Make no mistake – Mary Agory is no doormat..

In just 30 minutes, the stunning South Sudanese model says there was a time in the industry where she was told her facial scars will hinder her modelling career. Speaking to Dami Alao, the New York based model opened up about her career and why young kids in school don’t need to rush to become a model.

Mari looking gorgeous in a stunning orange coloured dress
by Christian Siriano in New York

Zen Magazine: How did you get into modelling?
I started modelling during my 3rd year at the University of California, Irvine. I was a public health major and also on the track and field team as a high jumper and 800 meter runner. I was always encouraged by everyone since high school to try out for America’s Next Top Model but I never had the courage or even the self esteem to think that I was pretty enough to become a model although I had always admired Alek Wek, having similar physical features and coming from the same country, I was always fond of her work and felt that I too maybe (just maybe) could be a model. After I was finally convinced that I should try this thing called modelling, I met Shawn Smith who has become one of my closest friends out in LA. He is a fashion photographer who took a couple of head shots of me, and turns out he was friends with a couple of agents in the LA area. He sent my images in and a few days later, I was signed with one of the best agents in the west coast, Crista Clayman directing the LA Models runway division. During my senior year of college, I commuted between Irvine and LA going to castings and walking in a lot of fashion shows in the LA and Orange County area. Upon finishing school in summer of 2011, I moved to LA for a couple of months before signing with Major Model Management in NYC.

Zen Magazine: How long do you plan on modelling?
I am not sure how long I plan on modelling. I guess until someone says I can’t anymore! I have invested so much time in the business to see the fruits of my labour, dedication, and commitment. It’s hard to just switch things up and move on to something totally unrelated, although I feel that is probably what I will end up doing as I have always been passionate about children, Africa, social and health issues afflicting African countries including mine, public health and working in public service. I believe when the time is right for me to move on to something else, I will know it and I will embrace the journey!

Zen Magazine: Who are the models that inspire you?
I love and have always loved Liya Kebede. I always admired her work on and off the runway, but when I did a show with her in Milan was when my love and admiration for her sky rocketed because she was just so sweet, and the friendliest towards everyone, not something one feels when they encounter a well known model, so it was extremely refreshing to witness that. Also on my list is the amazing Iman who inspires me so much, although I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting her yet, she just seems like a woman who naturally demands the respect of people, full of strength, charisma, and passion for the well being of humanity.

Zen Magazine: Do you have some sort of routine to psych yourself up before hitting the runway?
I usually like listening to South African house music or anything similar backstage while waiting for the show to start. It’s always a good way for me to get my energy up. But there are days where I am just out of whack and that’s when I frantically search around within me for the confidence I know I have in me and need in that moment to be able to walk as if I am the most beautiful woman on this planet. Confidence is transparent! When you feel confident and beautiful from the inside; it shows in your walk, posture, demeanour, attitude, etc.

zenmagazineinterviewsmariagorynovember2016-5“I was told my scar is a hinderer but that didn’t stop me.” says Photographed
by Marco Falcetta, Creative Direction by Darryl

Zen Magazine: What’s the most difficult part about being a model?
I think the most difficult part for me personally is sometimes not knowing what your days/weeks entail. That’s when my control freak side comes out, drives me nuts! Things can change so easily and so fast; whether you are waiting to be confirmed for a job, or are booked already and cancelled last minute. As exciting as it can be sometimes, travelling can take a toll on the body, physically and mentally, especially during show season  when you find yourself on a different flight every week going to a different destination. The lack of sleep and physical exhaustion during shows can cause physical, mental and emotional fatigue and can be just downright no fun by the time the Paris shows rolls around! When I first started modelling living in NYC, I found it hard at first travelling abroad for a month of so, being alone, and so far away from my family was disconcerting. As difficult as it can be sometimes to travel all the time, I have come to love travelling and learning about new people, cultures, ways of life, languages, and so much more. It’s truly a time to open your eyes to beautiful things, adventures and people all over the world, creating long lasting and international friendships!

Zen Magazine: Does favouritism/racism exist in modelling?
I think favouritism does exist in the industry, especially during castings for shows when you are going to 10 or more appointments to go to through out the day. I think casting directors are especially guilty of this when they allow models they know well and have worked with to go ahead and be seen before girls who have been waiting in line for hours! I have been on both sides of this scenario, and either way I don’t think its fair. There are different forms of discrimination constantly taking place. I’d hate to pinpoint to specific instances but it exist and it’s quite obvious sometimes on the grand scheme of things. For instance when one looks at a show casting of 30 models total but only 3 or in some extreme cases 1 black model, and 1 or 2 Asian, one can’t help but think that there is a problem here and it needs to be addressed.

