KELVIN KACHINGWE, Lusaka
AT THE age of 21, Theresa Klein made her own history when she became the first Zambian to be featured Vogue Italia, which is the Italian edition of Vogue magazine.For the uninitiated, Vogue magazine, owned by Condé Nast International, is a fashion and lifestyle magazine that has been covering fashion, beauty, culture, living and runway since 1892. It is currently edited by Anna Wintour.
The model who was born in Zambia and lived in Lusaka’s Kalingalinga before relocating to the United States after being adopted, is currently based in the state of Missouri.
Apart from her photos which are currently featuring in the online edition of Vogue magazine, Theresa has also been featured in the 2018 summer issue of Delux magazine, regarded as the number one destination for African American influential professionals. In its own words, it “is the ultimate urban lifestyle guide to new music, fashion, living, culture, trends and art.”
Put simpler, Theresa, who is attending the University of Missouri where she is majoring in media studies, is on the rise in her modelling career.
But where did it all start from?
At an early age, Theresa remembers that she wanted to be a backup dancer for Koffi Olomide and also to be a model.
“I have always been dark-skinned with full features. Most of the dancers for Koffi were always light skinned and I remember at an early age wanting to bleach my skin so I could be like them which had a negative impact on my confidence,” Theresa says.
“Being a young girl of about five years and thinking and wanting to do such a thing is pretty sad if you think about it. I never bleached my skin and thank God I didn’t because I would not be the woman I am today if I did.”
Theresa says instead of bleaching her skin, she was watching television one time and happened to see Alek Wek, a South Sudanese-British model and designer who began her fashion career at the age of 18 in 1995, walking on the runway.
“She was very dark in complexion and she had so much confidence in herself and the way she walked. In my head, I decided that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a dark skinned model who embraced herself and celebrated her own beauty,” she says.
“But there was a problem because at that time, the Zambian modelling industry had not developed as much as it is now. It has a long way to go, but it’s better today than back then. So, while living in Zambia, it was just a dream I had of being a model and at that time the dream of being in Vogue especially or any type of magazine.
“Everything in my life always happened too fast. My mother died and I put that whole dream on hold and in fact I did not want to do anything after my mother passed.”
After that, the death of her mother, Theresa who lived in State House compound where her stepfather worked as a cook, went to live with her aunt. But she calls her grandmother because she is the sister of her dad’s mother.
“My dad and his parents passed away when I was very young. So after the death of my mother, I went to live with my aunt whom I call my grandmother,” she says.
“I lived with her and she took me to school. I went to a school known as African Vision of Hope [a school for orphans and vulnerable children]. I loved learning and I have always had massive ambition.”
While attending school there, Theresa says she would always tell her classmates that she was going to go to America but they did not believe her.
But make no mistake, it is something she believed in her head that she would do. But her classmates made fun of her even for daring to dream.
But fast forward to 2008, some missionaries went to her school. Theresa happened to meet the woman who is her mother now and she fell in love with her and one other girl. She promised she would come back and adopt them. She did so in 2009 with her husband.
“They adopted us and [they] are now our parents and I love them very much. In fact, my father is my role model and I look up to him,” she says. “[He is a] very honourable man who pushes me and inspires me not only to be a better person but to help those less fortunate than me.
“My father is always helping people and he is very honest. I want to be like him but the female version.”
Theresa says in the near future, when the modelling takes off and she becomes successful, she would love to build women’s shelters throughout Zambia that help women and young girls who have had traumatic pasts and those experiencing domestic violence.
“I would love for the shelters to educate and equip them with education which is the most powerful tool so they can defend themselves,” she says.
Theresa says the Zambian future is female and she wants to be a part in ensuring that it is.
“We cannot change the past but we can write our future while living in the present,” she says.
“When I got to the US, I told my father I wanted to model. He tried to contact agencies and they would say I was too short to model but I had the look. He kept trying and I tried to work with as many photographers as I could to have experience behind the camera.
“Then he contacted the agency I’m signed to now for acting which is called Talent Plus and it is owned by a hardworking woman named Sharon Tucci. I have been with them for acting but I always envied their modelling division because I always wanted to model and most of the models would book amazing work I wished I could have booked.
“So, I kept on booking some photo shoots on my own and trying to develop myself as a model. Fast forward to 2018, I happened to run across the page of a photographer by the name of Jai Mayhew. I was blown away by her work and I messaged her letting her know I was amazed by her work and would love to work with her. Then I mentioned to her and let her know if she needed any models, she should consider me.”
Mayhew got back to her right away and suggested a day they could shoot. They agreed on June 12 and that was a week after she got back from visiting Zambia.
“I got to her house and there I met another amazing woman by the name of Heather Biernbaum who is a makeup artist. As she did my makeup we talked about many things including skincare. Then the three of us started shooting and both ladies were very encouraging and every shot we captured was filled with beauty and strength,” she says.
“I also told both the ladies about my story and my ambitions. They told me to keep going after my dreams and never give up. Then a week later Jai sent bother Heather and I a link and I noticed that the photos were featured in Vogue. That’s when I realised that we all made history and contributed to unknowing making me the first Zambian model to ever be featured in Vogue.
“I could never thank these two ladies enough for what they did for me. I am Theresa Klein and my dream is to be a model and actress so I could use my success to help others and put Zambia on the map.”
KELVIN KACHINGWE, Lusaka