Our Girl In Shanghai

Sunday, February 17, 2013

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Once upon a time...

"I was 16 years old when Saint International CEO Dewight Peters scouted me at Campion College" shares the ever-so-sweet Joelle Lodenquai. The then sixth form student did a few local jobs through Saint International — how well we remember those Ammar's Fashion Observers.

Off to London...

Three years later, in 2006, with the full support of mum Gail — an admin assistant at Amalgamated Distributors and dad Patrick, a surgeon and lecturer at UWI (Mona), she was off to London and placed with Premier Model Management. "I had a three-month contract," continues the effervescent beauty, "and did mostly test shoots and magazine editorials. My clients at that time included Maybelline and the Australian brand Sass & Bide. A year later in February 2007, Lodenquai headed to Shanghai with Saint as her mother agency. She'd return that fall to the University of the West Indies, Mona, to complete her degree in Management Studies. Come 2009, a First Class Honours (she scored the highest GPA that year) degree in hand, she returned to China.

Building a portfolio...

Her agency today, Esee Model Management (Shanghai, China) with offices in Beijing, Hangzhou and Guangzhou. What has propelled her success, she shares with SO, is "being of mixed race — Chinese and Caucasian. It's beneficial as clients in Asia (in general) quite like mixed faces for their commercial brands. In the earlier days, I spent a lot of time going to castings. Now, I have built up quite a large clientele and am fortunate enough to work almost daily through direct bookings." Indeed, with China currently ranked as one of the world's largest and fastest manufacturing nations, there's no shortage of local clients. "The market there is extremely busy throughout all seasons and rarely is there a 'slow' season compared to other (fashion) markets."

Thankfully, there's Chinese New Year with a solid two weeks of holidays, "one of the only holidays long enough for most Chinese in the cities to return to their far-flung hometowns to visit families. The market is dead," she shares with a twinkle in her eyes. "Hence, why I am home in JA on vacation". Indeed, she is catching up with friends and enjoying the nightlife of Fiction nightclub.

Life as a model...

I shoot for catalogues almost daily, which provides most of my income. Apart from catalogues, I do a lot of online shopping sites. (some being the equivalent of asos.com UK). These are better-paying jobs. I also do prints and television commercials. Print clients include several property clients in Mainland China as well as Hong Kong. I have jewellery clients, Colgate, Sony Ericsson, Ponds. TVC clients include Honda, a Chinese lemonade drink, and a Vietnamese detergent. I also shoot for magazines, both Chinese and Japanese-based. Magazine editorials and fashion shows pay the lowest but editorials help to build one's portfolio. I have chosen not to do fashion shows. I am 5'8" and one of the shortest girls in my agency, so although I have walked for clients such as Coach, Puma and Lacoste (more commercial brands), I am fortunate to be busy enough with photo shoots, which pay more.

A typical week...

It's not unusual for me to be shooting in four different cities in one week. So in any given week I can be in Shanghai two-five days out of the week. The rest of the week is taken up travelling by train or flight to Hangzhou, Haining, Beijing, Xiamen, or any of the about 20 cities that I have travelled to in Mainland China for work. In the past six years that I have been travelling to China, I have seen such rapid growth and expansion, not only in the infrastructure.

How modelling has changed...

From my experience, the modelling market has grown and appears to be one of the markets that many models are aiming to work in because of how busy it is. Many models I know personally who have worked in top markets such as New York, Milan and Paris end up earning more in Asia than in those top fashion markets, which are extremely competitive and have all been affected by the recession.

Positioning myself...

I have negotiated contracts with agencies in Hong Kong and Thailand, where I have lived temporarily for work. Now, these agents and other freelance bookers throughout Asia will contact me directly for bookings and I will negotiate jobs, working as a freelance model with no mother agency.

Not all glamour...

In Hong Kong I have experienced living in a cramped model apartment with four girls sharing one bathroom. Getting our casting schedule for the next day and having all four girls rush to get ready, packing our highest heels and heavy portfolios in hand to catch the metro to scram all over the city to meet clients by a certain time. It is certainly an interesting experience, but in no way is it what one wants to be doing every day!


Since I work almost every day in the Mainland, I have opted to have my apartment there in Shanghai and be based there. It's an easy train/flight from there to anywhere else in Asia.

Conquering the language barrier...

One of the main barriers used to be the language. But over the years I have picked up quite a bit of Mandarin, and although not fluent, I am able to get around quite easily.

How times have changed...

Now compared to even five years ago, I find that many more locals are opting to learn English in the same way that so many more foreigners are flocking to Shanghai and are trying to learn Mandarin to take advantage of the job opportunities. There is quite a large expat population in Shanghai and Beijing.

My style...

My personal style is simply chic. I find that I dress quite differently in China than I do in Jamaica. Shanghai is a fast-paced city and I enjoy wearing monotone layers, especially in the fall and winter. I love strong lines and symmetry, so you will find coats with a long straight cut or an A-line cut with a dramatic collar in my closet. I will usually do black or white and neutral tones and add a pop of colour with maybe just one or two items. I like pants and skirts that are fitted and well structured. In Jamaica, with the tropical and laid-back environment, I tend to wear more colour and dress more casually. I generally like clothing with interesting texture, so a mix of materials such as lace or beading will more than likely draw my attention.

Future plans...

Five years from now I will be finished modelling and hope to have completed my MBA, working and gaining hands-on experience that will all equip me in forming a successful advertising company.

I would prefer to be settled in Jamaica while building and maintaining business connections in China through clients and suppliers.






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