London Fashion Model with Multi-Hyphenate Ambitions

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Norman featured in Elle magazine – (pictured at London Fashion Week AW2020)

Please introduce yourself for those who aren’t familiar with you from my previous article titled Chillin’ with Norman: Fashion 4 Africa Finalist & Law Graduate

This is actually a very deep question, but I’ll try and sum this up briefly: I’m a black-brit, born and raised in North West London. The estate I have lived on my whole life has had its fair share of dramas (to say the least), and given me the necessary street smarts and hustle I need to navigate life. Because of this, I am not risk adverse. I see opportunity in every situation and interaction. I’d like to think I act with urgency.

I am a proud Ugandan – my cultural heritage being something which has been reinforced into me from, well, as long I can remember. “Norman, you are Ugandan, and never forget it – home is home”. That’s something I’d be told all the time growing up. Both parents are from Uganda, loosely from a small town known as Mbale. I never want to lose touch with my roots. I have been back home 3 times, the third time completing a legal internship with the African Prisons Project while at Uni – I was teaching (death row) inmates and prison staff law and advocacy classes at Luzira Maximum Security Prison. I was born in the UK and lived here my whole life, hence why I state black-brit first. The mesh of the UK and Ugandan cultures is what makes me me. If that makes sense.

Really and truly, I’m just a young adult trying to find my way in the world and fulfil my purpose while I’m here in this form. There are three components that are key in my life: law, the creative arts and mentorship (mentoring and being mentored). I currently work full time in the legal industry, having studied law at a London Russell Group University. There are many things I want to do within the legal industry over the course of my working life, to help reshape particular aspects of it; I am a mentor, and lean greatly on my mentors, using them as sounding boards for ideas and navigation; I am a creative -> a model and presenter/host. I believe I have found the synergies between law and the creative world. The fact they all co-exist in my life, I believe is helping me to become the person I am meant to become in this lifetime. Side note, I have a deep-rooted affinity to hip-hop, and used to perform spoken word at mic nights and showcases for several years. The arts mean everything to me.

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Norman modelling the brand Massassi Batique in the Fashion4Africa UK competition (London), which he won in 2018.

Congratulations again on winning Fashion4Africa UK 2018! It’s hard to believe so much time has passed since then. What was the competition like and what did winning mean to you? 

Winning the modelling competition Fashion4Africa UK was extremely important to me. Ultimately, it was validation. Validation that I’m meant to be in the creative industry, and that I am doing something right in my journey to becoming a model. It meant so much to me. If you watch the video back of when it was announced that I won Fashion4Africa, it’s like I was in a rave – jumping, screaming, shouting. You can feel the pure excitement, but nowadays I look back at the footage and cringe, like, maybe I was TOO excited – I wasn’t mature or gracious in my success in that moment. I’m very mindful of these things now, because of that experience. I also look back and think, fam, it was such a long process to reach that point: casting, two assessed rehearsal rounds (which were on weekday evenings, so I would go to them straight after work), and the live finals at China Exchange being judged by a panel of 5 (designers and runway experts) to a crowd of approx. 200. But I also count all of the runway shows and photoshoots I had done prior to entering the competition. Everything geared up to me winning. I sometimes think, if I didn’t win, would I have quit modelling that night? Who  knows. I put everything I had into doing my best to win, because I knew the opportunities waiting on the other side.

There is an interview Will Smith did recently talking about chasing one’s dreams, describing it as a lonely, scary, dangerous pursuit… you can’t wait for somebody to think you can do it…as much as you want people to support your dreams it’s not (always) gonna be like that… Yeah, that’s how things felt when I said I wanted to ‘model’ in January 2018. By in large, most people didn’t really get it, or what I was trying to do. So until I achieved a major accolade in this arena it was essentially tunnel vision in my mind. Do what I have to do until people get it. I did get clowned on alot, but when I won it was like yo, okay cool; the last 9 months of work I had put into this dream had materialized into something tangible, and now people have to take me seriously. Looking back now, I never should have paid attention to that energy or placed that amount of power in validation from other people and their opinions. I’ve definitely become more resilient because of those unkind experiences, and extremely aware of the energy I choose to take in and surround myself with. Kevin Hart recently echoed my sentiments, stating in an interview “it’s not about proving everyone wrong, it’s about proving your right.” I understand what he means 1000%. So in that sense, my approach has completely changed – I do things for me.

People that know me well, know that I always bang on about the importance of networks. I was so excited by winning, because I knew for the foreseeable future, I’d finally have a support network to lean on and hopefully enable me to reach the next tier within the industry. That’s the main reason why I was so excited. The future was looking bright.

