12-year-old model and CEO Celai West is here to change fashion’s perception of Black girls

Emerald Pellot

Celai West is a model, actress, activist, author and CEO. At just 10, she was the youngest professional runway model to walk in New York Fashion Week (NYFW). Since, she’s co-authored two books, launched her own T-shirt line The Chatty Chick and somehow still manages to find the time to elevate Black voices in fashion. 

Sacramento native and the youngest of six, Celai took an interest in modeling when she was three years old. A photographer at an ice skating ring wanted to shoot her and the rest is history. Now 12 years old, Celai is entirely self-taught and is known for her strong runway walk.

“My second time walking in NYFW, I was 8 and it was at Madison Square Garden,” Celai recounted to Authority Magazine. “I walked out, and the crowd went crazy, and mom was like, ‘OMG! Who is this kid and who taught her that?’ We still haven’t figured out how I learned how to walk like this. I just woke up and taught myself how to walk.” 

In 2019, she became the youngest person to produce a NYFW show with “The Industry Fashion Show.”

“I think it’s really important to have diversity because we don’t all look the same,” she told Authority Magazine. “And there are different kinds of beauty — so if you only show a few types of beauty, then other people who look different won’t feel beautiful.”

The talented superstar was featured in Vogue Italia last year and has worked with major brands like Target, Walmart, Amazon, Gap, Disney and Allstate. After encountering hairstylists who didn’t know how to style her afro-textured fro, Celai launched a YouTube channel with black hair tips and tutorials.

“When I’m on set, most of the time, the hairstylist can’t do my hair,” she told Authority Magazine. “And it makes me think the company won’t book me again if my hair turns out crazy — and that’s probably why I don’t see many girls with kinky hair on TV or in ads. But I’m hoping that our hair tutorials will show people how versatile our hair is and teach them how to style it.”

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