Zen Magazine: Have you ever experienced any form of racism since you started modelling?
I don’t recall having personally experienced any form of racism in the industry, at least not to my face but I can’t fail to mention the lack of diversity in fashion shows, advertising, commercials etc. Things are slowing changing for the better and the industry is becoming more inclusive and showcasing a variety of faces during shows and in advertising. There is still a lot of work to be done, as we are not in a place to be complacent or satisfied just yet, there is always room for improvement. Change is happening, slowly, but its happening and I am very optimistic about it.

Zen Magazine: What’s your beauty regime?
I don’t have anything specific I swear by though I love to apply coco butter or bio oil on my skin right after taking a shower before drying off and letting my wet skin air dry as the butter or oil absorb. This routine is especially important in the winter time when the air is dry and cold. I am obsessed with keeping my skin looking healthy and shiny at all times so any oil based natural products are my best friends. Aside from obsessing with oils, it’s very important to wash any makeup off my face before going to bed, even after those fun late night out, never too tired to wash my face before crashing.

“If you are in school, don’t rush to become a model,” says Mari who is signed to Muse Model Management in New York. Photographed by Shane Suban, makeup by Tatiana Donaldson

Zen Magazine: What do you like the most about fashion from African designers?
I love the authenticity, the fact that African fashion and African designers stays true to their roots and continue to showcase designs, prints, colours, inspirations from their respective African country or just Africa in general.

Zen Magazine: Who is/are your fashion icon(s)?
Mari: Grace Jones, Pat Cleveland, Iman, Lady Gaga, Madonna
, I can go on and on… (Laughs).

Zen Magazine: What are you listening to right now?
I am currently expecting and have been listening to a lot of relaxing, soothing, smooth jazz, classical music; Kenny G and Yiruma are go-to artist. I have also just gotten back on the Adele bandwagon; Her voice fills my soul with so much emotion. I can also never get tired of Sade, Lucky Dube, Bob Marley and Michael Jackson.

Zen Magazine: What do you do asides modelling?
I have dabbled a little bit of my time to charity work benefiting and helping children in my home country, South Sudan. I am currently a sponsor for a non profit organisation called Women for Women. I love what they do in countries like Afghanistan, South Sudan, Iraq, Democratic Republic of Congo, just to name a few. Their work is essential in empowering women who have been afflicted with violence and conflict in their countries. Through their year long programs, they support and help women to rebuild their lives by providing necessary training consisting of basic life skills, small business development, rights awareness, health education, etc. Aside from giving back and broadening knowledge about current issues faced by many African countries, I am looking forward being a mommy an just a few months!

zenmagazineinterviewsmariagorynovember2016-3zenmagazineinterviewsmariagorynovember2016Top and Bottom: Mari photographed by Damian Foxe in the “How to
spend it” Story for Financial Times Magazine

Zen Magazine: Who is your favourite African designer and why?
I love and adore David Tlale. I first met him in South Africa a few years ago although I did not do his show in SA, due to double booking. I walked in his debut show during NYFW and I adore him and love his work collections so much. I can literally see myself in every piece he creates!

Zen Magazine: What advice would you give to aspiring young models?
If you are in school, don’t rush to become a model. Finish your schooling. I was a latecomer into the industry because I wanted to finish school first and wouldn’t have it any other way. I was told I was too old at age 20 to start modelling then. I was told my scar is a hinderer but that didn’t stop me from gaining the little bit of success I have had in the industry. Once in the industry, never ever take anything personally. The minute you start doing that you can bet you will start to go crazy and lose your sanity. Modelling is a business, everyone else sees it as such, and so should models. You are a walking business and you must manage your image, protect and polish your character and image accordingly. Take care of yourself mentally (never stop learning), emotionally (have support around you, don’t lose touch with yourself), intellectually (engage and surround yourself with people who are striving for great things other than just modelling), and spiritually (seek ways to stay grounded and staying true to yourself).

For more on Mari, please follow her on Instagram: Mari Agory | On Twitter Mari Agory
Interview conducted by Dami Alao