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Example of Norman being experimental – pictured at Fashion Scout AW2020 (London Fashion Week)

Your year as the Fashion4Africa winner brought some pretty awesome opportunities. Tell us about them.

I won Fashion4Africa on Friday 14 September 2018. The next day, I was invited to complete a one-day internship, being one of four runners at the on-schedule Julian MacDonald London Fashion Week show, which was literally my first REAL taste of the highest level of the fashion industry. EVERYONE and EVERYTHING was there. The glitz. The glam. The Magic of the industry. Hollywood in London, essentially. I was stood in front of Jimmy Choo… Wild… Being a runner backstage gave me exposure to all of this up close. I was right next to legendary model and celeb Winnie Harlow at one point, and models signed to top tier modelling agencies who fly around the world working with the biggest brands and walking in the most elite runway shows. Some of them gave me serious intel about the industry and advice about how to get in. It was incredible. I remember everything about that day so vividly. I could paint a verbal picture. Believe me when I say I will never forget that day. So, within 24 hours of winning Fashion4Africa my networks, industry understanding and experiences had significantly heightened. I was even able to later secure a photoshoot with one of the designers I met backstage (I’m actually due to meet with her in mid-march for a catchup!). After that night, I was like in my head ‘cool, I think this is going work’. This all means something. Such experiences are extremely rare and I’ve been blessed to be given this opportunity. Its 2020, and I still look back and think rah, did that day really happen…

Within a few months of winning, I became a published model, featuring in Black Beauty Magazine, and secured a 5 page spread within London Runway Magazine. This was a mixture of never-before-released images and a very detailed interview about my journey thus far, both in modelling and law. Through connections with Fashion4Africa, I was invited to Parliament for an event held by the UK-Uganda Health Alliance. From that, I was invited the next day to an event held by the High Commission of Uganda at the British Medical Association, for the independence of Uganda anniversary celebrations. Crazy 24 hours!! I’ve also had a radio interview at the Verve Radio Show at London Metropolitan University. I have always tried to use these platforms to speak about the realities of the industry, my experiences as honestly as possible, and to promote Afrocentrism. Interestingly, this radio interview is where I met Jan Paul – a man of many crafts and talents (celebrity publicist, agent, socialite, director, to list a few things…) he has become a mentor to me in the industry; he’s the one who secured the VIP tickets for me to attend Fashion Scout at London Fashion Week, and has always been on call to give me very meaningful advice and guidance. He genuinely cares and wants to see me succeed! He’s a Legend, who has my upmost respect!

Unbeknownst to me, Fashion4Africa would provide my bridge into the world of presenting and hosting: I was invited to be a member of the support team for a black-tie event known as Screen Nation in 2019, where the best of the best in terms of black talent, be it creative, corporate etc are celebrated and awarded. It was so so so lit, and me impressing the right people that night later led to me working with the Miss Caribbean UK team as the host (which also connected me with some at London Live), and with BEN TV. It’s crazy – if I didn’t attend Screen Nation that day, my trajectory within the creative industry simply wouldn’t have taken this course. I actually missed my nephew’s christening to be at Screen Nation, but even my mum had a feeling that Screen Nation was a big deal and encouraged me to go to it. Divine alignment I reckon. It has to be. It’s the only way all of this makes sense to me.

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Example of Norman being experimental

More recently you were featured in Elle magazine as a result of your impressive London Fashion Week style. What’s the story behind that feature and break down your outfit that day.

Naomi Campbell was walking on the streets, got scouted, and her life changed forever. My story isn’t of that gravity, but there are serious parallels. I honestly feel like I walked into a situation which God had pre-planned in every single way, resulting in me being featured in Elle. Let me tell you the story with complete honesty – it’s really interesting:

It was Saturday 15th February 2020 – the second day of which I was at Fashion Scout. For those that don’t know, fashion scout is the leading global platform, held each February and September during London Fashion Week. It showcases international designers including those from UK, USA, Asia, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East. There were a series of storms hitting the UK at that moment in time. It was storm Ciara that weekend I believe. The weather was PEAK – harsh winds and very heavy rain. No umbrella stood a chance, and it made it difficult walking around outside without getting hit by the rain. Because I was VIP, Jan stressed the importance of coming dressed the part to LFW. Really embodying the prestige that would surround me through being VIP and sitting front row at the shows. It may sound shallow, but in this industry, these things are a really big deal – a symbol of status and stature. I had gotten myself an eccentric suit from Moss Bros which I knew fit the bill, and would definitely make anyone look twice. So there I am walking into the venue, where I’m stopped by 5 photographers at the door, who pretty much said we love your look we want to take some pictures. This kind of experience was happening throughout the whole weekend, so I didn’t think too much of it. Never did I think a photographer who was working for Elle, was amongst those 5 people. But yeah, I did my best to take the best pictures I could, as quickly as I could, because remember, the weather was absolutely horrible, and I didn’t want to stand around outside for too long and risk my suit getting wet/spoilt. I thought those pictures weren’t going to come out well at all – I was in a rush, wet, and it was soooo grey outside… I took those pictures thinking this is just standard procedure. The next part is where God works her magic.

