Aimee Cheng-Bradshaw: An Aspiring Entrepreneur
I tell Aimee Cheng-Bradshaw that she is our youngest trendsetter, and a bemused expression emerges on her face. “Oh, really?” she exclaims, while stretching her tall, lissom body. In that moment, her grey tank top shifts up slightly, and I catch a flash of her taut stomach and navel piercing. Her effervescence demeanour and ingénue beauty seeps from her fresh face and bright wide eyes – making me feel like I’m twenty all over again. Although in the fashion world, Aimee’s look may be perceived as more “commercial” rather than “high fashion”, her edge could well be in her dancer’s posture which projects elegance, strength and control. Since her third place finish on Asia’s Next Top Model [AsNTM] Cycle 3, Aimee has made fitness a priority – interspersing circuit training on top of her regular dance classes. And eating right seems to go in tandem with her healthy outlook. “I just finished reading The Paleo Manifesto, and being on the paleo diet works for my body. I also started reading Primal Body, Primal Mind and it explains how the body does not digest gluten well.” I ask if she has heard of the blood type diet, and her eyes immediately twinkle. She leans forward, answering in American-accented English, her voice rising and falling in accordance with the movement of her expressive hands. “Yes, I have! Miranda Kerr follows that diet. I love her! She is my favourite model.” Aside from her adulation for Orlando Bloom’s ex-wife, Aimee wants to follow in her footsteps by building her personal brand and eventually having her own business one day. The aspiring entrepreneur will read Psychology at King’s College London in the Fall, and has plans to take some Economics modules on the side. Running a business seems to be a family trait, and Aimee discloses that her mum owns a café called Cheng’s Gourmet Food Bar. “I used to help out whenever I had pockets of free time, and even learnt how to make coffee. I definitely recommend the Tom Yam pasta; it’s quite healthy too.” In this day and age, a model’s appeal has gone beyond the physical. And Aimee’s star quality is in her sassy personality and work-horse attitude. She is also conscious and aware of the-not-so-glamourous side of the modelling industry, yet without overloading on cynicism. “As a model, you need to stay true to yourself because it is easy to get caught up in the pressure and demands of the industry. If you love your job, it doesn’t feel like work. And you wouldn’t mind a two-hour bus ride to go for a casting.” Selfies, as we have all come to know, are a social-media phenomenon. And models, I would assume, are effortlessly skillful and well-seasoned at finding the best light and angle – it’s their way of putting their best face forward. But as it turns out, Aimee is not that into selfies. “I do take occasional selfies, but with a weird face or my tongue sticking out. I can’t do a sexy selfie. I prefer candid photos; they are more real.”
WY-LENE YAP: Growing up, what kind of kid were you?
AIMEE CHENG-BRADSHAW: According to my older sister, when I was a kid, I was quite annoying because I was very talkative – I still am kinda like that. Before I turned 13, I was quite carefree and kind of a weirdo too. [laughs] Subsequently, I became more calm and collected. Sometimes I like to keep to myself, other times, I am more outgoing. Now, I am a balance of both.
WY-LENE: I understand that you were born in England, yet you lived in Shanghai, South Africa and Guangzhou for a period of time. How did you land up in Singapore?
AIMEE: It was because of my dad’s job, and we moved around quite often. I was in and out of Shanghai a few times. Eventually, we moved to Singapore when I was 9 or 10, and we have been here ever since. The initial plan was to stay in Singapore for 3 years, but I think my dad felt it was time to settle down in one place.
WY-LENE: How many siblings do you have?
AIMEE: Three sisters.
WY-LENE: How’s the dynamic like?
AIMEE: I’m the second oldest. Before my eldest sister left for boarding school in England, we fought all the time because we shared a room. There was a lot of tension in the house. [laughs] But now that we have all matured, we get along really well.
WY-LENE: Have you always wanted to be a model?
AIMEE: No… when I first started modelling, I wasn’t into it at all. My first job was at the age of 13, and I didn’t think much about it. Later on in high school, I wasn’t keen on spending 4 hours on a Saturday doing a shoot when I could be hanging out with my friends. But I still modelled occasionally just to earn some extra pocket money. My perception and attitude changed after I graduated high school.
WY-LENE: How were you discovered?
