St. Louis teen model takes fashion industry by storm

“We have many girls from St. Louis doing it big on the international modeling stage. She’s up next.”

ST. LOUIS — Aaliyah Buford, 17, a senior at McCluer South-Berkeley High School graduating next month, said she spent a lot of alone time last year during last year’s COVID-19 lockdown, reflecting on her career goals.

Coming from a theater background, Buford was used to being on stage and performing. However, she said she always had an interest in modeling, and others told her to pursue it.

About eight months ago, she said she responded to an open casting call she saw online hosted by local modeling development and management company, Mother Model Management. Its website says the company discovers aspiring talent, grooms them professionally and manages them with hopes of presenting them to various agencies for potential gigs and ad campaigns.

Buford’s mother, Archilla Buford, said she was hesitant at first when her daughter expressed interest in modeling.

“I didn’t really have high regard for the industry. I felt like it was an industry that possibly took advantage of people’s dreams and I didn’t really wanna go down that path,” Archilla said. “I came to a place where I felt like every young person should have the opportunity to pursue their dreams and see where it takes them.”

Buford, who is currently represented locally by Mother Model Management and an international model signed with Next Management said her first casting call was mixed with many emotions ranging from excitement to nervousness.

“I think going to the open call rather than submitting an online submission was the best decision I made,” she said. “Modeling is about presenting and showcasing yourself. Having that experience be my introduction into the industry and putting myself out there was really exhilarating.”

Husband and wife team, Jeff and Mary Clarke, who own and operate Mother, said their eyes were immediately drawn to Buford the moment she entered the room at their open casting call.

“She’s lighting that’s strucken,” Jeff said. “We have many girls from St. Louis doing it big on the international modeling stage. She’s up next. We’re really thankful to be in the position we’re in to open this world up for her, and we’re all ready for this journey together.”

Buford and her mother said they have seen a major change in her confidence since she’s started modeling. Buford, who’s almost 5’11”, said she noticed her height made her different from her peers at school but with modeling, she enjoys being around other people with similar heights.

She also said people often hold misconceptions about modeling assuming it’s all about looks, which made her realize it’s more about depth and being your authentic, beautiful self.

“I think it makes me more comfortable with the fact I am a teenager, I’m still learning, and I’m still trying to find myself,” she said. “When I was by myself during the quarantine, I learned to love who I am. Being by myself, I started experimenting with photoshoots in my room and appreciating my angles. I began to love who I am when I was by myself because I am the guaranteed person I know I have.”

Mary said she and Jeff have also noticed Buford’s growth from when she first started working with them to now.

“When I was looking at the original pics of her, Jeff looked at me and said, ‘She’s not even the same girl,’ she said. “Watching her be in her element matched with her work ethic and incredible family support, you just know she will be a superstar.”

Buford has modeled for Kim Kardashian’s Skims x Fendi collaboration, Lacoste, Free People appeared in Kim Petras’ music video and guest-starred on “The Tamron Hall Show.” She represents three markets with Next Management; Los Angeles, London, and New York. She said her dream aspirations are to walk for Versace and Off-White and be on the cover of Vogue Magazine.

“I’m ready to put in my effort and take on this industry so that I can look back in however many years and say you did your thing,” she said. “I hope to look back one day and know that I’m so happy and grateful for everything that my life has given and shown me.”

Keep up with Buford and her budding career on her Instagram account, @leyahtings.