Once I had signed in and passed security, I spoke for about 10 mins to co-founder of magazine Alchemee, and we really hit it off. Great energy from him. We exchanged details and I carried on with my day. 24 hours later, while I am watching a show at Fashion Scout, I get a message (DM) on Instagram from him to say I’ve been featured in Elle. He sent me the link not only to the article online, but also to the photographer, who I hopefully should be working with later this year. I couldn’t believe how seamless everything was. Everything connected so well, like it was predestined. It was definitely God. The odds of this happening are so unbelievably minimal it’s ridiculous, but it did happen, and it must form a piece of a bigger puzzle. Me featuring in Elle was a very important turning point, as it changed the way I could have conversations. Why? Because now I had a significant accolade which anyone could appreciate, and of which I could leverage to my advantage when talking to designers, photographers and other creatives during that weekend. Crazy, right? How one picture can open so many doors and opportunities.

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Norman (pictured in the middle) sitting front row at a Fashion Scout show during London Fashion Week (AW2020)

What have been the highlights of your London Fashion Week experiences thus far?

Something common to me interning at the Julien MacDonald LFW show in 2018, and attending London Fashion Week Fashion Scout shows as VIP, is the energy. The energy in these environments is unlike anything I have EVER experienced in my life. It’s the knowing that these are extremely tight knit circles, which makes it feel all the more prestigious to even be in the building. The lights, the cameras, the fast-paced nature of everything. Its a lot to take in… and it took me days afterwards to truly mentally process those three days I attended back to back shows at Fashion Scout.

There is something special knowing that you are in rooms where some of the highest forms of creativity and fashion are present. Everything is a statement, and has meaning. Everything you see happening hasn’t really been seen or done before. The exclusivity element of it is beyond exciting. Its like being in a bubble of innovation. Your mind drifts away into this dream land. I felt like a kid again. Every conversation you have is different and exciting. I met some of the most interesting people I have ever come across during these fashion week experiences. And of course, my networks have significantly developed through being in these rooms. My understanding of the industry is a lot sharper, and again, I know that all these experiences are happening for a reason, and definitely building up to me being signed one day to a (top tier) modelling agency.

What I will say also, is that attending these shows with VIP and sitting front row is an interesting experience. I now understand why people can get lost/lose themselves in this ‘Hollywood world’. Your ego is massaged A LOT. There is the presumption that you are a BIG deal, and the treatment you get is so welcoming and prestigious. After a while, I did start to buy into the hype around it all, especially following the Elle feature. “yeah, maybe I am a big deal”: I hate to admit it, but those thoughts do creep in just a little bit, especially when you are being bigged up by so many people around you. I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t get a little bit gassed like that. The good thing is, I was at Fashion Scout for three days, so I didn’t have time to truly let it get to me. If I was in this space with that power around me for two weeks nonstop, fam, I definitely would have let things get to my head. I’m only human, I’m fallible. But I loved everything about London Fashion Week. It was incredible. An out of this world experience.

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Norman pictured with fashion designer Angus Tsui at the Fashion Hong Kong AW2020 presentation – London Fashion Week

Describe your fashion sense.

Its changing a lot. When we last spoke, I said smart casual, Afrocentric and street style. Two years ago, based on my words, I think I saw fashion sense as something that was simple and definable, hence why I tried to almost compartmentalise it. Two years later, I can say it’s really not a simple subject matter. Just as humans evolve and grow, so does one’s fashion sense. What one wears projects one’s state of mind and character. I pay close attention to what people wear, as it gives me clues to their current state of mind. With that said, I’d say right now, I’m becoming more experimental. That’s my fashion sense in 2020 – experimental. I love bright colors – it’s a good reflection of my personality, so I try to always having something notably bright. I particularly find myself experimenting especially with accessories i.e. rings and necklaces. I’m learning that the subtle things can make the loudest noise, and I find this really really cool. I’m in deep contemplation at the moment as to whether to pierce my ears.

