Zoë Edwards, a Toronto-based model and dancer, is a multi-talented force to be reckoned with. Her glowing face has been seen in campaigns for prominent brands across beauty and fashion, including Glossier, Omi Woods, MOB Beauty, and Allbirds, while her talent as an emerging dance artist has her featured in a wide range of projects and productions. Zoë’s versatility and charm can be felt in all that she does. Her passion for authenticity is clear and uncompromising, and, in spite of some of the modeling industry’s less attractive qualities, she has come far. Her career has pushed forwards in ways that are unexpected for a freelance model (by the industry’s standards), and she continues to succeed and surprise in inspirational ways.
We had the chance to interview Zoë and get intimate insight into her journey as a dancer, her experiences with beauty and fashion as a Black model, and her love for her Caribbean ancestry.
It’s a pleasure to be having this conversation with you, Zoë! We’re inspired by your accomplishments and would love to learn more about you. Please share a bit about yourself.
Thanks for the chance to share! Where to begin…I’m a freelance model and dance artist based in Toronto, Canada. I’ve been dancing since I was five, but professionally since 2017. Performing onstage is probably the most nerve-wracking and exhilarating thing ever, but I live for it. I love lobster, baked goods, and any kind of cheese. In my spare time, I enjoy running, baking, and going for walks to watch the sun go down. I have a degree in political science that I’m not really using (sorry mum). I’ve also had the chance to model for some really great brands and I’m just grateful for each opportunity to work and create.
Sunday mornings, if both my mum and I are home, we make saltfish, bakes, and plantain with a side of cocoa tea and that always brings me right back to my time visiting the island.
What encouraged your love of dance and modeling and do you find the two relate to one another?
At the age of two, my mom took me to see The Nutcracker and I sat through the whole thing with no fuss. By about six, I started nagging her to put me in ballet classes. I think something just clicked and deeply resonated with me from that moment and I haven’t been able to stop since. There’s something so freeing about movement — that’s the part that I love the most. Whether it’s learning a new style of dance or performing on stage, it's a form of expression that has become my first love. Initially, modeling wasn't something I saw myself doing until I got scouted by Elmer Olsen (a modeling agency) at thirteen, but I think I always had an appreciation for fashion because of my mom. She’d sew and make these really beautiful outfits for both of us, which was a running theme in our home. I got scouted again in New York, and then by another agency at around fourteen or fifteen. I didn’t end up getting signed, but a switch had been turned on and I asked myself, “How can I keep doing this, even if I don’t have an agent?” I love the collaboration of so many minds coming together to create something beautiful for photoshoots and that is what has kept me going as a freelance model.
I do find modeling and dance relate to one another. My dance background has helped with modeling, for sure. It has allowed me to be aware of how my body and face will register with a camera and find different ways to create shapes on set.
Do you have a connection to your ancestral background? If so, how do you incorporate that into your life in your own unique way?
My mum is from St. Vincent and the Grenadines and my father is from Guyana. I’ve had the opportunity to visit SVG quite a few times and it’s truly one of the most beautiful places in the world. I think my closest connection is definitely the food. Sunday mornings, if both my mum and I are home, we make saltfish, bakes, and plantain with a side of cocoa tea and that always brings me right back to my time visiting the island.
I’m so grateful for the opportunity to have experienced the island and the culture on multiple occasions. This year I’ve actually decided to trace my African ancestry on my mother's side. I’m really excited to dig deeper and expand on my ancestry and history in this way.
I went back in at 5’9 and was basically told, “We have our quota of Black girls,” something I was hearing up until 2019. Or that I looked like a combination of two Black girls on their roster so they didn’t have space for me.
As a Black model, what has been your experience working in the beauty and fashion industry? Have you encountered any challenges? Or pleasant surprises?
I think when I was trying to get signed to an agency, that is where I experienced the most challenges. I remember going into a few agencies at seventeen or eighteen and being told I was too short and that my hips were too wide, but, if I got taller, to come back. I went back in at 5’9 and was basically told, “We have our quota of Black girls,” something I was hearing up until 2019. Or that I looked like a combination of two Black girls on their roster so they didn’t have space for me. It was definitely discouraging, but, on the positive side, it just fueled my drive to keep freelancing and carve out my own space for myself. I’ve been freelancing since 2017 now and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to continue to create and work with photographers, makeup artists, and stylists. I’m finding people now want to hire me for me, which is truly a blessing. It’s not easy freelancing; I don’t have someone finding work on my behalf but, at the same time, I can be more selective of the work I say yes or no to so there are pros and cons just like everything else.
There has been a recent push to increase representation and inclusion in the beauty industry. Have you seen authentic change occur in the industry?
I think there has been some authentic change in terms of products and shades being diversified to serve a wider consumer base. I have also seen more change in the high fashion and editorial world in featuring darker-skinned models on runways and in print. Though, I have noticed that there is still a certain type of Black girl that is often being cast in advertising and she tends to be fair-skinned or can pass as ethnically ambiguous, which speaks to the colorism that still pervades the industry. It’s not just in beauty and the commercial industry, but in TV and film, as well. There is still a lot more work to be done. Not just from who we’re seeing reflected in beauty ads, but from the team itself. I’ve done two photoshoots total where the hairstylist was Black. Every other time I’ve either had to come with my hair already done or the stylist was white, which tends to put me in a slight panic because I’m never sure if the person has educated themselves on styling thick, tightly coiled Black hair. There’s so much more room for growth, when it comes to who gets opportunities to work on sets, and overall education is lacking.
My approach is definitely skin first, makeup second.
We’ve seen you feature your beauty routines on social media with a strong focus on skincare. What are your current favorite skincare brands and products (and why)?
My approach is definitely skin first, makeup second. Right now my favorite serum for hydration is from Consonant Skincare. It leaves my skin feeling supple and it’s vegan — I keep that stocked so I can look refreshed all the time. For my body, I’m obsessed with this Black-owned brand called Kall!s Oils. The owner, Alazar, has created really beautiful products. I’ve been buying the Mango Shea Oil for a few years and it leaves my skin super moisturized and I love that I can use it in my hair, as well. A multipurpose oil is always a plus and it’s a local business in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) that I like to support. Lastly, Youth to the People’s Yerba Mate Resurfacing Energy Facial is an actual gamechanger. The brand sent it to me twice and it’s such an amazing exfoliator. It doesn’t leave my skin feeling dry, which is key for me, and it minimizes my pores. I love using it before a shoot — it’s officially a staple.
What do you foresee for the future of beauty?
I would love to see more brands have a reward or discount system for bringing in empties and disposing of them properly. It’s a way to incentivize the person to be a returning customer while giving them a little discount, whether it be fifteen or twenty percent off their next purchase, which helps keep beauty products more affordable. I would hope to see more brands becoming more sustainable in terms of their packaging overall and the continual expansion of the kinds of faces and bodies we see in their advertising.
Do you have any plans for the year ahead and would you like to give us a sneak peek (no pressure)?
My plan for the year is to take it one day at a time. Focus on what I can control and let go of what I cannot.
Last but not least, where can we keep in touch with you and see what you’re getting up to?
For sure, I’m on Instagram at @zojanelle, I have a link in my bio that has my modeling portfolio, dance reel, and more. Thanks for having me!
(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)