Valentina Castro: From braiding hair to model for Louis Vuitton – Meet 18-year-old Colombian
Just over a year ago, residents of Ciudadela, for Colombia coastal town of Tumaco know Valentina Castro Rojas as a young girl wey get talent in braiding Afro hair.
Her height of one metre seventy attract attention for fashion shows and beauty contests wey her school organise and for her neighbourhood.
But no one imagine say at just 18, Valentina go model for di world’s best-selling luxury brand.
Louis Vuitton na brand wey many know, but not too many for di town of Tumaqueños. Di only Louis Vuitton shop for Colombia dey Bogota, more than a thousand kilometres from Valentina home. Dia products dey accessible to a tiny minority.
Before her life change thanks to one Instagram message from talent scout from one Dominican modelling agency, Valentina bin dey charge between 4 and 12 US dollars (between 3,000 and 9,000 naira) for hairstyles wey she dey make for her neighbourhood. She dey plait di hair for her own house.
Today, she dey catwalk in thousands of dollars worth of outfits for iconic locations such as di Musée d’Orsay for Paris and di Italian island of Isola Bella on Lake Maggiore.
“One of di tins I admire most about oda models and myself na say we dey make am look easy, true true no be so. E fit look very cool, very hot, your feet go pain you, but you go out as if nothing happun,” Valentina tell di BBC.
Afta several months travelling in Europe, she return to Tumaco and currently dey her final year of secondary school for one local school, wia she dey study English virtually.
She dey live with her mama, wey dey sell products by catalogue, and her sisters. Her papa na fisherman.
Life before modelling
Tumaco, wia dem born and raise Valentina, na small town for Colombia Pacific coast, close to di border wit Ecuador. E get just over 250,000 inhabitants. Four out of five na Afro-Colombian.
Na corner of Colombia wia much of di kontri reality dey seen: poverty and violence.
According to di latest census, more than half of di inhabitants of Tumaco dey live below di poverty line. Three out of 10 pipo dey fit meet dia basic needs.
Valentina describe di situation as “peaceful”.
“Even though we no get all di resources and di streets no get pavements, we dey very united,” she explain, as she describe her neighbourhood. From Tumaco, I really like di beach and di sunsets, di food, I like a lot of tins.”
Di braids for her life no necessarily come witout proof.
Doing her hair with her sister na one of her fondest childhood memories, she tok.
“I dey simple in di way I dress, but not in my hair. I like my hair a lot, I like to change my look, I no like to keep my hair still”, Valentina explain.
Na through social media account wia she dey share hairstyles na dia Sebastián Bedoya, headhunter for di Nefer Models agency contact her.
Di unexpected message
Bedoya dey dedicated to finding models for Colombia wey get certain height and a particular facial profile (wey dey similar to that of di Egyptian queen Nefertiti).
For November, e find Valentina on social media and send her message wia e ask her if she want to become a model.
“She no get plenty followers, but dem really like di photos and pose dem wey she post. I imitate a lot of photos wia oda models pose. I used to take photos of myself wit di front camera”, Valentina tok.
Very suspicious, she tell am say she dey interested.
But wen she tell her mama about di messages, she immediately become suspicious. “No one bin tink say na true”, Valentina recall.
Tori about women wey pesin promise jobs abroad and den dem end up as victims of human trafficking overshadow Valentina dream of a career in modelling.
For several weeks she bin get doubt, but Valentina insist until her mama agree to tok to Bedoya and then to Nileny Dippton, di popular former Dominican beauty queen and businesswoman wey dey run Nefer Models.
Dem organise a trip for Valentina and her mother to Santo Domingo to launch di young Tumaqueña career on di catwalk, even though dem bin no know French fashion giant Louis Vuitton bin dey involved.
“Na until we reach dia we come calm down a bit,” Valentina explain.
At di time, Valentina bin dey face difficult task of learning how to become international model in just a few weeks.
“Di changes bin dey radical. Di food dey very different. I gatz to eat healthily. E bin dey very difficult for me, to be honest. I start to exercise, run, train, drink lots of water. From di first day I arrive, I no get moment to rest.”
Before dis trip, which be di first time she don leave Colombia, Valentina bin never don wear heels.
Di change in her habits bin dey so sudden wey be say e begin to tell on her.
Few months later, on a flight from Italy to England, Valentina begin feel as if she no fit breathe.
“I undergo very strict diet which affect me a lot. E pain me. I faint on di plane and I go hospital,” she tok. I never don sick like dis before. I bin dey suffer from malnutrition.
According to her, di doctor advise her “not to eat very healthily”.
“I dey used to dey eat plenti. Since then, I don return to normal diet”, Castro tok.
Landing on di catwalk
Barely four months don pass since di first exchange of messages wen Valentina learn say she go make her debut at di Louis Vuitton autumn-winter show during Paris Fashion Week last March.
“I bin dey very sure of myself, I bin dey very happy, very happy,” she tok.
Now that she know more about di world of modelling, she say she don hear many stories of models wey get illusion of modelling for big brands, but who, at di last minute, no dey make am.
Dis no be her case.
Time come reach for di show at the famous Musée d’Orsay and Valentina bin be di second model to come out, her hair dey plaited and she wear black jacket, one of di collection key pieces.
Valentina describe di show as a battle against her own mind.
“E get one moment wen I bin dey climbe di staircase, I step on di edge of a step and come nearly fall. I start to get angry and my mind bin dey tell me say I go fall, but I kontin.”
Vogue magazine call di Nicolas Ghesquière-designed collection “di symbol of French elegance”.
The guest list include superstars such as Zendaya and Jaden Smith.
“I meet some celebrities, but di problem be say I no fit remember their names. They have slightly weird names. I no be pesin wey be fan of anyone. Make dem ask me for my photo,” she laugh.
On her relationship wit di oda models, she tok say: “I smile a lot and try to include myself, even if I no understand dem. If dem laugh, I laugh, even if I no understand wetin dem dey talk about.”
“I also meet other Latino models, but I feel like I bin dey excluded. E bin pain me small,” she tok.
Afta show, dem chose her to take photos and make promotional videos for di collection. Since then, Valentina don kontinu to work exclusively for Louis Vuitton. In April, she show for South Korea and in May for Italy.
Talking about her show in Seoul, she tok say: “Wen I bin dey about to go out, di music change, my clothes fly and e bin dey super cute. I feel like say I be superhero.”