Wonderland.

EVA APIO

From challenging industry stereotypes to launching her own charity, the model is using her platform to speak up and incite change.

EVA APIO

Top and coat by Gucci

EVA APIO
Top and coat by Gucci

Taken from our Autumn 21 issue. Order your copy now.

“When someone asks you what you do, how would you describe it?” Asks TV and radio presenter Maya Jama on a hiccuping Zoom line. “ I would just say I’m some Plain Jane model,” 21-year old Eva Apio quickly replies. But her answer, wavering on self-deprecating is safely wrapped in a blanket of playful sarcasm. Between unexpected visits from her beloved dog Milo and a fond reminder that the close friends aren’t exactly chatting privately on FaceTime like they’re used to, Apio – without meaning too – showcases how she’s so much more than “some Plain Jane” model. Since beginning her career in modelling at the age of 6, Apio has established herself in the fashion world and beyond. After being rejected from the industry for being “too short,” the resilient model claimed a much-deserved contract with Storm Model Agency before ending up at Premier, securing jobs with Louis Vuitton, Fendi, Off White, and more.

From being name-dropped in rap songs to launching her own self-titled foundation giving back to underprivileged children in her native Uganda, Apio continues to prove her beauty is more than skin deep. Opening up to Jama, Apio reflects on struggles with internet fame, her journey into modelling, and how she no longer needs to do her own make-up behind closed doors.

EVA APIO
EVA APIO

(LEFT) Headband by CHRISTOPHER KANE, skirt and corset by CHRISTIAN DIOR, briefs by SKIMS, coat by 16ARLINGTON and boots by DSQUARED2 (RIGHT) All clothing by ROBERT WUN earrings and bracelet by CARTIER, rings by MI MANERA and shoes by ISABELLA MARS.

EVA APIO
Headband by CHRISTOPHER KANE, skirt and corset by CHRISTIAN DIOR, briefs by SKIMS, coat by 16ARLINGTON and boots by DSQUARED2 All clothing by ROBERT WUN earrings and bracelet by CARTIER, rings by MI MANERA and shoes by ISABELLA MARS.
EVA APIO

MJ: So firstly, because I’ve never interviewed you before, this is new. [Eva’s] actually my mate in real life! When did you first start modelling?
EA: I started modelling when I was 6-years-old in Uganda and then moved to London when I was 10. I started modelling again when I was 16.

MJ: What is your earliest memory of modelling as a child?
EA: I would say walking a runway show with my mum [Eva Mbabazi] back in Uganda when I was about 4 or 5-years-old for my aunt’s brand. I posted a video of it on my Instagram in lockdown, it was hilarious.

MJ: That’s super early to be getting into an industry like that. Do you feel like you knew what was going on?
EA: I didn’t. I was just like, ‘Nah, it’s not for me.’ When I went to school, I was trying to be a physio, I didn’t want to be a model.

MJ: A physio! Why a physio?
EA: Bare random, innit! I just find it so interesting how the body works, I sound like such a nerd.

MJ: So when did that dream change from ‘I’m going to be a physio’ to taking modelling seriously?
EA: When I saw the cheque…joking [laughs]. When I got signed at 16 and was doing it for fun. Then I went uni for a week, and I got signed in LA and I was just like, ‘What am I doing?’ Like I’m paying 9K a year or a month – one of the two – to just sit here and learn something I can learn myself when I could be in LA making that 9K instead.

EVA APIO

Hat by Kangol, earrings and necklace by Bulgari, belt by Christian Dior, coat, boots and bracelets by Chanel, stylist’s own corset and briefs by SKIMS

EVA APIO
Hat by Kangol, earrings and necklace by Bulgari, belt by Christian Dior, coat, boots and bracelets by Chanel, stylist’s own corset and briefs by SKIMS

MJ: I mean when you’re that young, 9K is like ‘Phwoar!’ I was struggling for 70p in those days.
EA: I used to waste every coin! I’d get a £600 check and I’d go to Nando’s with all my friends and be like, ‘Yep! I’m paying for all of it.’ Ask me now if I’m friends with any of those people…I wish I’d kept that £600!

MJ: Did people treat you differently? I know it’s a big deal when someone does something out of school and everyone wants to know about it…
EA: People are just nosy, you know? It was different because in [primary] school I got bullied a lot and then when I went to secondary school and was modelling it was just like…people started to see me differently even though I was the same person.

MJ: How do you deal with that as a 16-year-old?
EA: I think I just went to parties [laughs]!

MJ: Just partied away the problems!
EA: It sounds so peak but that’s what I used to do, it sounds so sad when I say it out loud!

MJ: It’s real life, everyone’s got their coping mechanisms. So who did you get signed to at 16?
EA: I got signed to Zone when I was 16, and then I got scouted by Storm but they said no to me because I was too short, and I said, ‘Okay, cool whatever.’ Then I got signed to IMM and went to do another walk-in casting at Storm and they said, ‘We love you!’ I was with Storm, then signed to Squad and now I’m with Premier.