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Photograph taken during photoshoot with one of the designers Norman met following the Julien MacDonald Fashion Show at London Fashion Week SS2019

As we both know, you and I have the same mentality when it comes to the benefits of having a portfolio career and you’re well on your way to achieving that goal. Would you mind sharing some of your other exciting accomplishments since I last interviewed you?

Presenting/hosting is something which is taking off in a very natural and organic way. With modelling, I had to really build inroads from scratch. Because of the string network I’ve developed from modelling, presenting/hosting opportunities have literally come to my doorstep. I think it goes part and parcel with people knowing I work in the legal industry, as well as me generally being very confident when communicating in front of large crowds. Since summer of 2019, I’ve hosted a range of events – notably at the Houses of Parliament (introducing individuals including John Bercow), the University of Law, and the Miss Caribbean UK 2019 finals.
With regard to presenting, I now work with the BEN TV team on a freelance basis. I joined the team in November and completed my first assignment in December, in which I was able to briefly interview American DJ Shorty Smoove who has been in the industry for plus 30 years! I am also a resident cast member/panelist on the new online web-series NewsRoom UK, formed by the creators of Bkchat LDN. As cast members, we act as a group of journalists, reporting on current affairs from the week while adding our two cents on the matter in a fun and engaging way. I go for recording in a studio on Monday evenings after work – it’s a really bubbly energic and vibrant environment. A real mesh of opinions and characters.

My life has been intertwined with law since 2011, and it has formed a huge part of who I am and who I seek to become as an adult. From 2011-2013 I was on a programme with the Windsor Fellowship, which later resulted in me gaining work experience at top tier firms in the city (one being a bank, the other being a Magic Circle law firm), and being assigned mentors from each (one being a trainee solicitor, the other being a legal vice president). This all happened while I was still relatively young, so these experiences really gave me the necessary exposure and access to the legal industry that I needed to help me get a start in pursuing law as a career. Because of this, I believe it is really important to play my part in the discussion and action surrounding increasing diversity, inclusion and accessibility into the industry. Great work is being done, but there is still room for much more to be done, to enable those from underrepresented backgrounds to gain insight and exposure into this industry. Over the last two years, I have become an official ambassador for the Miranda Brawn Diversity Leadership Foundation. I won her legal award in 2017, recognizing me as a future diversity leader in the legal industry. I take this responsibility seriously. Miranda is an incredible leader and gamechanger in this arena, and a role model for me as she successfully has a portfolio career in law, banking, and philanthropy (amongst many other things). She wholeheartedly commits herself to this cause. I work with her, mentor some people within her networks, speak on this topic at events, and  attend events with her surrounding this topic of focus. Two of my favorite events I attended with her were the Inner temple Garden Party, and the ‘In My Choos’ event hosted by Brummell Magazine and held at Jimmy Choo. I look forward to working more with her to advance this cause. Miranda and I are becoming somewhat of a dynamic duo and it’s really cool and fun at the same time; she has amazing energy.

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Norman pictured with Miranda Brawn at Jimmy Choo “In My Choos” event

What’s next for you?

 A very exciting recent achievement as of March 2020, is becoming a member of (private) members club H Club, which is for people specifically in the creative industries. There is an intricate process to become a member, with your application being reviewed by a committee. The fact I made it in, was another sign that I am meant to be in the creative industry. It wasn’t easy getting in, LOL. I truly recognise the importance of networks, and becoming a member at this point in time was very important. Fashion4Africa was one portion of my journey, but H Club marks a completely new chapter, in that now I am able to sink my teeth into a hub of professionals who operate across the creative industry. I’ve already been invited to a welcome drinks party which was lit, and a private performance by artist Raye open only to H Club members. Fam its so lit at H Club – the energy is incredible and the love amongst the members is infectious. I love it! I’m so excited to really get to know the H club team and members, and see how I can continue to progress.

As far as modeling is concerned, I believe things are moving well and in the right direction. I am now in more professional spaces (i.e. at London Fashion Week), and consistently gaining exposure. I’m still on my pursuit of trying to get signed to a (major) agency, I know it will happen If I keep up my consistent efforts.

I want to see how far I can push presenting. That too is going very well and its exciting. I’m having to do some deep introspection as to where I want to take things long term in the creative space – I must be careful not to spread my energy too wide. Some have suggested I need to make a choice between modelling and presenting. I love both, and both are progressing well, so I’m not sure how things will end up. Time will tell. I’ll go with the flow and see where I land.

