How to become a model, writer & creative director who is living the multi hyphenate dream…
Meet creative hustler TJ Sawyer
For most of us, school is enough of a challenge. After a tiring day of learning and socialising, returning home and flopping onto the sofa to watch endless episodes of Netflix shows is just about all we can manage.
18 year-old South Londoner TJ Sawyerr, however, isn’t like most of us. The overachieving sixth-former somehow fits modelling, writing, creative direction and activism into his schedule, all the while studying for his International Baccalaureate. Not to mention, he's also the face of our brand new #NoNonsenseHustle social campaign. Yep, he's been busy!
So how – and why – does he do it? “My creative work actually acts as a great release for me, the same as playing video games or going on a walk may be for others,” he told Scarlett Baker for CHECK-OUT magazine. Sawyerr uses every free opportunity he has to pursue his passions, it seems, skipping out of school at lunchtimes and free periods to go to photoshoots and heading to modelling jobs straight after the bell rings.
It’s paid off. He’s done everything from campaigns for New Balance, Levi’s and Nike to walking in Fashion Week shows for the likes of Diesel and Charles Jeffrey. For Reuben Selby’s SS22 LFW show, the teen took to the catwalk and to the camera, snapping some dank behind-the-scenes photos.
Despite his success in the fashion world, becoming a model wasn’t in Sawyerr’s original plan. Football was his first love, which he explored through playing for Fulham Academy in his earlier years. It was only after a career-ending tear to his ACL at the age of 14 that he found his new hustle, when he was scouted while queuing outside Supreme in Soho.
“At the time, I had a gap-tooth and monobrow and hadn’t achieved any great successes with the ladies. I’d be lying if I said I thought my looks would set the foundation for my future, but the faith that the scout put in me that day certainly gave me the confidence that I could reap successes in this game,” he explained to Baker.
His other driving factor is his activism. Sawyerr’s desire to champion underestimated and misunderstood youth and oppose societal stereotypes associated with young people, race and those with criminal records undeniably influences all facets of his work. He uses his modelling, his photography and his writing to advocate for change. He speaks out about what he believes in, whether that’s supporting the Black Lives Matter movement or condemning the failure of the UK justice system to rehabilitate young offenders. Serious stuff.
The latter is where the profits of his recent ECSTASY project have been directed. The teen powerhouse spent much of the past year solo putting together a 35-page print magazine documenting his observation of London’s youth culture through his own words, photography and design. It was a personal project turned hustle, which has led to a successful collaboration with Key4Life, a charity that aims to reduce the UK’s youth reoffending rate.
Sawyerr even went as far as to put together a workshop for the charity, in which he brought together former offenders and key figures from the fashion and art worlds. As he told Hunger magazine: “In today’s society, one conviction can ruin a young person’s entire working career and, in many cases, their life, so I felt that it was super important to provide these men with an avenue into an industry that is far less judgemental. Anyone with the right mindset and creative process can succeed in the world of fashion and art, so I see it as a duty to provide bright young minds with the same tools that I have at my disposal. I know that, being a young black man in London, I could very easily have found myself in the same situation as any one of these guys, so it’s important to appreciate and share what I have with my people.”
Phew, that’s a lot to fit into a school day.
We asked TJ a few questions, here's what he had to say
What’s your main hustle?
That would be modelling, and it has been for the last few years, erm, but in terms of my main interests and what I’d like my lively hood to be going forward that would be more so creative direction, fashion and cultured journalism and general social commentary through different media.
How do you find time for all three?
Well fortunately, they kinda all fall under the same bracket within the creative industry, generally focalise around fashion. So yeah I’m a hard working yout you know what I mean, I stay busy, I’ve got a great agency and management team behind me who help me manage my modelling bookings and I personally can fit in my own personal endeavours as well as my broader creative work around that stuff, so it all works nicely for me, with a little bit of stress but fortunately it all runs smoothly most of the time.
What are your top tips for getting into modelling?
Believe in yourself number one.
I literally got scouted by chance unexpectedly outside Supreme when I was 14 years old, I had never thought I would have a career in modelling, didn’t think I had the face or the look for it so that’s evidence to say absolutely anybody can you know step into the industry and I’m one to believe that everybody has a place in the industry regardless of your size, your look, your ethnicity, your gender whatever it is it’s a very accepting and broad industry. So I would take a chance on yourself maybe apply to an agency or start posting on Instagram and there’s every chance you can ascend to the top and do your ting in the modelling game.
Best and worse things about being a model?
The best experiences of my life have been thanks to modelling whether that’s travelling throughout Europe, doing runway shows which are usually the most fun jobs or meeting some of my idols you know whether that’s on job or at events. So, it’s brought me into some of the most exciting experiences and opportunities of my life for sure.
But on the flip side, definitely the worse thing is you know the dependants upon appearance. I’m not a huge fan of the stigma surrounding body image and general appearance standards in the industry the notion that you are judged upon your appearance and that’s fundamentally a sort of bar for your value. To me it’s not particularly appealing but it is something you buy into when you decide to step into the modelling industry it’s something you have to accept, something that I have accepted and strengthened my defence.
How did you get into writing without a portfolio?
A little-known fact about me is I am an avid academic, I studied English amongst other things at school, so I have always had a natural flare for writing that defiantly came to the fourth front during the resurgence of Black Lives Matters support last June. I started publishing my writing and was more confident with putting it out there and it started getting quite a bit of recognition and appreciation and subsequently I had a few publications who were very interested in publishing my work. And since then, over the past 12 months or so I’ve been able to build a pretty big and broad portfolio for various different publications and I have gone from strength to strength on that front, finding my lane and channelling my passions into my literature.
Does your activism filter into your hustles?
100% fundamentally in my writing that’s all to do with social commentary based on social, political, racial issues and that’s also channelled into my creative work. All my creative projects will be centred around the focalisation of the black voice or the disapproval of stereo types whether that’s to do with stereotypes of masculinity, age, race, background, the stigma surrounding ex-offenders. All of that plays into my hustles and my work on a day-to-day basis and that’s definitely the main motivation into my work in the creative industry.
Watch TJ's interview on IG!