By Meredith Bahuriak, Barbizon International

Of Jamaican and Nigerian descent, Yemi Sekoni is someone to celebrate this Black History Month as an outstanding woman who wears many hats in the fashion, modeling, and entertainment industry! Latching onto the industry at a young age on the performing and modeling side, she’s now expanded into the production and business world, and she’s here to share with us what it’s like to be in the creator’s seat of the modeling industry! Catch more on her journey and her insight on diversity in the industry as the Founder & Creative Director at Rhode Island Fashion Week *, President/Creative Director at Lights Fashion Philanthropy **, and Owner/Director at Donahue Models & Talent ***.

How did you get your start in the fashion and entertainment industry?

I discovered my passion for performing at the young age of seven when my class staged a short reenactment of “The Sound of Music” for the school. The bug caught on and throughout my high school years, I took to pestering the school principal for permission to perform at every event. During my four years in college in Nigeria, obtaining a Bachelor’s Degree in Education, my passions kept me actively participating in theater productions for the Drama Department, and performing with the college band.

Being equipped with my bachelor’s Degree in Education, a Post-Graduate diploma in Marketing, and an MBA, has prepared me for a career in banking, relationship management, event planning, and management. With over 40 years’ experience in various areas of the entertainment industry, including theater, TV, film, print and runway, I continued to work on stage and ventured into television, appearing on a number of TV dramas and becoming a regular cast member on a critically acclaimed soap opera at the time.

You bought Donahue Models & Talent in 2010, can you tell us why you bought the agency and what you’re looking to do with it? Yemi modeling in a brown cocktail dress in different poses

To be honest, I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. I used to be a model for the agency at the time. When I moved to the states from the UK I was looking to get into the industry here, and one thing led to another and I ended up signing with Donahue. Then, she started to mentor me because she had been looking for someone to take it because she was ready to retire.

When the time came, she called me up on the phone one day and was like, “Listen kid I want to retire and I’m looking for someone who can take over my legacy.” And I thought, you know, this is quite the opportunity. If I don’t do this I may spend the rest of my life wondering, “What if?”

I had no idea what to do, but the first thing I did was call the small business administration, had a mentor, they walked me through building my business plan, about financing, it took me about 18 months to figure it out, but thankfully I was able to.

One of the hard parts was stepping out from being just another model to then becoming a business owner and being perceived slightly differently.

What I’ve done from there is to build off of it so we are not just an agency any longer. We produce Rhode Island Fashion Week, we produce a fashion and beauty expo twice a year, and I’m also working with fashion designers providing educational business services and consulting for them to help them grow their brand. So, we’ve really become multifaceted over the nine years.

Yemi on set of a photoshoot working with young modelsHow have you dealt with diversity in your business this past year? 

Rhode Island, we’re not what you call a ‘high fashion’ state. You’re not getting the Victoria’s Secret client. But what we do have is a lot of commercial work, looking for the homegrown person next door.

There’s a lot of diversity in the audience sitting at home watching TV, and sometimes, we do get asked for racial ‘ambiguity’ when it comes to models. And diversity has extended to clients looking for people with visible disabilities — people watching TV like anyone else.

No two jobs are the same. Even when a client doesn’t ask specifically, I just look across the board [of who I have] to suggest talent, and it’s often a wide array of people. Sometimes they’re not asking for specifics but know what they want to feature when they see [models.]

I pride myself on the fact that my agency was the first in the state to provide a biracial couple. [The husband] ended up being a darker toned Hispanic gentleman — this was for Iggy’s Doughboys. When I’m suggesting talent, I’m looking for everything across the board.

There’s a merging of lines between different cultures, and the differences are going to be fewer and fewer. For the younger generation, the lines are blurrier. They don’t understand what the big deal is, whether it be skin color, or sexual orientation — so we need to be more progressive, and make it less of an issue.

Any advice for those pursuing a career in the fashion/entertainment industry?Yemi looking professional in a seated model's pose on a white couch

Here are five things to do to keep your head in the game.

-Analyze the situation

-Assess your possible solutions

-Seek advice from people you admire

-Don’t be afraid to change direction

At a time when socializing is forbidden, shops, gyms, and restaurants are operating under various restrictions, and we are confined to our homes – for those of us who have it, work has taken on ever more heightened importance. With little else to do, particularly by way of leisure time, work has become a lifeline, providing us with a sense of meaning and normality.

For more information on Yemi, be sure to check out and follow her at:

Donahue Models:

Instagram @donahuemodels

Rhode Island Fashion Week

Instagram @rhodeislandfashionweek

* Rhode Island Fashion Week is a twice-a-year fashion event that brings together designers, boutiques, non-profit organizations and the local fashion community to cross promote industry-related products & services and stimulate commerce while supporting selected local causes. 

** Lights|Fashion|Philanthropy is a fashion event production & entertainment company that produces Rhode Island Fashion Week and helps to raise funds for local non-profit organizations. 

*** Donahue Models & Talent, LLC is Rhode Island’s top model and talent agency providing models and talent across the New England region and beyond, representing all ages from children to seniors. The agency’s models and talent are featured in local, national, and international print, TV, catalogue, and films, as well as formal and informal fashion shows.