Student modeling troupe embraces diversity

Statement Modelz pose during the “Ghetto Visionary” photoshoot. Photo courtesy of Statement Modelz

Natalie Barr, Contributing Writer

Student organization Statement Modelz continues to be a place on campus representing students not always seen at VCU after announcing its new model class, Statement’s stylist Lauryn Lynch said.

The university has a diverse group of students with different cultural backgrounds composed of 13.4% Asian students, 18.3% of Black students and 9.5% of Hispanic and Latino students, according to VCU 2021-2022 student enrollment data. 

Those students are not shown at the forefront of campus, Lynch said. Lynch, and the other founders of Statment Modelz, wanted to create an inclusive space for all students to show off their beauty and fashion, she said. 

The troupe opened with all Black models to give back to Black students on campus by creating space for other Black students to “see themselves” through Statement, Lynch said. 

“We have diversified a bit. We have people of Asian descent on our team and some people have Latino descent,” Lynch said. “It’s really a space in a predominately white institution to see other people like them wear cool things and be at the forefront of fashion on campus.”

The stylist said she has been with Statement since the troupe was founded in February 2022. Four VCU students — Kayla Marie Lubin, Michael Ambrose, Thomas Olds and Lynch — founded the troupe after working together at a VCU fashion show, Lynch said.

Statement has a packed October. The group is hosting an event with Kicks Mania at the Richmond Raceway, a fashion show at a K-12 school in Richmond, its second annual pop-up event and a Halloween party, Lynch said.

“I’m so excited we have a busy month, but we’ll make it work,” Lynch said. “We definitely love going back to elementary school, middle or high school, and show them you can be more than what you see every day, and show the kids you can be like us.”

Lynch said her favorite moment from Statement was last year’s “Ghetto Visionary” photoshoot. It started out as a shoot to showcase Black hair. The leadership board decided to expand the shoot beyond hair and shifted to show off the Black experience, she said.

“We were like, ‘yeah, its ghetto,’ but not in a bad way, not in a way people make that word seem,” Lynch said. “You know that people have been using the term visionary a lot, and a lot of the things they view as visionary, we do all time … and we get called ghetto for it, so we’re gonna take this title and make it more than just a negative stereotype.”

Emmanuel Waller, returning model and senior psychology student, said he got into modeling in college after a photographer reached about a photoshoot, the photos were well received on his Instagram, he said. He was recognized by Statement, asked to audition and joined last year, he said.

“The rest was history,” Waller said. “I really thrived as a model since joining Statement.”

Waller said he hopes to be modeling in the future for e-commerce, and possibly runway shows. Statement allows him to be creative, but more importantly, it gives him a space to grow as a person without letting people define him or who he should be, Waller said.

“Me being an African American male, there’s certain stereotypes, the way society has looked at us, and I don’t put myself in that box because I’m not afraid of what people will think or say,” Waller said.

Keely Buchanan, returning Statement model and junior fashion merchandising student, said they looked up to their fashion marketing teacher, who was their mentor and encouraged them to pursue modeling. 

 “When I came to VCU and saw they had a modeling troupe, it was kind of a new concept to me, and I thought it would be cool to join one through my school,” Buchanan said.

 The new modeling class consists of freshmen and sophomores who brought “a lot of energy,” Buchanan said. Buchanan now works with the new modeling class to give advice and tips to those new to the modeling scene, they said. 

 “I definitely tell other models to relax. It’s not as stressful as you think it is, and especially if you are stressed, it can be shown on your face,” Buchanan said. “I would say stay true to yourself and do what makes you feel comfortable.”

The troupe was still finding its footing last year when the photoshoot “Ghetto Visionary” gained attention, Buchanan said. “Ghetto Visionary” was the favorite shoot the model has done with Statement, they said. 

“It was everywhere. Broccoli City posted it, Summer Walker posted, a magazine covered it. It really blew up,” Buchanan said. “It was pure creativity and fun.”

 Buchanan said they’re excited to see where Statement goes this year since the troupe has experience working as a group with photographers and artists in the Richmond area.

 Sophomore fashion merchandising student Suong Han is new to Statement Modelz this year. He was invited by Statement to come to a modeling workshop, he said. Except for occasional photos with his roommate, Han had no prior experience in modeling before trying out for Statement this year, he said. 

“At first, I was like, ‘I’m not a model, what do I look like being here?’ But it was a really fun experience,” Han said.

 Han said he worked with a few of the older models who offered advice and support for a shoot and felt nervous because he was the newest model there, he said. 

 “We’re working on a couple of shoots to surprise some people. I can’t really go into too much about it,” Han said. “But I think a lot of people did go out of their comfort zone to really get some good shots. I’m really excited for you guys to see all of it.”

 Han said he is looking forward to gaining confidence in himself. To that end, he hopes Statement Modelz will support a culture on campus where students feel comfortable in their own fashion style and will show students they can become confident in themselves.

“I just feel that within VCU, when it comes to the fashion scene, groups like Statement, VCU Fits, Black in Fashion and Eco Fashion, those clubs really do contribute to this huge unit of just being comfortable in your own skin and being comfortable in your own fashion sense,” Han said.

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