Turning Dreams Into Reality: How Juju Yahya Shapes Her Path in the Fashion World

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(source: Nelissa Hilman, provided to JUICE via Juju Yahya)

Previously, we had the opportunity to interview model and actor Gbril to gain insights into his perspectives and understand the aspirations and challenges faced by the 23-year-old in his journey into the entertainment industry.

Today, JUICE had the pleasure of sitting down for a quick chat with 22-year-old Juju Yahya, a familiar face in the fashion world, whose childroom dream was to strut down the runway.

The rising star also became the first hijab model for Nelissa Hilman and recently appeared in a spread for Glam Malaysia’s 20th anniversary, “Faces of Now, Models Edition”.

Here’s our conversation with Juju:

Hello Juju, welcome to JUICE! Can you tell us a little bit about how you started modelling?

(source: provided to JUICE via Juju Yahya)

Hi JUICE! Thank you for this opportunity. Let’s go down memory lane, shall we? ‘Modelling’ is a word that I’ve been manifesting since I was a little girl, and I remember I used to write the word all over my childhood journal. I always thought that it was just a silly dream, but the dream finally came true in my life out of the blue.

It all started when I was 19, when I received an opportunity to model for my friend’s streetwear brand, ClownCheck. It was my very first photo shoot, and it was shot only using an iPhone. Since then, I’ve been modelling just for fun.

But my first professional job was from an X (formerly known as Twitter) casting that I tried for Paloma Scarves, and I received a lot of amazing responses and compliments.

(source: Umma, provided to JUICE via Juju Yahya)

Yes, I started as a hijabi model due to my love of wearing the hijab, which is still in me today despite the change in my look. I also went viral on TikTok because of my tanned skin and the way I dressed back then, which led to me getting recognition from some amazing brands, such as SHALS, Asly, Lazada, Bulan Bintang, and many more.

I wanted to show how someone like me could still have a spark in her even though she has brown skin and has been bullied in her life. Observing how my followers respond to each of my social media appearances and how it boosts their self-confidence serves as the ideal source of inspiration for me to continue doing this.

Have you always been interested in fashion?

Yes, definitely! I believe that with only a few pieces of clothing on your body, fashion is the best way to express who you are or how you feel. Everyone has a backstory, and each piece of clothing tells a story.

I’m tired of people constantly telling me what to wear just because I’m tanned. For example, I cannot wear a white hijab because it will make me appear darker. Instead of listening to those comments, I chose to wear a hijab with vibrant patterns and colours to demonstrate that you do not have to conform to what others think you should wear.

(source: Nelissa Hilman, provided to JUICE via Juju Yahya)

The weirder, the better. Why would you want to look like other people who can simply sit and criticise others when you can be different and serve people in your own unique style every day?

Nowadays, being a model is more than just how we look at castings; it’s also about how we present ourselves on social media, so we sometimes focus a lot on our “off-duty” looks. Sensual, yet natural.

What has been your proudest work so far?

(source: Bulan Bintang, provided to JUICE via Juju Yahya)

As a model, every job is the proudest moment of my life, and it’s difficult to choose just one because each one is unique and allows me to demonstrate my versatility.

Every model’s dream is to have their image featured in a magazine or on a billboard, and I’m thrilled to announce that I recently appeared in Glam Malaysia’s March Edition, which commemorated the magazine’s 20th anniversary, “Faces of Now, Models Edition”.

When I saw my face in the magazine at the bookstore, I felt like all of my efforts to get my name out there as a model had finally paid off. I vividly recall my pre-shoot excitement and nervousness, but it all vanished when I found the perfect team to work with on my project.

(source: Nelissa Hilman, provided to JUICE via Juju Yahya)

Not to mention, my first runway breakthrough came with Bulan Bintang in 2023, when they completed the largest runway project ever at the Kuala Lumpur (KL) Tower. I can still remember how incredible my first runway experiences were, working with senior models I could only dream of, as well as a plethora of other amazing models!

I feel very loved and grateful for what Allah SWT has prepared for me, especially since I have been given the incredible opportunity to be Nelissa Hilman’s first hijab model.

Tell us some of the difficulties or challenges you’ve faced while working in the industry.

(source: Tracey, provided to JUICE via Juju Yahya)

This is nothing new, as it has been going on since the 1990s, particularly among models with tanned skin. Getting our makeup done exactly to our skin tone can be difficult because it can sometimes make us look a little grey.

Although modelling has become more diverse, there are still areas in which we could improve. Naturally, as models, this should serve as motivation rather than an excuse for our lack of professionalism.

(source: Polo Hills, provided to JUICE via Juju Yahya)

Concerning the difficulties encountered while working in this field, I believe all models share a common sentiment. We must continue to attend casting calls to market ourselves, even if there is a chance we will not be hired at all.

Consider this: Rejection is a natural part of the human experience. Not only in this industry, but also in others, all we have to do is figure out how to deal with it and continue to improve ourselves in the aftermath of each setback.

Even after attending 100 castings, you may only be able to secure one job. Instead of dwelling on your loss, focus on getting that one job.

If modelling is your passion, enjoy it while you can, because you never know if it will be the breakthrough you need. Build new relationships, develop as a person, and never stop moving forward!

What motivates you to keep on going?

(source: Tracey, provided to JUICE via Juju Yahya)

Because I don’t quite fit the beauty standard and am not as tall as other models, I must admit that I have some incredible people in the industry who never give up on me, and their advice has had a significant impact on who I am today.

Here’s a little secret for the readers: In this industry, it is common for models to feel insecure at times. We get a lot of comments on how we look, act, and even smile because it’s part of our job.

(source: provided to JUICE via Juju Yahya)

My family, friends, and supporters are constantly reminding me of my worth and the importance of seizing every opportunity to be truly myself. People value authenticity over dolls dressed in costumes.

I always remember that I should never take this opportunity for granted, so I try to be a better model day by day and not be a disappointment to people who believed in me when I was nothing, and here I am today talking to JUICE.

Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

(source: Polo Hills, provided to JUICE via Juju Yahya)

I don’t put too much emphasis on setting goals because I am the type of person who is easily disappointed when things don’t go my way or according to plan. Going with the flow allows me to enjoy myself without worrying about what will happen next.

But, if I had to give an answer, I would say that my goal is to be signed by an agency and pursue a full-time modelling career, possibly in Malaysia and abroad.

I’d like to make Malaysia proud by representing them in the modelling industry, just like my idol, Natasha Noor.

(source: Glam Malaysia)

I’ve also never walked for KLFW, so that’s one of my top goals as a model! Instead of overthinking things, I want to focus on pushing myself to try new things and saying yes to opportunities.

I might fail, but in five years, I want to be a person who never looks back, but instead marches forward to her big dream and continues to inspire others. Although it may appear unattainable, now that I am a model, why not aim high?

What are some words of encouragement you can give to those who aspire to be in your industry?

(source: Tujoh Kuntom, provided to JUICE via Juju Yahya)

If you have the desire, go for it. Never doubt your goals or let fear stop you from trying because, after all, how will you know if you don’t try?

Believe me when I say that starting is difficult. When people ask me how to break into the industry, I usually tell them to jump right in and follow designers, other models, photographers, and companies. This way, you can pick up tips and get genuine inspiration from how the industry works.

Being authentic is also essential because people prefer new perspectives over rehashed ones. Never give up, and have faith in yourself.

If I can do it, you can too.

Follow Juju on Instagram to stay updated on her career.

Previously, we spoke to Gbril to understand his views on the modelling industry. Read more here.

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