by showing empathy we can help the process of healing, which promotes growth in many areas of one’s life. Since I know how it felt to be rejected as a child, my aim is to never allow anyone I encounter to experience that. I try my best to spread love everywhere I go, making my surrounding environment welcoming and keeping me grounded.
NJ: You struggled a lot with bullying and hateful comments growing up. I think bullying is a major issue that doesn’t really get talked about enough, which is unfortunate because it can have such a monumental impact on someone. Would you mind telling us a little bit about that point in your life? How you overcame bullying and how it has helped shape who you are today?
NA: My experience with bullying started from the age of four lasting to nineteen. Even though it was predominantly evident at school, it also took place in my household. “Your skin is so dark”, “your nose is so big”, “your hair doesn’t move like ours”, “you look like a man”, “wow you have so much acne, it’s like connect the dots”, “My goodness do you eat ?” , “You definitely belong in the ugly book”.
"The name calling was so profuse, that it led to self-harm, shame, and struggles with suicide. Arrogance, pride and selfishness developed in my later years as a defence mechanism."
Once I completed high school, I decided to use skin lighting creams to become a golden tone, wear green contacts, straighten my hair and install long weaves; I wanted to hide my true identity. Consciously I didn’t know what I was really doing to myself, subconsciously the toxicity damaged how I perceived my own reflection. I didn’t have any prominent role models to look up to, and diversity in the industry was very sparse, leaving me full of questions. In 2015, my negative lifestyle became very exhausting and I wanted a change. I decided to do self-reflection and developed a new desire to learn about God and see if I could find answers.
A particular verse from the bible stuck with me in my hard times “I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works” psalms 139:14. At first it wasn’t very clear, but as I began to meditate on these words a deeper revelation began to surface. God began to speak to my heart showing me the totality of what he meant. We have been designed with a purpose, intricately handcrafted and beautiful creatures, peculiar unlike any other, all destined for greatness. These were the living words that began to transform my life.
NJ: If you could share some words of wisdom to someone who might be going through bullying or facing problems with their own identity, what would you say?
NA: Bully’s only hurt people because they are also experiencing their own struggles, and unfortunately, they simply don’t know how to express themselves to the best capacity. When we are facing these issues, it can feel unbearable and never ending. I want to remind every reader, that the harder challenges the greater the victory.
"It’s through the hardships where champions are birthed, so keep going."
Life's journey is not to break you but build you. #WeAreRoyals From that experience you have grown substantially. Learning to love yourself is a journey many - if not all - women have to embark on. When did that moment come for you and what was that journey like? I started to love myself when I wanted change in 2015, since then I haven’t turned back. Self-love wasn’t overnight, but I can finally look in the mirror and appreciate the creation that looks back at me. In turn, that love has been manifesting and freely shared amongst my peers, which has helped to mend hurting hearts.
NJ: As you were on your path of self-love did you find it more difficult being in the fashion industry? What were some of the biggest struggles or barriers you had to overcome as a model?
NA: I had to really love me as I am for bookers to see my potential and value. As a model we are the product and we have to represent ourselves with confidence and fearlessness to accurately translate the vision of the brand or merchandise. I would get remarks about my hair and the urgency to tame its natural coils and density. Bookers would complain about my hip size, as they are slightly bigger than the average. That being said I still love me, I can’t help it if I was born with curves! It’s crazy that I use to despise these attributes about myself, but lately I feel so at peace about where I am now in life. It’s a process to get to complete self- acceptance and love.
NJ: One thing I find very inspirational about you is your ambition. You’ve talked a lot about different castings and how your first ever one was with African Fashion Week in 2014 and it didn’t pan out as expected, but you still kept going and persevered. What is it that keeps you going and how do you overcome moments like that?
NA: It began as a burring flame for personal growth and confidence development. As I surpassed that place, I now have an undying zeal and tenacity to want to inspire millennials to not be afraid to be their true selves, to further allow their beautiful light to shine. When I get down, and I come across road blocks, I tend to take some time out whether it be a week or so just to replenish. Then I revisit my vision board and diary, tracking back to why I started on this journey in the first place. Finally, I close it off with a prayer for God to give me strength, and there I go, back on my mission. I think women empowering women is integral, we have to support one another and I think you do a wonderful job at showcasing just how powerful we are!
NJ: As a woman in the industry, why do you think it is important to empower other women and how do you think we can continue to break down barriers that might come up in the industry?
Yes, definitely women empowering women is a must, sharing love with our sisters is much needed for self-development and unity. We are a family and the more we see this, the more we can take away the competitive nature and be supporters of each other. It's a team effort, when one member falls down, we are meant to pick them up. Together we can navigate through life woes and issues. We need to invest time to connect and not get caught up our daily tasks and appointments. We should be able to find a balance, so we can go the distance without restlessness and stagnation.
NJ: You are such an inspiration and we can’t wait to see where life will take you! As we finish up this interview, what do you see for the future of Nini, where do you see yourself in the upcoming years? Any big projects in the works that you can talk about?
I am in the process of registering my non-for-profit organization to help alleviate homelessness of the streets of Toronto, with the vision of expansion to the rest of North America, Africa and the Caribbean. Collaborations with existing charities are in the works to fully maximize its impact. I will be travelling a lot in coming months to share my story, all while curating and developing mentoring seminars for self-worth and love. The journey has been incredible thus far, I can only imagine what to come.
Coffee or tea? Tea all the way, I am obsessed. Chai lattes with almond milk are my go to!
Would you rather live somewhere super hot or super cold? Hot! I freeze easily in the winter’s; my joints and bones actually ache during these times unfortunately. However, I still enjoy winter activities.
Best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten? To practice connecting my emotions to my body posing and gestures during photo sessions, as it will take my craft to a whole other level.
If you could work with one designer in the entire world (has to be living) who would you pick? Chanel, it’s something about the French elegance that my soul resonates with. Such timeless fashion for real women.
Heels or flats? Heels, I have gotten so used to them that it now feels like I'm wearing flats.
What is one clothing item you can’t live without? Anything high waisted, my absolute favourite is high waisted bell bottoms or shorts.
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