“I’m from South London. It’s the best place in the world. [Laughs] Growing up there was amazing. It feels like a real area. By real I mean that there are different types of people from all walks of life, there’s culture there, community. My mum is from America and my dad is from Jamaica, so my brother and I were first generation Londoners. With my parents it was never about looking in mirrors. The focus was on our opinions. At dinner, even when I was six years old it was, ‘what do you think, Alva?’ Going to art galleries with my mum I’d say, ‘I like that picture.’ And my mum would say, ‘Why do you like it? What do you feel about it?’ It’s always been about empathy and digging deeper into everything you do. That’s definitely shaped me as a person.
Around fourteen or fifteen, I definitely remember thinking I was not very attractive at all. I felt very aware that nobody looked like me. Even when I started modeling, it was like I still didn’t fit. Every kind of advertisement I’d see, anything I’d buy looked the same. It didn’t really bother me — I was just aware of the way it was. Now I feel very passionate about putting a different image out there. It’s as simple as that. We should be seeing all different types of people from all different races. But I realized early on that when you don’t follow everyone else it’s such a freeing feeling. You don’t need validation, so you can do whatever you want. That’s something I want to see in young women more — strength of character. I think if I hadn’t had my strength of character in mind early in my career, I may have had more setbacks.
I did my first modeling job at twelve. Then I was scouted in my early teens, but nothing came of it. At about seventeen I was reading Look magazine, and they had an article on plus-size modeling. I thought that was kind of cool. At the bottom they had a contact for the agency. So I sent them pictures and I got signed to a small agency in London. I didn’t work that much when I first started — there were a lot of knock backs. I was also studying at the London College of Fashion while modeling, I’d been interning for a while, and began a full time job working as a personal shopper. At one point, I almost quit modeling. But after doing a beauty story for ASOS magazine with amazing casting and an incredible team, I sensed that the industry was changing. I felt passionate about being part of it! So I made the decision to go full time. Since then, I’m realizing how important my being involved in this industry is. I’m always asking myself, ‘What are you doing and what substance is there?’
I feel excited by making a change. I’m in a constant state of — ’oh that was great, we’ve made so much progress’ and then ‘no, we have such a long way to go.’ Unpicking your relationship with your body, and unpicking the fashion industry and its archaic rules and statements about how you should be is key. Being able to be part of that movement excites me. My work at the moment really makes me quite happy, which is weird. I feel very driven. At this place in my life, what makes me happy is what I can achieve, how I can push myself, and how I can help others. I feel very hungry for it at the moment. There are also lots of women in the fashion industry that are really exciting right now. I love when you have interesting conversations on set. People often do not want to talk about certain things, but conversations should be a safe space. That’s how we can be working on ourselves and our culture all the time.
Style makes me feel good. How I feel when I get dressed — that makes me feel confident and sexy. Each day it changes. Some days I dress like a teenage boy and they won’t sell me cigs at the shop. [Laughs] And then other days [I’ll wear] my knee high boots and tiny sixties dress. I’ve been trying to attack the rules a lot — ‘day to night.’ ‘Going from the office to the bar.’ Rules that are inserted in fashion to control women, what they’re buying. We’re told we can’t wear things a lot. Not thinking about that makes me feel good and confident. It’s also what helps me be relaxed about my appearance. I don’t feel any pressures for myself to look a certain way. There are days when I don’t always feel great about myself. But you need to be able to have down times as well as up times. I’m learning that a lot actually — I do not feel happy all the time, and that’s okay. I think in society we need to know that’s okay more. If we know everyone feels down sometimes then it’s not as detrimental, because you’re not living on your own in that. We’re all still learning and that’s where I’m at. I’m learning every day.
It’s easy to say you like aging at 27, but I feel better as I get older. We're all going to age. I understand wanting good skin, and feeling good and healthy as you get older. But I feel less trapped by the things I was when I was younger. Change is a hard thing, but I’ve also learned it’s a good thing. Being open to learning from other people — that’s what I would define growth as. Letting go of the things you’re headstrong on, and learning and listening, not being so solid in an ‘I’m this person, this is how I have to be,’ sense. Talking to people not from your immediate background. That’s something I want to do for the rest of my life.”