When you mention the New York Fashion week, the names that immediately come to mind are Kendall Jenner, Gidi Hadid, Bella Hadid and Karlie Kloss, all of whom model for big brands in the fashion industry.
However, this year’s event featured Kenya’s Sianto Sikawa, who is less well known in comparison. The 24-year-old current Miss Tourism Narok and Miss Tourism modelled Tamil International’s Spring/Summer 2015 collections. Winning Miss Tourism opened doors immediately.
Sianto thought that being crowned Miss Tourism Africa was the cream but that was until Tamil Robinson of Tamil International contacted her to model his designs in this year’s New York Fashion Week.
Tamil Robinson describes Sianto as humble and with a very bright modelling career. The clothing line strives “to bring Africa and America together through fashion”, according to its owner, Tamil Robinson.
Zuqka recently caught up with her for a chat about her rise to stardom.
Gracing the New York Fashion Week runway is the dream of every model.
Thank you very much, I appreciate it. I know that we’ve had Kenyan models grace such high-calibre runways, and I’m glad to be one of them.
This will make more Kenyan models realise that anything is possible, as long as you have a positive attitude and always put God first.
As a young girl, did you ever see yourself achieving such a thing?
I have always been the tallest in all my class since nursery school, and I was the teased a lot because of my height. I was called twiga (giraffe), mlingoti (a pole) or even asked questions like, “What does tomorrow look like?”
But my interest in modelling was aroused when people called me a supermodel or said I had “American height”. I was also inspired after watching people like Tyra Banks — and especially Iman because she was recruited in Kenya — on TV. And when I saw Debra Sanaipei flying the Kenyan flag high, I felt I wanted to do the same, and that’s how it started.
When did you start modelling?
In 2008 when I joined Daystar University at the age of 17. I got a lot of exposure to the industry and also got a lot of training on photo shoots and how to cat walk and also did promotional jobs to earn a little cash.
I competed in a couple of pageants but never made it past the audition, but I kept trying.
What inspired you to compete beauty pageants?
First let me say that pageants and high-fashion modelling are very different.
In pageants, it’s about the model, what cause you believe in, and what you can do to uplift a community according to the theme of the pageant. Effectively, you sell your personality, thoughts, opinions and your ability to represent the community, county, country and continent in matters the pageant addresses.
Being from Narok County, Transmara my passion is selling tourism and marketing the beautiful Maasai culture to the world and bringing as many people to Narok and by extension, to Kenya.
That’s why I tried out for Miss Tourism Kenya.
Meanwhile, fashion modelling is usually a designers’ show and as a model, you strive to be the best walking mannequin to sell an outfit. That’s what sets the model apart, especially if she or he can make the outfit stand out.
How has your journey into modelling been?
It has been a journey on which I have learnt that I need patience to succeed. It’s not easy, especially when people say nasty things about the way you look or how you are not cut out for the industry.
I realised one thing, though: that no human being can tell you what you can or cannot do.
If you feel in your soul that you want to do something, just do it and pray for God’s anointing because at the end of the day, people can only talk while faith can move you to greater heights. But it is important to be prepared for all the mean things that people say because not everyone likes you
How did you end up at the New York Fashion week?
Designer Tamil Robinson of Tamil Robinson Group is the designer whose clothes I modelled and it took him four years to decide I was ready for the task.
A Mombasa-based designer from Yayana Fashions who saw me and thought I could do international runways sent my portfolio to some designers and finally, it happened this year. It actually came at the right time since I was already a brand, which I wasn’t four years ago.
What is your fitness routine like?
Luckily, I am blessed with good metabolism. I can eat almost anything and not gain weight. But recently I have got a trainer with whom I work at least three times a week.
I also try to eat healthy and take lots of water for my skin since it is very oily and prone to breakouts.
The craze and hullabaloo of the New York Fashion week, how overwhelming is it?
Fashion week is the busiest week in New York, from what I witnessed. Seventh Avenue, also known as Fashion Avenue, is extremely busy, hosting 300 shows in that period, with models running from one show to the next show.
It’s the peak of all things fashion and best way to sell yourself as a model, and for designers to showcase their designs to the celebrity-studded events. It is exactly the way you see it on TV– crazy, but amazing experience.
Did any celebrities or people you admire turn up for your fashion show, or did you bump into any of them?
I met some celebrities and saw some from a distance because of all the security and paparazzi around them. I saw celebrities like Ciara and Nicki Minaj attending the Givenchy show.
I walked the runway with Claudia Jordan of the Real Housewives of Atlanta, and Jim Jones was also present. I was looking forward to meeting Tyra since she was supposed to come but maybe next time I will. It was great seeing their world and how big a deal they are there.
Do you get to keep the clothes, shoes and accessories you model?
Unfortunately, no. The outfits are for sale and people buy them online or through the designers’ outlets.
The good thing about the show I did was that I was able to accessorise with a bead I had designed and received as a present from women in Maasai Mara and the Friends of Maasai Mara Organisation.
Apart from modelling, you were also busy closing up charity deals with different American foundations? Tell us a bit about that. People tend to think models are just walk and pose.
I’ve been involved in different projects like Solar for Manyatta and Eco-Manyatta done by the UN, Green Jobs Kenya, the International Labour Organisation, and the Department for International Development.
I am also very active on issues relating, not just to the environmental conservation, but to wildlife as well. Soon to be launched is a project supported by the Big Cat Diaries presenters Jonathan and Angela Scott, and I can’t wait for it.
Meanwhile, when I was in New York, I also got to speak at Barack Obama Elementary School and from there I got an invitation to speak at the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial in January, which will be graced by his daughtet, Bernice Albertine King, who is a great speaker.
I also met a doctor who does medical outreach to other countries and after talking to him, he said he would bring 50 to 100 doctors to Kenya to go round and treat people free of charge and also give them medicine.
That was the highlight of my visit, and it is very rewarding.
Your dad is one of your greatest cheerleaders; how has he inspired you?
My dad calls me his star and I grew up to be just that. He would photograph me and my siblings a lot as children and we grew up knowing we would all be great. I believe parents influence their children a lot.
My mother has supported me in my modelling journey and sometimes acts as if she is the one taking part in the contests, and I thank God for that.
Talking of parent-child relationship. You have a daughter; how do you balance the work-parenting routine?
As young as she is, my beautiful daughter knows exactly what I do and she’s my little cheerleader, so I strive to prove to her that anything is possible.
I have found that the way to achieve the perfect balance in my role as a mum, model, marketer calls for planning and prioritising things, but family always comes first.