MJ: Were there any times in those periods where you were having doubts about yourself or has it been quite smooth sailing?
EA: No not at all, you know me I’m like five-foot dot! I’m short innit, so it was hard because most of the agencies at the time wanted girls who were like 5 ft 8, 5 ft 9 – tall girls. So when I was told I was too short, I was like pitching myself to them being like, ‘Look! My foot is long I’ll grow into my foot!And then I’d sit back and be like, ‘Why am I pitching myself to them?’ Do you get it? Then I went to a job in Paris and I was a size 4-6 at the time and they told me I was too fat. Bearing in mind I was like 17, so I go home and try to lose weight. But then I’d go to school and I’d try and look thick, so I’m wearing tights and leggings underneath [my clothes] to make myself look thicker.

EVA APIO
EVA APIO
EVA APIO

(LEFT) Hat by KANGOL, earrings by CARTIER, necklace by BULGARI, bra by SKIMS, bra by SLIM BARRETT, coat and skirt by PATRICK MCDOWELL and boots by LANVIN. (MID) Necklace and bracelets by BULGARI, coat Bby PRADA, gloves by MARC JACOBS and boots by BALENCIAGA. (RIGHT) Dress, boots, earrings and necklace by Moschino, rings Swarovski.

EVA APIO
Hat by KANGOL, earrings by CARTIER, necklace by BULGARI, bra by SKIMS, bra by SLIM BARRETT, coat and skirt by PATRICK MCDOWELL and boots by LANVIN. (MID) Necklace and bracelets by BULGARI, coat Bby PRADA, gloves by MARC JACOBS and boots by BALENCIAGA. Dress, boots, earrings and necklace by Moschino, rings Swarovski.
EVA APIO
EVA APIO

MJ: Yes! I’d wear literally three pairs of thick tights and leggings under my jeans to make myself look bigger.
EA: Yes those leggings from Primark with the stuffing inside!

MJ: I feel like these struggles aren’t really spoken about because I feel like in society it’s more appealing to be skinnier in the way the media portrays things. But there’s a whole group of people that don’t want to be slim, and actually prefer the bigger look.
EA: If I could pick and choose when I want to be skinny and when I want to be thick – oh my gosh, best of both worlds.

MJ: But that is mad to be told to lose weight at such a young age. You’re also in a job which is based on just your appearance a lot of the time. How does that feel?
EA: I never really cared, like I eat what I want. I’d see models stressing about what they eat on set and I’d just be like, ‘Can I get a burger?’ I never really cared about stuff like that but when that guy told me [to lose weight] it did hit me. When I told my mum she just said, ‘It isn’t personal, it’s just business.’ That’s what I realise now, it’s business it’s not personal.

MJ: Has your mum taught you a lot in terms of modelling? Has she given you much advice?
EA: I think my mum just let me go through it. Some parents will give you their advice on how they dealt with it, but my Mum’s like, ‘I want you to experience it yourself.’ If I had a problem, she’d want me to let her know. But equally, she wanted me to learn everything by myself.

MJ: So going through the modelling stages, from the outside – or as long as I’ve known you anyway – it seems like you’ve gone from strength to strength. There aren’t many young models that are working with Louis Vuitton and Off White and all these huge brands that you work with. Do you remember your first high fashion job?
EA: Yes, it was a good day…but a stressful day because obviously at the time they didn’t know anything about hair and I had an afro. So I went on set and they pulled out straighteners and I was like, ‘Woah.’ They were just like, ‘Yeah we want to give you a bob. My hair was like this [points at her head], it wasn’t going to happen. I also don’t use heat on my hair. So then they put a ponytail wig on me and then they just took it off to leave my afro. I was just very confused, you can’t really say anything.

MJ: What are the rules? If you were to say, ‘Hey I don’t like that!’ Will you not get booked again?
EA: Yeah, everyone just knows everyone, so it’s word of mouth. My agents, If I don’t like something, I can call them and tell them. That’s what I’m afraid of, word of mouth. But I’m very vocal when I feel like something isn’t right.

MJ: How has that changed from when you first started to now? Have you noticed that the glam teams that are on set have improved in working with diverse hair and make-up?
EA: It’s definitely getting better. Before, you’d have make-up artists and hairstylists who think they know everything. I remember walking on set one day and this lady was like, ‘Don’t worry, I’ve done Naomi Campbell’s make-up. It’s fine, I’ve got you.’ I was in the toilet doing my own make-up…

EVA APIO

Necklace and bracelets by BULGARI, coat by PRADA, gloves by MARC JACOBS and boots by BALENCIAGA.

EVA APIO
Necklace and bracelets by BULGARI, coat by PRADA, gloves by MARC JACOBS and boots by BALENCIAGA.

MJ: Gosh, we’ve all been there. The toilet fix-ups after a disappointing glam.
EA: But now they ask questions like: ‘What products do you like? What products do you use? What do you use on your hair? Can I use this?’ They want to learn, and it’s good, definitely. It’s best to learn rather than be nonchalant and think you know everything.

