Ngahuia Williams: Model, manager, independent spirit.
If people ask where I’m from I say I’m a New Zealander. I’ll always say I’m an Aucklander born and raised, but I’m from the North. My Māori connection, my marae, and my family all live in the North and I have a very special tie to that, even though I don’t live there. My marae is Ngāi Tupango, it’s a really small marae in the middle of the valley. It’s in the valley in a bay called Te Ngaere Bay, which is in the Far North.
Even though I’m a model, and I haven’t actually had any other title, any other job for 15 years, I still always say I work in the fashion industry. I always feel you don’t wanna be like, “I’m a model.” So I never say that, I always just say I work in the fashion industry, because now I do management and all the other parts of the industry, not just modelling. I don’t know why I feel weird saying I’m a model, I actually don’t know. If people ask and say, “Are you a model”? I would never say no. I feel like it has a weird hierarchy of some description.
“My Māori connection, my marae, and my family all live in the North and I have a very special tie to that, even though I don’t live there. My marae is Ngāi Tupango, it’s a really small marae in the middle of the valley. It’s in the valley in a bay called Te Ngaere Bay, which is in the Far North.”
When I was 15, I had a job at K-Mart on the weekends on the beauty counter. Then I went into my modelling agency and got a job, and I can’t remember how much it was for, but I was like, damn, that’s triple my wage at K-Mart. I thought, do you want to go to K-Mart on the weekends or give this [modelling] a go? Very quickly I saw this as an opportunity, and I rolled with that.
I’ve learnt a lot about how to be an individual person, and I’ve learnt that modelling is a business, and you can make a really successful business model out of yourself. For 15 years it’s the only thing I’ve done, and it’s led me to other forms of management, model management, which is fantastic.
Even though I would like to consider myself an extremely confident person, in how I perceive myself and back myself as a human, as a model you battle everyday because the way you look is your business. To be self-employed and to always know that you have to keep working, and working, and working, has been a challenge. I’ve never really switched off. You’re always wanting to keep working and work harder. All in all I can’t really knock it, it’s all I know. it’s been a great run, and it’s still going, so I’m fucking grateful.
I’m grateful modelling has from a very young age taught me how to grow up and be responsible for my own shit. People come and go, and I know that. I don’t know if I went down a different path, if I would know that or not. I don’t know if that sounds cheesy or weird or whatever. Independence is so valuable to me, that’s definitely one thing that modelling taught me. Travelling the world alone, making connections, meeting people, experiencing countries, experiencing language barriers, being cultured, understanding how to read people, all that stuff comes from being alone, a lot.
“Even though I would like to consider myself an extremely confident person, in how I perceive myself and back myself as a human, as a model you battle everyday because the way you look is your business.”
The whole casting process, every fucking day, for how many years I lived overseas, you have to go into a room and look at someone and try and figure out how to suss them out to book the job. I’m a ‘judger’, if I walked into a room, I could pretty much analyse how I’m meant to react to a person, and get an energy of some description. I’m pretty good at that.
I have a value, and perhaps it has been because I’ve been a model for so long, the way I value people or humans is on their coolness. So, if you’re a cool cunt, that’s awesome, you’re amazing. If somebody was like, “you’re a cool bitch”, I’d be like “Thank you, I appreciate that”, because I think I am too. But if somebody is like, “You’re so beautiful”, I’d say, “Is that it?”
I’m actually on this dating app called Raya, it’s a creative network for creative people all around the world. I’m about to leave the country and I’m single so I have already talked to people, you can talk to girls and boys, so I’ll talk to whoever. Dudes are like, “You’re so fucking beautiful,” I’m like, I don’t even know you dude. Let’s have a conversation. Being pretty ain’t shit to me. It’s a job, cool, and I’m really grateful for that purpose.
Throughout my whole career as a model and travelling and living with other models and stuff I’ve always been good at being able to manage my own shit. You see girls that are mismanaged or can’t manage their own shit or need guidance or counselling or whatever, and I was really good at that. For years and years, helping people make decisions, it’s been natural for me. When I came home about 6 years ago now, I just saw shit that was wrong. I thought, I can do this better myself, I know enough to manage people and I took people that needed different management, it just came naturally. That’s when my own agency ‘N’ began.
“Independence is so valuable to me, that’s definitely one thing that modelling taught me. Travelling the world alone, making connections, meeting people, experiencing countries, experiencing language barriers, being cultured, understanding how to read people, all that stuff comes from being alone, a lot.”
From moving from my own agency ‘N’ to Red Eleven, it was a really quick decision. I actually didn’t want the sole responsibility of running a whole business on my own, there was more to it than for me to be grinding a business all day long. I saw the opportunity to help my models, because Red Eleven was a commercial agency, and we [N] were a boutique agency, so I put them there. It was a help, help scenario. Now I don’t have the stress of running the whole business side, but I still own my shit. I can still guide anyone I want to, I can guide Red Eleven models, I can guide the N models, I can find new models, I can do anything I want under that umbrella without being like, “fucking accounts”, at 5 o’clock. It’s better for me to focus on the things I like about the industry, other than the business side of things.
Ever since I started the agency, there was always the want to go and explore the world again. I was in a relationship for five years that kept me here, so I never did that. Now I’m quite free. I think all my youngins from N are about to leave the country, so I think, well, I can leave the country. I’ve nurtured something for five years and now I’m only responsible for myself. So I don’t know. I have lots of ideas and lots of options. I’m going to Sydney and I will go and model, which is exciting again. I will figure out how I can utilise the business here, and grow ‘N’, and learn some shit about the international market.
Photography has definitely been something on my mind, whether I can make a career out of it or not. At the moment it’s a beautiful pastime. Something I really enjoy. I’ve got a lot to learn before it can become something different. I’m really eager to learn, for sure. I think I find taking imagery of models comes as second nature to me. I really enjoy that part and that’s still part of the development and management process too, going and shooting different girls and seeing them develop over time, I get a kick out of that. But I also really like taking imagery of landscapes and New Zealand that I suppose just comes from living overseas and always coming back here and appreciating our country, outside of Auckland. That is something that could be a creative project type thing. I don’t know if that could ever be a job for me, but I will always continue to do that.
*All images by Damien Nikora.