Zimbabwean newcomer Nyasha Matonhodze sauntered into our offices with confidence, poise, and maturity that belies her 16 years of age. It's her statuesque grace (she's five foot eleven) and sweet-as-pie personality that's made her the new favorite of fashion editor Katie Grand, who kick-started Matonhodze's career during her debut spring 2011 season when she booked the young model for Louis Vuitton, Emanuel Ungaro, and Loewe — all shows that Grand styles. After those key catwalk sightings, Matonhodze shot spreads for Harper's Bazaar, Teen Vogue, and V magazine. Better yet, Matonhodze is now rumored to star in a major campaign shot by Steven Meisel and styled by Karl Templer.
Tell us a little about your childhood.
I was born in Zimbabwe and raised by my grandmother in a very cultural, traditional household. It's much different than the British culture where my mom lived. I moved to England when I was 8, so I do still have memories of Zimbabwe; falling asleep in the sand, bathing outside, the warmth of the sun, and just the way of living. Moving to England, I saw their perspective on Africa and what they think it's like, and it's completely the opposite. I went back to Zimbabwe three years ago and it's so lovely; they're happy with who they are and their traditions. I love going back home.
How did you get discovered?
My discovery wasn't a discovery. At 14, my mum and my stepdad went into Elite Models to see if I could actually model. Since I was 12, I was tall and thin so I would always get the whole "you should be a model," but I never really developed a serious interest about it until America's Next Top Model. Seriously, that’s when it all changed for me. Everything I wanted was pretty much based off that show. I went into this career thinking I could be a model, but I never thought I'd actually become one. Once I signed with Elite, I was entered into the Elite Model Look competition, where I became a finalist. As soon as I turned 16, I walked for Jonathan Saunders.
You've appeared in spreads for Harper's Bazaar and Teen Vogue, what do you make of it? Do you recognize yourself?
I find it difficult to see myself and think that I'm a model. I feel blessed and honored to keep getting that next step in my career. I've met amazing people that keep supporting me and pushing me further and further. It's like a dream, no matter how good I do; it's still so surreal for me.
What can we expect from you in the coming months?
I'm going to surprise you. But I must say that Katie Grand has to be one of the best people I've ever worked with, and I hope that I never stop working with her; she's genius.
Who are some of your best model friends?
Ajak. Usually you have to try hard to make friends, but with her, we found a comfort zone and just clicked instantly. She's talkative and bubbly, kind of the opposite of me. I adore her.
Let's play favorites, what's your favorite:
Music: I love soul and gospel music. Music affects people's moods. If you’re going to listen to loud, angry music, you might want to go punch somebody. I like to feel more grounded, earthy.
Books: The Bible because not only does it tell people how good they are, but what we can do for others.
Film: Sister Act II It's such a classic!
Artist: I love photography. I really liked working with Jason Kibbler and Daniel Jackson.
Foods: African foods like sada, especially if my aunts make it. But I also love seafood, and Chinese food with all their intricate spices.
Tell us a secret.
I'm goofy. Models are often thought to be these glamorous creatures, but I don't think I'm so glamorous with me sitting on my bum eating Ben & Jerry's Cookie Dough ice cream at home.
What's the last thing you bought?
Well, I didn't really buy this, but I got an awesome trade from Malandrino: a navy jumpsuit, a V-top, and a little cute leather jacket.
What's your most favorite and least favorite feature about yourself?
My least favorite feature are my ears; they're so small! For positive, though, a lot of people tell me I have a lot of compassion for others. I care a lot about people and when I help others, God blesses me with other things. What I hate is seeing a person who doesn't appreciate themselves. Of course I have my insecurities; we all do, so I try my best to make people confident in who they are.
What scares you?
Oh my gosh, spiders. I have a little brother who's 12, and every time I see one I make him come over with his sneakers to squash them. He actually used to pick them in his palm and set them outside, and I would always tell him to just squash them. Spiders are just so creepy.
Describe your style.
Plain, but bold. I love prints: leopard or any animal print. If I'm wearing black, I want a little bit of pop to my outfit.
Morally, I think one should be nice to everyone. There's no reason for anyone to feel like they're on top of the world.
I'm sitting here talking to you and I can't believe you're only 16-years-old, as you seem incredibly mature for your age. Are you really 16?
[Laughs] Thank you. I think most of my wisdom comes from my dad and my mum. My dad always taught me the Christian way of life. And for my mother, she was a single mother at 18 who moved to London without knowing anyone. She's always worked hard and seeing her overcome so much in life has been an inspiration for me. She's so successful now, and I want to be like her.
Tell us something about modeling most people don't know.
If you're not strong-minded, modeling can knock your confidence quite harshly. Every day you're judged on your look, and more so today you're judged on your personality. With that said, a lot of us are 15 or 16 years old, so some girls could really take the criticism personally. What we have to understand is that there's not something wrong with us per se, we just aren't a right fit with the client.
If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?
I'd have to say the media's perspective on modeling. They always make it seem as if it's an easy task, like models don't have to work hard — I'd like to change that. I want people to see the real side of modeling, and not just the glamorous.
Lastly, any goals in modeling?
Model Profile: Nyasha Matonhodze
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