MJ: Yeah, that’s fair. What is your dream job if you could put it out into the universe right now?
EA: I’d say a Dior make-up campaign.

MJ: I mean you’ve got the skin for it.
EA: Or I see myself for Calvin Klein all over New York.

MJ: I see it, let’s put that out into the universe right now. So, that’s not your only job because you are a model but you’re also a fashion influencer, you’re down with the looks. Don’t do that face, because you are [laughs]. Do you feel pressure to keep posting content? I didn’t grow up with Instagram but you’re 21, was it a heavy thing to grow up doing? Or did you find it easy?
EA: No it was kind of heavy. I hit 10K followers at 16, and then from there I would just post my outfit pictures and pictures of me. But then people started getting invested in my life and I’d just be like, ‘Oh my God this is weird!

MJ: 10,000 eyes at 16 is overwhelming.
EA: Yeah, like I’d post something and people would be like, ‘Why are you saying this? Why are you doing that?’ But not in a way that would educate me into the reasons why it was wrong, do you get me? There was a day I was eating Chick-fil-A, I was in America for the first time ever. Everyone was like, ‘You shouldn’t support Chick-fil-A.’ I was like, ‘Oh my god! I’m just eating chicken!’ If they’d told me what was behind it, that would have been better than everyone just coming for me in my DMs.

MJ: Yeah, there’s not really an instruction manual especially at that age on how to use the internet.
EA: ‘Till this day there isn’t. They just throw you in the deep end and hope you can swim.

MJ: Only a few survive the internet streets [laughs]. Have you ever had any stand-out moments online where you just want to delete social media and escape forever?
EA: Yeah, every other day. People came up with something on Twitter and I don’t know why but I put my name in Twitter that day and I was just reading everything being like, ‘Oh my God I just want to disappear.’ I’m a Leo, so I’m dramatic. I deleted my Instagram and let everybody miss me for four hours and then came back.

MJ: Do you still find yourself searching for your name? It’s bad, isn’t it?
EA: Nah, I don’t really care what people have to say [about me] anymore. You’re just beefing yourself.

MJ: Yeah, I always say it’s a weird concept to know what people think about you that you don’t know. If you walked down the street, people don’t just say to you: ‘Hate your hair! Hate your legs! This looks shit.’ But then online it’s free rein. So how do you feel about fame? I mean you’re only 21 now and your profile is already here, the only way is up at this point.
EA: That’s a good question… I don’t know. I really don’t know how I feel about it. I guess before I wouldn’t know who was ‘real’ and who was there for the ride. Whereas now, I have my own little support bubble and system. So I don’t really care about the outside noise and what everybody is saying anymore. So, it doesn’t really faze me.

MJ: What’s your biggest happiness at the moment?
EA: My dog, and my man.

MJ: [laughs] Your dog and your man. So let’s talk about the Eva Apio Foundation that you started. Congratulations on that, massive thing to do and you’re so young as well. What made you want to start giving back so soon? A lot of young people, you’re building yourself still, so it’s super rare to see someone young giving back so quickly.
EA: You make sense! I just thought it doesn’t make sense for me to post all this designer stuff on social media but just come back to my country [Uganda] and basically just be there for the vibes. I’m not giving back anything. I thought that if I could do more, then why not? If I can buy a new bag, why not help someone back home? So me, my mum and my dad opened up the foundation, and the end goal is to open a youth centre. It’s the same concept as UK youth centres but some people can sleep there if they have nowhere to sleep, and there will be therapists and classes. Basically, a safe haven for kids. It should be done in 2023/2024.

MJ: Do you see yourself spending a lot more time in Uganda in the future?
EA: Yes definitely, back to the motherland.

MJ: Back to modelling, do you have any advice for a young model starting out?
EA: Don’t take a ‘no’ personally, it’s not you. It’s just the industry. Your someone’s no, but you’re also somebody else’s yes.’

MJ: What mantra do you live by? Mine is, ‘Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.’
EA: ‘No expectations, no disappointment.’

MJ: And me and you are going for dinner…tomorrow? How was the shoot?
EA: Tomorrow! Absolute lengers. We’re not talking on FaceTime Maya, FaceTime me after!

EVA APIO

Hat by KENZO, earrings and rings by SWAROVKSI, bodysuit KENZO, rings and bracelet by CARTIER

EVA APIO
Hat by KENZO, earrings and rings by SWAROVKSI, bodysuit KENZO, rings and bracelet by CARTIER
Photography
Bartek Szmigulski
Fashion
Toni Blaze
Hair
Ernesto Montenovo.
Makeup
Kareem Jarche.
Hair Assistant
Luca Maurelli, Christian Zevallos.
Fashion Assistants
Mao Miyakoshi and Rafael Perez Alvarez.
Special Thanks
Deerhurst Road Shoot Location.
EVA APIO