Beauty and a purpose: We aim to do more than just cat walking

Faith Akinyi is the reigning Miss Fire Kenya from Nairobi.
Photo credit: Pool

What you need to know:

  • These women, all who hold different pageant titles, are using their positions to drive positive change by advocating for environmental conservation and social impact
  • They combine beauty with purpose and leverage on their influence to bring positive change in their communities, their goal being to protect Mother Nature

Modelling is often associated with glitz, glamour and high fashion. To a layman, it seems the career is all about looking beautiful, attending beauty pageants and catwalking on the runway.

Maybe, but there is a new crop of female models that is out to rewrite this narrative. These women, all who hold different pageant titles, are using their positions to drive positive change, advocating for environmental conservation and social impact. These models combine beauty with purpose and leverage on their influence to bring positive change in their communities.

MyNetwork engaged four such models who talk about their efforts in raising awareness on sustainability. They emphasise on the importance of embracing sustainable practices to protect the environment.

Cherly Siso holds the title of Miss Water, Mombasa. 
Photo credit: Pool

Cheryl Siso, 24
Teacher, Miss Water Kenya

As a teacher, I love sharing knowledge and skills with my students. All the time, I have to smile and be happy, and be a role model. I find teaching to be a fulfilling career.

I was born and raised in Mombasa, and this made me love nature. I love going to relax at the beach, to breathe the clean, salty air and meditate near the tranquil ocean.

I cherish the title, Miss Water Kenya, which I received last year during the Miss Earth pageant. Before that, I had been doing a lot of activities such as clean-ups around my estate, and educating people about the dangers of using single use plastics through public gatherings and on social media. The has boosted my presence and influence, as I am able to reach a wider audience and impact more people.

When you preach about plastic recycling solutions and keeping the oceans clean using the Miss Water title, people easily heed to the advice.

I organised clean-ups at the beach by mobilising young people, and built a team that helped me go from house to house advising people on proper disposal of waste. We encouraged them to view waste as wealth, and to find ways of reusing it to make items such as key holders or decorations.

Most people think climate change is a hoax. I once attended a tree planting event and after planting the mangroves, I beseeched them to take care of the small trees. They then asked me why it was important for them to do so. I was so shocked. That was a clear demonstration that people are not keen on matters sustainability.

What fuels my drive for sustainability is the reality that if we don't protect Mother Nature, we will lose the coastal region due to the rising sea levels. I don't want to lose my home, so that made me so passionate about taking care of the environment,” she notes.

I have seen individuals being turned into refugees due to extreme weather such as floods, so I know that the issue of sustainability is highly important.

I started modelling in college. I try to add purpose into modelling so I only participate in pageants that have impactful themes.

The first title I got in Mombasa County was Miss Environment Mombasa in 2022, which was all about environmental conservation and the other one, Miss Empowered Mombasa, was about empowering the girl child.

What discourages me is that people sometimes do not acknowledge my efforts and those of my fellow advocates. When they see you doing beach cleanups, they think you have a lot of time to waste.

Faith Akinyi is the reigning Miss Fire Kenya from Nairobi.
Photo credit: Pool

Faith Akinyi
Miss Fire Kenya, and entrepreneur in fashion, art and photography sectors

My area of specialisation is using art to curb pollution. I collect plastic items and use them to make art, which I then sell to an art collector in Italy. I use the money I get to help children in Ngomongo slums where I was born. I am an advocate for less privileged children.

Where I grew up, there were hardly any trees. They had all been cut and used as firewood. My primary school was located right next to the dump site in Korogocho. We used to play there even though it made us get sick. I really wished I could do something about it, and that’s what sparked my passion in environmental conservation.

My work revolves around repurposing plastic items alongside tree planting, and that is really good for the environment.

I was a high fashion model, but I had never participated in any pageants until last year when I contested the Miss Earth Kenya competition and won the title. The competition aimed at changing the world even at a small scale level.

When I was young, I was slim and tall, and everyone used to tell me I would be a model. I didn’t have any idea how I would do it since I had grown up in the slums. Luckily, I found a mentor who guided me and helped me get signed by a modelling agency.

I have learnt that there is a lot to modelling than good looks. The industry is accommodative to any physique, but to succeed as a model, you have to be determined, disciplined, and be focused on your goal. You also need to combine it with other income generating activities,” she says.

Clinched the Miss Earth Kenya title last year opened my eyes to many possibilities. I am in the process of setting up an organisation to enable me raise funds so I can take on bigger, more sustainable projects.

If we heal the earth, we heal ourselves. The best time to take care of the earth was 20 years ago, because right now it's already ruined. The second-best time is now. We need to do it for the coming generation. That is our responsibility.

This year I plan to work with different stakeholders to curb pollution, especially waste management in slums. If people can find a way of separating biodegradable refuse from plastic, then I could contribute to ridding our rivers from toxic waste.

I would also like to equip young people in slums with sustainable income generating skills so that they can be financially independent.

Natasha Mungai, a veterinary student and Miss Air Kenya from Nairobi.
Photo credit: Pool

Natasha Mungai, 23
Veterinary student, Miss Air Kenya

I am training to be a wildlife veterinarian because I have a passion for wildlife conservation. I chose to be an advocate for animals because they can’t speak for themselves.

As Miss Fire Kenya, a title I received last year, whether doing fieldwork, researching on wildlife health, or championing for conservation practices, my goal is to contribute to a harmonious coexistence between humans and wild life.

I strive to make a positive impact on the environment by combining my love for animals with a commitment to sustainability.

I started modelling last year when I joined the Miss Earth Kenya title contest. The event aligned perfectly with my career and interests in nurturing the earth and protecting animals. I also learnt that there’s more to sustainability than just planting trees.

You can also engage in recycling, reusing and repurposing things. I even embraced sustainability practices like buying locally and ethically made clothing.

I am currently thinking of starting a campaign to prevent people from littering in national parks because it disrupts animals in their habitats and is not sustainable.

Ashley Jayalo is a model coach from Mombasa.
Photo credit: Pool

Ashley Jayalo
Model Coach

When I was still a model, before I transitioned to coaching, I contested for Miss Heritage Kenya in 2020. I was struggling to get a project to work on, and after keen research, I identified a gap in that there was a great lack of proper waste disposal systems in Mombasa.

I decided to mobilise my peers for a clean-up exercise and that wasn't enough. We called upon the county government to help.

If we are not careful, we will find ourselves with a really poor waste management system, especially in Mombasa, in the next 30 years.

The impoverished communities need to be educated on how to manage waste through recycling and reusing waste products.
I have been in the modelling scene for six years, but stopped runway modelling as I gravitated towards mentorship and organising pageants.

I am currently working on the BigTree Pageant which is slated for March 30 this year and our theme is Defining The Face Of Service.

We have eight finalists and our goal is to ensure by the time they are on stage, they are individuals who can selflessly serve the society in different capacities.

The beauty of a model can get the attention of people, but what you do afterwards is what will define you. You need to know who you are because without that you will get lost in the noise.

Being a model coach is a journey of self discovery. When you’re a model, you crave the spotlight, but as a model coach, it is never about you, but the young people who look up to you. I purpose to shine a light on them. I want to create opportunities for models and that gives me a lot of fulfillment.

Even in sustainable modelling, there is the issue of marauding event organisers or pageant personnel who may take advantage of young models with the false promise of titles, and this does more harm to the models’ integrity and health in the long run.

The fact that anyone can organise a pageant puts models in a risky position, and we are trying to find ways of coming with a regulation to vet everyone who plans to hold or organise a pageant.