International ethical model KIKO’s day starts at 6 a.m., early enough to do her morning routine of yoga and meditation, make some vegan breakfast, and just in time to get ready to start working at 7:30 a.m. sharp. The energy and passion she carries herself with makes it hard to believe that she once suffered from an eating disorder that once put her life at risk.
As an anorexia survivor, the 23-year-old model and her heartbreaking yet powerful experiences have now become her strength and motivation to change the modern modeling and fashion industry into a more ethical environment for humans, animals, and the planet.
Currently based in Berlin, Germany, KIKO shares her story from rock bottom to recovery to success, and her journey of becoming the change she wishes to see in the world.
How did you get into modeling?
One day, I was walking around Omotesando, Tokyo, and I was asked if I had ever thought about modeling because of my height. I did sign with an agency, but I didn’t start my modeling career until I turned 16. When I turned 16, I flew to Canada for a study abroad program where I not only learned English, but also got really involved in the international modeling industry. From there, I did some fashion weeks in New York, London, Paris, Tokyo, and Vancouver.
KIKO at Vancouver Fashion Week
What was it like at the start of your modeling career?
When I got signed to a Canadian agency, I was told to lose 5-10 pounds within a week. I had never thought I was overweight up until then, but my agency had told me that I was too fat for the industry. I was only 17 at the time with very little self-confidence, which made me believe every word my agent was telling me. I went on an extreme diet after the meeting; I was eating less and exercising more, I only ate salad and an apple for the entire day, I went to the gym where I would spend 2 to 3 hours, 2 hours on cardio and 1 hour on swimming. After about a month and a half, I only weighed 44 kg.
One day, I had an appointment with my counselor at school, and the moment she saw me she immediately knew I had to be sent to a clinic. The clinic then sent me to a bigger hospital, where I was hospitalized that very day because my heart rate was low, and the doctor had told me I could have a heart attack anytime.
KIKO at the age of 17
And how did you overcome your eating-disorder?
It took me a while to realize that I had to love myself, first. I had to respect myself enough to eat well and listen to my hunger signals. Also, discovering the vegan lifestyle during my recovery was truly life-changing for me. I wanted to gain weight in a healthy way, as I knew many girls who suffered from eating disorders tend to become bulimic, and I wanted to avoid falling into that pattern myself.
When you have an eating disorder, you also tend to become depressed; I didn’t socialize anymore, I didn’t want to meet or go out with my friends, I didn’t understand why I was alive. Learning about the vegan lifestyle really gave my life a meaning; I started caring about animal life, what goes behind the food production, and the impact that meat consumption and the meat and dairy industry have on our environment. I started really educating myself on these topics and I felt very passionate about life again—it made me feel like I was part of a positive impact.
How would you define sustainable fashion?
Sustainable fashion is fashion that is kind to the planet and utilizes recycled materials, upcycled materials, or secondhand clothing. For example, I worked with ECOALF, a sustainable fashion brand originally from Spain, and they use recycled materials such as plastic water bottles from the ocean—the idea is to clean the ocean by making new clothes.
Personally, I support ethical fashion. My definition of ethical fashion is fashion that is not only kind to the planet, but also to humans and animals. You can be wearing a brand that is kind to the planet, but if it does not support fair wage for all the people involved in the production process, that is, by no means, ethical. Sometimes, the brands I work with don’t perfectly align with my ethical values, and it is something I struggle with on a regular basis.
KIKO modeling for ECOALF
In 2019, you produced your own ethical and vegan fashion show “F.A.K.E.,” Fashion for Animal Kingdom and Environment. What was the purpose of this project?
I wanted to break that stigma where people associate eco-friendly, ethical, and vegan fashion to looking boring. Also, because of how I suffered from my eating disorder at the start of my modeling career and knowing the amount of pressure that exists in the industry, I wanted to include every type of model in the show in terms of looks and for what they stood for. For example, we had a non-binary vegan model; his story was that he doesn’t feel like he can apply for a model agency because it’s usually just categorized into either men or women—and that was truly eye-opening for me.
Everybody should be celebrated; each body shape, height, weight, skin color, and gender. All these characteristics are always an issue in the modeling industry, and I wanted to bring all those values to light and blur them on the runway.
The F.A.K.E. team
Do you have any exciting projects coming up?
I’m currently working on a project to create an ethical model agency. I’ve been modeling for a while now, and it is frustrating to see sustainable and ethical brands work with models that have no clue about the brand or that the brands don’t care about what the models stand for. I think it would be nice if they could see models as part of their brand supply chain.
You also hold seminars around Europe to coach your clients about self-love. What do you teach?
I’m a certified self-coach and have a certification in holistic nutrition and plant-based nutrition. When I coach people, I try to focus on what they are currently going through in their lives and I try to see what is causing them to feel the way they do. I also talk about nutrition; it is a mix of what I call “primary food,” which is not literally the food we eat on a daily basis but more about spiritual, physical activity, career, and relationships that might be more important than “secondary food,” which represent the food you actually eat. I do tend to focus more on the primary food in my coaching, emphasizing self-confidence and sharing tips on how to love yourself more.
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