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Norman presenting for BEN Television (TV)

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

A portfolio career is something which I really strive towards, and so far I seem to be pulling it off. It’s pretty cool existing in various industries simultaneously. For me, it means there is always something to look forward to. I don’t believe in ‘living for the weekend’ – I think that type of thinking is dangerous, as you will miss the beauty of the present moment and experiences that exist beyond Saturday and Sunday. My perception of time is changing. I value time so greatly; it’s the thing I value most in this world (alongside the ones I care about). I look at days more in terms of what I am doing, as opposed to ‘Monday’, or ‘Wednesday’, if that makes sense. I’m trying to keep this energy, as it works for me, and the balance of things means I’m hardly jaded. That said, I’m learning that having a portfolio career can be exhausting. Over the last two years I’ve really learnt how to take a step back from everything to prevent wearing myself out due to overexertion. As a result, I’m extremely selective of how I use my energy. Many of my friends comment on how I’m attaining a degree of balance that they haven’t seen in others or themselves, but that they hardly see me because I’m always at industry related events or at work. I’m trying to get better at seeing more of friends and family.

I’ll be honest in saying that over the years I have found the creative industry to be extremely elitist. It is very difficult to actually enter it, and there is very little publicly accessible information about its varying sectors. Most people that I have spoken to about this on a personal level either agree or have similar sentiments to me. It’s an industry truly governed by connections and networks. It’s like the wild west in that, once you are inside, anything is possible – there are no ceilings, which is the most lit thing about it. I look at Cardi B as a case study, and for inspiration. Following her Grammy winning album Invasion of Privacy, she transitioned into blockbuster films such as Hustlers (and the New Fast and Furious yet to be released), to starring in Pepsi Adverts and to being one of three show judges on Netflix rap competition Rhythm and Flow. She is seamlessly moving through the sectors of the creative industry and I find this deeply inspiring. She’s an incredibly smart woman with a lot of business savvy; one day I’d love to have a conversation with her.

The way I look at the creative industry is this: it’s like an invisible building with no doors or windows. It’s so difficult to enter or even gain a true understanding of from the outside, until you are inside. At this moment in time, I feel like I am just about in the building, and I’m developing a better understanding of how it operates every single day. The industry in my opinion, is a tightly regulated ecosystem; the gatekeepers closely monitor the flow of who passes in and out of the building, and nobody can sneak in. You have to earn your place there. I’ve snuck in many times, only to be chucked out (kinda like when uncle Phil from Fresh Prince of Bel Air would chuck out Jazz from his house). But strangely enough, once you are in, you are in, and there is so much support given to you if you find the right people. The hard part is getting inside the building, and this feat requires real commitment, smarts and patience. I’m three years deep now and it feels like it’s only now that I have a foundation inside the building. I’m just getting started, and it’s a very exciting feeling.

My long-term hope is to really hone in on my creative craft(s), master it, and help open up the industry and make it more accessible. Don’t get me wrong, there are platforms that exist out there, and places like H Club have amazing initiatives and programmes to increase access, but I feel there is always more that can be done. With my unique journey into the industry, I definitely have ideas of what can be done in this respect.

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Norman hosting the Miranda Brawn Diversity Leadership Summer Party at the Houses of Parliament

Norman’s advice to anyone trying to get a start in the creative industry:

I have many friends who operate in different sectors of this industry i.e videographers, writers, musicians etc. The common thread of success within this industry is simple: be fearless, be resilient, be consistent, be resourceful, be patient. Remember what I said: this industry is one governed by networks. I didn’t know anyone in the industry like that who could connect me with jobs or big opportunities…I found my way into these rooms and networks through being incredibly resourceful, but also patient. These things take time. We live in the internet age where everything online looks quick and instant. But the way I see it, if something blows up, it will blow out very quickly also. Take your time, build connections, sustain those connections, and most importantly, know your purpose. This industry is a beautiful one, as it’s purpose driven. You need to know why you are doing this and what message you want to tell the world. That doesn’t come overnight; it requires deep introspection, followed with a lot of time to develop and hone in on your craft(s). But most importantly, make sure you enjoy the process. The journey and my struggles have been the fun part. As I reflect on the last two years I think to myself, damn I’ve come far really; I’ve got a long way to go, but I’ve sincerely enjoyed the ride so far. Let’s see where I’ll be in two years from now…

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Norman hosting the 2019 Miss Caribbean UK Finals at Greenwood Theatre, London – (wearing a ‘Made in Africa’/M.I.A. brand 2-piece outfit)

What ingredients does Norman think make the perfect smoothie?

I’m not really a smoothie kinda guy loool; but I’d say apple and strawberry!

 

*You can follow Norman on Instagram @normanbusigu, or contact him via email: norman.busigu@outlook.com*

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