Raissa Leme, a model born in Sorocaba/SP, faced several challenges in her journey to become an internationally recognized model. Despite the difficulties, she persisted in her dream of walking the catwalks since childhood. At age 16, she took her first flight to Europe, starting her career. She currently resides in New York, United States.
Despite the initial difficulties, Raissa did not give up, and her artistic talent opened doors to work with internationally renowned brands, such as Louis Vuitton and Calvin Klein. One of the most outstanding moments in her career was her participation in an international Melissa campaign. In addition to her success in the fashion industry, Raissa is an activist committed to many important causes. She is an advocate for sustainability, the black movement, the LGBTQIAP+ community and female empowerment. The model also supports NGOs and third sector organizations, dedicated to helping people in socioeconomically vulnerable situations.
In summary, Raissa Leme is a Brazilian model of international prominence who conquered her space in the fashion industry, even in the face of challenges. In addition, she is an activist committed to meaningful causes, using her platform to bring about change in the world. At 27, Raissa is an inspiration to many. Her successful career, which includes work with renowned brands and a solid following on social media, stands out for her perseverance and determination. The model takes advantage of her visibility to encourage people not to give up on their dreams, regardless of the difficulties they may face along the way. For Raissa, it is possible to overcome obstacles and achieve great goals through focus, dedication and confidence in herself.
How did you deal with the lack of references from successful black women on television and in fashion during your childhood?
As a child, I could not understand how much it affected me. I only understood later how challenging it was to deal with the lack of references to black women on television and in fashion. It was always very difficult for me not to see myself in the places I wanted to be. However, I tried to focus on the success stories of black women also outside the scope of traditional media. I looked to my grandmother and mother as examples of strength and determination, and they became my biggest sources of inspiration. The lack of representation at that time motivated me to work hard to occupy these spaces and be a voice that inspires other black women.
How was your hair transition and what did it represent for you?
It was a challenging and meaningful process for me. For years, I straightened my hair to conform to society’s standards of beauty. It was tough taking my traumas, all the jokes and comments about my hair, and turning them into gasoline for the decision to transition. After the decision, I tried different ways to wear my hair until I found myself back in braids. It wasn’t until I started wearing the braids during the transition that my self-esteem really started to come back. I hadn’t worn braids in years (because they also made fun of my braids at school). And after that, I felt like I had found myself again, so until the chemistry came out of my hair, it was much easier, it was less painful with the braids.
What were the main difficulties you faced at the beginning of your modeling career and how did you manage to overcome them?
One of my biggest difficulties was finding someone I could trust to work with and help me with my career direction. At first, you end up believing everything they say, because you really want to make your dreams come true. The consequences are many: poorly organized trips, jobs without adequate financial compensation, lack of communication, things that, added up, end up harming both the career and the self-esteem. Through the referral of friends who were already models, I ended up meeting my current agents and things started to flow as I had hoped.
How did your experience in China change your view of the fashion industry and your career as a model?
Going to China as my first trip, in my opinion, is not the right parameter of what the fashion world is, at least during the time I was there. The way the agency treats you, the routine and the jobs are nothing comparable to the experiences I had later in other markets. If I had to depend on the experience in China to decide whether to continue modeling or not, I would have given up.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your career as a model and what have you had to do to adapt?
When the pandemic hit, I had just arrived in New York for two weeks. It was a very difficult moment for me, even deciding whether to stay in the city of my dreams or return to Brazil. I ended up staying in New York very scared, but very confident of what was to come, and with that decision, I ended up not seeing my family for almost 2 years. It was difficult at first to adapt to a life that no one knew how to live. NY was empty, all those new rules, and everyone was living in such fear. I needed to find a safe haven within myself. My priority was to be mentally well so I could adapt to anything.
What is your opinion on representation and inclusion in the fashion industry, especially for black models?
The fashion industry faces a persistent problem of racism and lack of representation, both in front of and behind the camera, particularly behind the scenes. I see many brands using the black body as a visual “token” of facade. I can’t put aside the changes that have already been made and the evolution of inclusion, but there’s still a long way to go.
How do you believe that the new generation of black models can contribute to change in the fashion industry?
The new generation has already been changing the fashion industry a lot. I believe that change lies in the existence and persistence of all of us, facing our daily struggle to conquer changes in the market. Those who have to contribute to change are not just the black models, but all the people involved within this bubble.
What was it like to sign an exclusive contract with IMG Models and how did you feel when the pandemic interrupted your career at that time?
It was incredible, I was very happy. I love the work IMG and Endeavor do with the careers they care for. I had a lot of support from them during the pandemic. I was very scared when the pandemic hit, but I was also in survival mode, trying to understand whether or not the world was ending. When I understood that no, that the world was not ending, I could start thinking more about my career and other movements.
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