AIMEE: It was an interesting story! I was walking around in a mall with my mum, and a guy came up to me and said, “Do you wanna be a model?” A few days later, my mum took me to the agency and that was where I met my booker, Bonita [Ma]. She briefed me on the various aspects of modelling and what was required. So I tried it out, and subsequently, I got accepted into the agency.
WY-LENE: Why did you join Asia’s Next Top Model [AsNTM] Cycle 3?
AIMEE: Actually, my youngest sister was the one who sent me the link to join AsNTM. I remember seeing the show on TV and I didn’t think anything of it because at that time, I had plans to go to university. I was even waiting for college acceptance letters. But my youngest sister kept encouraging me to sign up since I had nothing to lose, so I filled in the online application. Subsequently, the producers emailed me, and I had to record a video answering a few questions. I also had a Skype interview with a psychologist. During that period, I was working in Bangkok and when I flew back to Singapore, they called to inform me that I was one of the cast members. I definitely had my reservations going in because ultimately, it was a competition and I had watched all the girls on America’s Next Top Model go crazy…
WY-LENE: So you’ve watched America’s Next Top Model before.
AIMEE: Yeah – two or three earlier seasons. I haven’t watched the last few seasons, but I did manage to catch cycle 22 (the latest one).
WY-LENE: Cycle 22 had guys and girls, right?
AIMEE: Yeah, and my friend was one of the semi-finalists. Anyway, it was my dad who convinced me to go for the experience because I might not ever get another opportunity like that again. He also encouraged me to take a gap year, which was quite uncommon among my peers.
WY-LENE: At the back of your mind, did you think you could win?
AIMEE: In the beginning, no. And I thought I would be the first one to go home. [laughs] Thank god, I didn’t! In the first episode, I had a lot of trouble with my photo shoot. If you look at the comments by the judges, they kinda made it seem like I did better than I actually did because of the way they edited it. Prior to AsNTM, my experience working in Bangkok centred around a lot of commercial work and I didn’t do any editorial shoots. Everything was planned out and there wasn’t any room for interpretation, so I guess I was a little out of practice in terms of the photo shoot aspect. But I soon understood what they were looking for and week after week, I started to gain more confidence which made my desire to win stronger. I tried my best despite having a lot of ups and downs.
WY-LENE: Third place was a huge accomplishment.
AIMEE: I guess it was…
WY-LENE: How would you describe your experience on AsNTM?
AIMEE: Stressful. Before the filming of AsNTM, I had never experienced so much butterflies in my stomach. It was really interesting… but I wouldn’t want to go through it again. Nevertheless, being on AsNTM is definitely one of those once in a lifetime experiences. As a reality TV competitor, you put everything on the line and you have to depend on yourself, which is not easy. Also, on AsNTM, we lived and breathed the competition – we were excluded from everyone else, and even phones and laptops were not allowed. At times, I felt like I was in another world.
WY-LENE: So how much of what we see on TV was real?
AIMEE: Ummm… there was some manipulation involved; it’s a show after all. When the producers ask questions behind the camera, we must answer them in complete sentences. For example, the question could be, “Are you happy with your photo?” And I would have to say something along the lines of, “This week I wasn’t happy with my photo…” Even though I might not have thought about how the shoot went. They definitely do not put words in your mouth, but they try to pick your brain. I’m not sure if you watched my season…
WY-LENE: I did… in preparation for my interview with you.
AIMEE: The entire season? [laughs]
WY-LENE: [laughs] No, just a few episodes.
AIMEE: Which ones?
WY-LENE: Episode 2 (The Girl with K-POP Fever) – I loved your flash mob by the way.
AIMEE: That was a tough week – I was off to a good start, but I didn’t do so well towards the end.
WY-LENE: I also watched episode 4 (The Girl with a Broken Heart) and episode 5 (The Girl with a Killer Smile).
AIMEE: Episode 4 was my favourite.
WY-LENE: Were the contestants extremely competitive?
AIMEE: To me, not really. Obviously, no one wanted to be the first or second to be kicked off. Personally, I felt Monika [Sta. Maria] and I were the most competitive out of all the contestants, and that was something we bonded over as friends. We weren’t competitive in a sabotaging way at all; we were driven to improve ourselves because we wanted to do well. There were some girls who said they weren’t competitive, but I felt they were – maybe they chose not to express it.
WY-LENE: How about cattiness?
AIMEE: Actually, the production team said we were all too nice and neutral, and they wanted us to be more honest and opinionated. For the most part, I was honest. There was one fight that happened between Gani and Monika and they did air it. It was quite scary because no one yelled in the house before.
WY-LENE: People think the modelling industry is full of glamour. But what are some of the harsh realities of being a model?
AIMEE: You spend a lot of time waiting and that requires a tremendous amount of patience and dedication. When you see an editorial in a magazine, it may look very effortless, but there is so much work involved – for example, you could be shooting for 5 to 6 hours for just one photo. It also sounds glamorous when you say you’re going to Milan or Paris to work, but it’s incredibly tough because you’re going to a foreign place by yourself and you have to find your way around. In addition, you have to compete with so many other models who are in the same boat as you. People who don’t understand the industry only see what’s on the surface.
WY-LENE: You haven’t been to Milan or Paris?
AIMEE: I haven’t been to Europe as I’ve been modelling in Asia so far.
WY-LENE: Do you have plans to go there in the future?
AIMEE: I’m going to King’s College London this September, so before I am tied down with school, I would like to spend my remaining time in Europe to look for opportunities.
WY-LENE: Do you think the fashion industry is making women feel bad about their bodies due to the unrealistic standards of beauty?
AIMEE: I think the modelling industry (especially in Asia) is not that harsh about body measurements as compared to before – there was a period of time where models had to be incredibly thin and tall. Now, a lot of clients are becoming more accepting of different body types, which is a good thing, but there are still certain standards which need to be met. A model has to be able to fit into sample sizes.
You need to have a really thick skin to be in the business – there is no way you can please every single client.
WY-LENE: Cara Delevingne quit modelling because the industry made her feel bad about her body and self-esteem.
AIMEE: I read about that – personally, she highlighted the negative aspects about modelling. I have been on both sides. When I was in high school, I was very skinny. On the flip side, when I came back from Bangkok, I was getting a little too big. I think my weight is good now. [laughs] You need to have a really thick skin to be in the business – there is no way you can please every single client. If your proportions are not suitable for a client, you can either take it to heart or brush it off. You are also going to face a lot of criticism and you need to distinguish between what is constructive criticism as opposed to nitpicking. Having the right outlook is important.
WY-LENE: What makes a successful model?
AIMEE: First, you need to be extremely passionate about what you’re doing – if you love your job, it doesn’t feel like work. And you wouldn’t mind a two-hour bus ride to go for a casting. Second, you need to have a lot of patience. Once, I waited for 5 hours at a casting. On top of that, hard work is a given. As a model, you need to stay true to yourself because it is easy to get caught up in the pressure and demands of the industry.
WY-LENE: Does a value of model depend on her online presence?
AIMEE: It’s an interesting question. I don’t think so… although it seems to be moving in that direction. I saw an article about how agencies are not willing to book models who have under 10,000 followers. And it’s not fair because a model who has 100,000 followers might not be that good as compared to another model who has 1,000 followers. But I do understand why clients want models who have a huge following – it’s a marketing strategy too.
WY-LENE: Has Instagram democratised the modelling industry?
AIMEE: Yes. There are more opportunities to get noticed. A famous example is Chantelle Brown-Young who was discovered by Tyra Banks on Instagram. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean you can be a model just because someone sees your nice photos on Instagram and thinks you have potential. There's a lot more to it than meets the eye.
It’s much easier when someone tells me what do in a photo shoot, but sometimes it is nice to go out of my comfort zone and try different things that may or may not work.
WY-LENE: What’s the best part about your job?
AIMEE: I get a great sense of satisfaction after seeing my completed works because I know how much effort I had put in. And I like having my own take on it. It’s much easier when someone tells me what do in a photo shoot, but sometimes it is nice to go out of my comfort zone and try different things that may or may not work.
WY-LENE: What’s been your standout moment in your career so far?
AIMEE: Aside from AsNTM, being on the cover of SHAPE is one of my personal highlights. When I was on AsNTM, the judges always remarked that I needed to lose a few pounds and tone up. So after the filming was over, Monika inspired me to get back into fitness (I used to be very active in high school), and I want to be a model who represents a healthy and fit lifestyle.
WY-LENE: Like Karlie Kloss?
AIMEE: Yeah, and it’s not just about being skinny – I really do take my health seriously.
WY-LENE: How many times a week do you work out?
AIMEE: At least 3 times a week. I dance quite often as well, but I don’t consider that as part of my fitness regime. I love dancing, and I have been doing that for 7 years now. Recently, I realised I get bored easily so I can’t do monotonous exercises like running or cycling. I like circuit training.
WY-LENE: Which do you prefer doing: runway shows, editorials or catalogue jobs?
AIMEE: Editorials… but runway shows are so exciting! And it’s like a one-shot deal. During Fashion Week, the adrenaline you get right before you step on the runway is exhilarating. I used to be super nervous previously (not in a debilitating way), but now I look forward to it.
WY-LENE: Which fashion designer would you love to work with and why?
AIMEE: There are so many! My favourite brand is Guess, and I would love to work with Paul and Maurice Marciano. Their clothes are my kind of style. Of course, I would love to work for the big brands like Moschino and Balenciaga. Although I’m not as tall as the models they would normally use, I hope one day I can persuade them to change their minds. [laughs]
WY-LENE: Aren’t you 1.76m?
AIMEE: Yeah, but when I am standing next to Russian models, I feel so short. And I have been cut from shows in the past because I’m not tall enough.
WY-LENE: Do you have a signature look?
AIMEE: You mean resting bitch face? I have been told I have that. [laughs]
WY-LENE: [laughs] Really…
AIMEE: Okay, on a more serious note, I book a lot of commercials because of my smile. But channelling a fierce look is super fun.
WY-LENE: Is it difficult to remain modest when you’re making money off your looks?
AIMEE: No. My friends from high school keep me grounded. There are always going to be people who are more beautiful and edgy than me. I never go into castings thinking that I’m the best because I never know what the client really wants. And castings are for clients to see which model is a right fit.
WY-LENE: How do you feel about your huge following on Instagram?
AIMEE: It’s weird. I didn’t even expect it. Initially, I was surprised when I hit 2,000 followers and once the AsNTM momentum started to build, I got many more. I am more conscious of what I post on Instagram now. I know people are interested to see what I’m up to every day, but I don’t want it to be all about my work. I still want to show who I am, so I have pictures of my dog, dance videos, etc.
WY-LENE: What advice would you give to aspiring models?
AIMEE: If that’s something you really want to do, you should take a leap of faith and go out there to get what you want. No one is going to spoon-feed you. In the end, I find it very rewarding.
I want to build my personal brand and eventually have my own business.
WY-LENE: Are there any models you look up to?
AIMEE: I love Miranda Kerr! Even before I got into modelling, I admired her. She’s so beautiful, and I have the impression that she is such a humble person. Although she has an amazing career, she doesn’t let it get in the way of her personal life. She has also managed to branch out from modelling by having her own skincare brand. And that’s something I would like to do in the future too. I want to build my personal brand and eventually have my own business. I do really like Kendall Jenner too – she’s effortlessly beautiful.
WY-LENE: Kendall Jenner’s career has taken off because she is a Kardashian.
AIMEE: Yeah, being a Kardashian has opened plenty of doors for her.
WY-LENE: That being said, she got dissed by other models; they thought she did not have the looks to be one.
AIMEE: I liked how she didn’t care about other people’s opinions and continued to pursue her dreams of being a model. Her perseverance has allowed her to accomplish big things – she even walked in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show last year.
WY-LENE: Aside from your hosting gig on The Dance Floor, could you see yourself pursuing acting too?
AIMEE: At the moment, no. But then again, a few months ago, I did not think I could be a host. The opportunity came up, and I just went for it.
WY-LENE: If you had to use a few words to describe your personality, which adjectives would you use?
AIMEE: Ummm… dedicated, hard-working, happy…
WY-LENE: Who inspires you the most?
AIMEE: My parents. They have set a good example for me. I am very lucky that they are both so open-minded and are always encouraging me to try unconventional things. Whenever I feel confused, they have a way of guiding me, yet at the same time, allowing me to make my own decisions.
WY-LENE: What’s the first thing that attracts you to someone?
WY-LENE: What makes you smile?
AIMEE: The little things make me smile. Just the other day, a girl from dance class complimented me on how I have improved, which made me really happy. She is such a great dancer and I love watching her.
WY-LENE: Finally, if you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
AIMEE: Sometimes I wish I could hide what’s on my mind and not make it so obvious. I have gotten better at it now.